EU states at odds over solution to record surge in energy prices

Opinions differ on how big a role the European Commission should play

EU member states are at odds with one another over their response to a record rise in energy prices, with the bloc saying it will consider proposals to revamp regulations and the way its power market is overseen.

Spain, France and Greece are asking for a collective, bloc-wide response. Madrid has suggested the EU make group purchases of gas, similar to the way the bloc procured and distributed Covid-19 vaccines. Greece has suggested an EU fund be created to help governments tackle the crisis.

“We have asked the [European] Commission to be bold in its response,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, at a summit of EU leaders in Slovenia.

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis that requires extraordinary, innovative and forceful measures from the EU.”

But countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have called for caution. They argue that the problems are related to supply issues caused by Covid-19.

The EU commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson, told the European Parliament that the bloc’s executive arm would suggest next week a series of options for how governments and the EU could react.

“It's mainly something for the member states to address,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

“We should look at what Europe can do collectively. There are proposals – some wilder, others less wild.”

While he did not “exclude that some more should be done at the European level”, that could come only after “a thorough analysis".

Meanwhile, Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed tighter regulations set out by the EU’s Green Deal. He said new EU-wide rules to reduce emissions amounted to “an indirect taxation for flat owners, house owners and car owners”.

“The EU must change its policy, because partly, at least partly the reason why the prices are up is the fault of the Commission,” he said.

This was rejected by Mr Rutte, who said the Hungarian leader was “really overstating the issue with the energy transition”.

“Orban is mixing up a lot of elements – the issue with the high prices only to a limited extent has to do with the transition,” he said.

The European Commission insists that its climate plans will reduce household bills by reducing exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices – and that if countries fail to swiftly cut emissions, they would face far greater costs in the form of extreme weather events.

“Let's keep our eye on the ball. The problem here is the climate crisis,” EU's climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “The quicker we move towards renewable energy, the quicker we can protect our citizens against high prices.”

Updated: October 6th 2021, 4:33 PM