For the first time since the end of June, the 27 leaders of the European Union are back together for a summit today. They meet in Prague. And there’s plenty to discuss. The agenda includes the situation in Ukraine and the economic situation in the EU.
But most of the attention will go to the search for solutions to combat the energy crisis. The leaders have been arguing about this for months. The EU member states mainly want to radiate unity towards Russian president Putin. The practice turns out to be unruly, the division between them is becoming more and more visible.
Member states are now openly accusing each other of lack of solidarity. Yesterday, Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki called the EU’s largest country, Germany, even selfish. “It cannot be that the energy policy of the European Union is dictated by Germany.”He is referring to Germany’s refusal to agree to a price cap for gas.
Since March, countries in the south of the Union in particular have been calling for such a ceiling. By putting a maximum on the price, the hope is that the sharply increased energy costs for their population will come to an end. Fifteen countries are now calling for such a price cap. Germany is against it, and the Dutch cabinet is not cheering either, although EU diplomats emphasize that the Netherlands is “not ideologically” in it.
One of the fears is that such a maximum will lead to ships carrying liquefied gas (lng) sailing past the EU to countries willing to pay more. Intervening in the market would then lead to even less gas for the union, they fear. The European Commission has also so far been wary of such a price ceiling.
Last week, EU energy ministers took measures that severely intervene in the European energy market. Skimming profits from companies that take excessive advantage of high gas prices should bring in around 140 billion euros. With that money, EU governments can compensate citizens and businesses. It seems like an impressive number, but this weekend Germany announced that it would release as much as 200 billion for measures to limit the consequences of the energy crisis for its own citizens and companies. This was also criticized by the country, including from Italy.
Prague is also talking about ways to jointly buy gas for the EU. So far, countries are bidding against each other, which only further increased the price of gas. By negotiating as a bloc you can prevent that, is the idea. It is reminiscent of the initial period of the corona crisis. At that time, every country tried to buy as many face masks as possible, resulting in rising prices. Later, the European Commission negotiated with the vaccine makers on behalf of the 27 member states.
As in the corona crisis, votes are again being cast for a European fund. This week, two European Commissioners called for joint lending in the EU. In this way, they want all EU countries to have the means to guide companies and citizens through the energy crisis. The energy crisis once again calls for European solidarity, they wrote. “We do better and protect our fellow citizens better when we are in solidarity.”
What needs to be done to tackle the energy crisis? With winter just around the corner, pressure is mounting on European leaders to come up with common answers. Security of supply must not be compromised, more gas must not be consumed and measures must not lead to less sustainability.
Today in Prague it is probably becoming clearer in which direction the solutions are being sought. Next week there will be more detailed plans from the European Commission, which the leaders will talk about at a next EU summit on 20 and 21 October. It must also show how far European solidarity really goes.