On Thursday, the ministers will meet again in Brussels to discuss their biggest bone of contention for months: a general price cap for gas purchases. The European Commission, which has repeatedly been asked to present a model for this, is only very reluctant to tackle the subject because, like Germany, it fears that such an intervention would distort the market, which could lead to supply bottlenecks.
For example, she proposed such high limits and tight conditions for a so-called “market correction mechanism” to take effect that the application of this “safety cap for gas prices” seems quite unlikely. The ministers of the countries that are most vehemently demanding the price cap should see this through as a deceptive maneuver. There is a constant threat of dispute over the application of the mechanism.
Fanatical Four vs. Cautious Five
In Brussels, the term “fanatical four” is now in circulation for Italy, Belgium, Greece and Poland, which are the loudest in calling for a maximum price. But they are by no means alone with their wishes among the EU partners. The group of the so-called “Cautious Five” has significantly fewer sympathizers: Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary and Austria. In addition, Germany continues to face criticism of its 200 billion “double boom” package against the energy crisis. The EU Commission has just branded it as not sufficiently targeted.
The AfD MEP Sylvia Limmer rejects criticism of other countries of the German package, according to which the Federal Republic is only playing its economic strength for its own benefit, as “hypocritical”: “Almost all countries have launched various programs of this kind.” She also gives food for thought : “It may be that Germany was once the economically strongest country in the EU. But that is slowly becoming a thing of the past.”
Putin’s long, icy breath
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has promised: “Our storage tanks are 95 percent full and we are safe for this winter.” But she also issued the warning: “Our challenge will be next year’s winter.” Experts share the verdict of the president. Pauline Lucas, representative of the network of actors in the district heating sector “Euroheat & Power” at a panel discussion hosted by the think tank Martens Center in Brussels: “What worries us is the next winter and the winter after” – well, the next two to three Years.
Two unspoken admissions resonate in such fears:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has the long, icy breath and will continue to upset the western energy fabric.
- In the longer term, the EU may not be able to find an appropriate solidarity response.
Price development in the next year with many imponderables
What is more, it is difficult to predict how prices will develop over the next year. At the moment, according to the CDU energy expert in the European Parliament Christian Ehler, “the market is holding its breath”. Peter Hefele, Policy Director of the Martens Centre, told FOCUS Online: “You also have to keep in mind that gas demand from China is currently low due to economic activity there being slowed down by the corona virus. Once the pandemic is over, completely different market situations will arise again.”
Hefele also points out: “One should not forget that some countries are now starting to develop new energy sources on a significant scale: Romania and Bulgaria in the Black Sea, Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean. In a few years we will therefore find a completely different energy map and changed power relations in Europe.”
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Secretary of Energy in the crab aisle
EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson warns against using up all of the existing gas reserves this winter. In front of the European Parliament, she also implored the European Energy Union: “Only together can we face the enemy.”
But immediately before the renewed meeting of energy ministers on Thursday, there was once again little to suggest that this time there might be a breakthrough to a strong, united and united energy front against Putin. The CDU man Ehler, energy policy spokesman for the group of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, predicts: “The ministers will do what a crab does if it wants to move forward: There will be movement, but you will sooner walk sideways.”