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EU energy ministers vacillate on gas price cap

Brussels: EU member states are divided on the cap, with Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands skeptical of the policy. Talks will resume next week on Monday, with France a key player in the final negotiations. EU ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday delayed the final decision on a proposed cap on natural gas prices to next week, despite the urgency of the issue. 

To reach a deal, the EU ministers need to agree on how high the price limit should be, to which gas contracts it should apply and what safeguards to enact, such as the EU’s authority to suspend the cap immediately in case of unwanted consequences.

The European Commission proposed the price cap last month following the economic upheaval caused by Russia reducing gas supplies to Europe, hiking up energy prices.

To mitigate the bloc’s energy shortage, the ministers agreed on two other measures. The joint gas purchases as well as accelerated authorizations for renewable energy installations. The bloc will adopt the measures once the price cap is finalized.

Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said “I was hoping to open a Champagne today to celebrate the agreement. But apparently, we still need to keep the bottles in the fridge for a while. Poland currently holds the EU presidency and chaired the discussions. Our aim is to approve all three items in a package on Monday, when the talks resume. 

The commission suggested a price cap of €275  per MW hour. But only if the price remained above that level for at least two weeks. And then only if the LNG price went above €58 for 10 days within that same two-week period. 

Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, fear that the gas price cap might risk supplies going to higher-paying markets. 

The German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said “We made progress, but not done yet. Greece, Belgium, Italy and Poland are urging for a cap, to protect their economies from high energy prices. 

“European citizens are in agony, European businesses closing and Europe is needlessly debating,” said the Greek Energy Minister Konstantinos Skrekas. “The time for consultation has run out,” the Italian minister for European affairs, Raffaele Fitto.

Both sides have enough votes to block a deal. While France vote is potentially decisive in the final negotiations on Monday. 

Sikela said the price cap was “extremely sensitive” and had exposed a “fragile balance” in the European Union.

Zahra Sikandar
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