European Union energy ministers clashed in an emergency meeting on how to protect consumers and businesses from rising energy and natural gas prices, and political and legal restrictions left little room for immediate action. .
At an emergency meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, ministers are discussing how the EU could complement measures already taken by member states and what could be done in the medium term to avoid future price shocks.
Countries such as Poland and Spain called on the EU to present new intervention tools, but a group of nine nations, including Austria, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, argued that the rise is temporary and should not lead to rapid changes in the energy laws of the block. and ambitious climate reforms.
“I don’t think we should set too high expectations on measures at the EU level because we cannot influence world prices for coal, gas and oil,” German Deputy Economy Minister Andreas Feicht told the meeting. “We don’t think we should take action too hasty, which would actually lead to higher prices in the long run or could undermine our climate targets.”
The unprecedented energy crisis has become one of the hottest issues as the 27-nation bloc heads into the winter season, with households facing double-digit increases in electricity bills and some industrial giants slashing electricity. production.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is questioning gas producers and suppliers to examine “all allegations of possible anti-competitive conduct” to see if current price increases are related to antitrust violations, according to comments from the bloc’s press office. Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said after ministers’ debate that the bloc would ensure that markets were free from manipulation.
He added that the EU will decide on the role of gas and nuclear power in its green regulation in the near future, an issue that has become more pertinent amid rising electricity prices. Its possible inclusion faces criticism from those who say that the inclusion of gas is not compatible with the block’s net zero objectives, while there are problems related to the environmental impact of nuclear waste.
No quick fixes
Tuesday’s meeting follows a discussion last week on the crisis at a summit with EU leaders, who ignored calls from some countries for quick fixes to the bloc’s laws and the Green Deal strategy to make the economy sustainable. . Most countries have already cut taxes or approved subsidies to help households and businesses, and few tools remain that are technically possible and politically acceptable.
“I don’t see much room for maneuver for countries to come up with something new and concrete,” said Máximo Miccinilli, director of energy and climate at FleishmanHillard USA. “Is this council going to change the rules of the game for these negotiations? My answer is no, it will be about preparing for the medium term. ”
With different energy sources and industrial strengths, the bloc countries differ on how to mitigate the impact of the crisis. Countries like Greece and Spain have called for the creation of a common platform to buy natural gas. France is urging a review of the energy market design, while Poland wants changes to the EU carbon market to curb speculation.
“We need a joint European response because we are talking about the single energy market,” said Sara Aagesen, Spain’s Secretary of State for Energy. “We need a very urgent response to address the situation, without jeopardizing the decarbonization process.”
The challenge for national governments and regulators in Brussels is to find a solution that will keep the lights and heat on this winter while maintaining support for the bloc’s ambitious climate agenda. The crisis hit at a time when member states are considering a package known as Fit for 55 to implement a stricter emissions reduction target by 2030.
“For the medium term, a central part of the solution lies in cost-effective energy efficiency measures and accelerated deployment of renewable energy sources,” the nine countries said in the document. “We agree with the Commission that it is of the utmost importance to proceed quickly with the treatment of the Fit for 55 package to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.”
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