The EU supports an emergency energy plan. Now to the next

The EU supports an emergency energy plan.  Now to the next
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The energy emergency in Europe will come a long way – and next winter could be even worse.

Friday’s ministerial meeting in Brussels reached an agreement on the bloc’s latest aid package. It’s one they hope will help protect homes and businesses from cripplingly high energy bills and the specter of blackouts this winter caused by Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and his pressure on Europe’s gas supplies.

By previous standards, the plans are radical. But the European energy emergency has made what was once unthinkable inevitable.

Countries will ration electricity by 5 percent at peak times this winter, on top of earlier commitments to cut gas use. They also pledged to tax €140 billion in windfall profits from energy companies. This supports households and companies over the winter.

Before the ink dried on the deal, discussion among ministers immediately shifted to how far the bloc still needs to go.

“We have to do more,” said Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson after the summit – the third emergency meeting since July.

She promised that a new “EU-level market intervention” to contain gas prices would be part of the next package of measures. Exactly what that should look like is now the subject of heated debate within the block. It’s an argument that seems to drag on, even as the nights lengthen and temperatures drop.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, a group of 15 countries had written to the Commission calling for “EU-level market intervention” in the form of a bloc-wide cap on the price of all imported gas. They were frustrated by the response: an informal policy statement that left no room for meaningful progress on the issue at Friday’s summit.

Simson said the commission will work with countries ahead of next week’s informal EU summit in Prague to “develop” ideas on what the next intervention should look like. Possibilities including an EU-wide cap on the price of gas for electricity generation; Negotiating lower prices with gas suppliers from friendly countries such as Norway and Algeria; and capping the price of gas imports from Russia alone.

Jozef Síkela, Industry and Trade Minister of the Czech Republic, who chaired the summit, said he was ready to “convene as many extraordinary councils as necessary to implement the necessary legislative acts as quickly as possible”.

The next interventions in the gas market must, he said, “lower the price of gas without encouraging overconsumption. There is still a threat that there will not be enough petrol this winter or next.”

Following this week’s sometimes heated price cap discussions, maintaining EU unity will be another key priority.

Some countries pushing for a bloc-wide cap on gas imports were surprised when Germany, which opposes the measure, on Thursday announced a huge €200 billion package to protect its own homes and businesses from rising gas prices.

“Germany in particular can afford something like this,” said an EU diplomat. Italy went public with its concerns.

Síkela, who appears to be reading sentiment among countries, clearly stressed the importance of unity in his comments ahead of Friday’s summit.

“I expect unity and solidarity,” he said when asked about countries like Germany. “We are in a war, and the decisive battle will take place this winter. We must remain united and we need a high level of solidarity.”

Whatever drastic measures come next, everyone should buckle up for the long haul, a commission official said.

“The gas price cap discussion is being presented as a silver bullet by some member states,” the official said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution…this won’t be over any time soon. It won’t be easy either.”

Karl Mathiesen contributed the reporting.

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