EU Leaders Struggle to Bridge Gas Price10/07 06:09
European Union leaders converged on Prague Castle on a crisp Friday morning
to try to bridge significant differences over a natural gas price cap as winter
approaches and Russia's war on Ukraine fuels a major energy crisis.
PRAGUE (AP) -- European Union leaders converged on Prague Castle on a crisp
Friday morning to try to bridge significant differences over a natural gas
price cap as winter approaches and Russia's war on Ukraine fuels a major energy
The price cap is one of several measures the 27-nation bloc is preparing to
contain an energy crisis in Europe that is driving up prices for consumers and
business and which could lead to rolling blackouts, shuttered factories and a
deep recession over the winter.
As the Europeans bolster their support for Ukraine in the form of weapons,
money and aid, Russia has reduced or cut off natural gas to 13 member nations,
leading to surging gas and electricity prices that could climb higher as demand
peaks during the cold months.
Standing in the way of an agreement is the simple fact that each member
country depends on different energy sources and suppliers, and they're
struggling to see eye-to-eye on the best way ahead.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins summed up the challenge for the EU
as it considers a possible gas-price ceiling.
"A price cap on gas, if that could be achieved, would be grand -- with the
caveat that we cannot endanger security of supply," Karins said. "So we cannot
set the price so that no one would sell gas into Europe."
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he hoped the "last hurdles" to
a price cap would be overcome at the meeting, but also that a joint path of
action should be agreed to send two important messages.
"One to the energy markets, to make it clear we no longer accept these
prices, we will not continue to pay this market manipulation. Secondly, an
important signal to our populations, to our companies, that we are going to
tackle the problem at the root," he said.
In a choreographed moment, French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch Prime
Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz entered Prague Castle
together on foot, walking past a small but noisy crowd of pro-Ukraine
A group of 15 member countries has urged the EU's executive branch, the
European Commission, to propose a cap on gas prices as soon as possible, but
the idea has not secured unanimous support, with Germany notably blocking.
For now, the commission says, Europe's gas storage capacity stands at about
90%, even as Russian gas supplies to the EU declined by 37% between January and
August, with the U.S. and Norway stepping in to provide liquefied natural gas.
But those replacement supplies have not been cheap.
"I therefore recommend stepping up negotiations with our reliable suppliers
to reduce the prices of imported gas of all kinds," commission President Ursula
von der Leyen said in a letter to the leaders ahead of Friday's summit in the
Von der Leyen also recommended that countries work together to "develop an
intervention to limit prices in the natural gas market," where prices have
fluctuated wildly over jitters about the war and potentially uncoordinated
national responses to the problem.
As high gas prices drive up electricity prices, von der Leyen said, the EU
should also work on a temporary cap on the price of gas that is used to
She also called for the EU to boost its energy independence by investing in
infrastructure such as pipelines and efficiency measures like the installation
of better home or building insulation and heat pumps. Pipelines, power stations
and transmission cables must also be better protected, she said.
For now, a breakthrough on the price cap seems a distant prospect, but the
leaders may make enough progress to conclude some kind of agreement when they
meet again in Brussels on Oct 20-21.
For all its difficulties, sealing a deal on gas is another key to resisting
what the Europeans believe to be Russia's manipulation of the energy markets in
an attempt to weaken their resolve to support conflict-ravaged Ukraine.
The EU agreed to a new package of sanctions against Russia on Thursday,
hitting trade, notably in the tech sector, slapping travel bans and asset
freezes on 30 more officials, and targeting seven organizations. But the bloc
is running out of economic ammunition to punish Russia with.
"We have to decrease the prices of energy. But it is an economic issue as
much as a security issue," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. "Energy
is becoming the most important geostrategic issue today, related with the war,
but also with the balance of power in the world."