EU Ministers Debate Rising Energy Costs10/26 06:03
European Union ministers met Tuesday for emergency talks focusing on energy
amid deep divergences between the 27 member countries on how to tackle a crunch
that has seen consumers' bills skyrocket this year.
BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union ministers met Tuesday for emergency talks
focusing on energy amid deep divergences between the 27 member countries on how
to tackle a crunch that has seen consumers' bills skyrocket this year.
The wave of price hikes is not set to abate before next spring, and
ministers discussed a set of short-term measures that have been put forward by
the European Commission to help consumers and businesses weather the shock.
The main reason behind the sharp spike is increased global demand for
energy, and gas in particular. According to EU officials, gas prices in Europe
have increased by more than 170% since the start of the year.
Although most member states agree tax cuts, state aid and other measures put
forward by the EU's executive arm to help households and businesses are
beneficial to bring immediate relief, they diverge on the long-term approach.
"We have received different messages from different member states," said
Kadri Simson, EU commissioner for energy. "I do hope to hear clear messages
from ministers -- what are their expectations? If we are talking about
medium-term measures, this also means that we have to start acting right now,
despite the fact that the results of those actions will be foreseen in years to
come, not the next two weeks."
A line has been drawn between the countries calling for a thorough and
structural reform of the bloc's energy market -- among them France and Spain --
and those who believe the crisis is only temporary and does not require radical
Nine European Union countries, including heavyweight Germany, have joined
forces to say they will not support an overhaul of the electricity market ahead
of the ministers' meeting.
Luxembourg, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia and
the Netherlands said transparent and competitive markets are what guarantee
better prices for users. They called for the deployment of renewable energy
sources and "further interconnection."
Meanwhile, Spain is pushing for changing the way wholesale electricity
prices are calculated, while France -- which derives about 70% of its
electricity from nuclear energy -- has called for decoupling electricity and
gas prices. The French argue that the influence of gas in setting wholesale
electricity prices is disproportionate.
Spain also has proposed setting up a joint program for obtaining gas
reserves, but the idea has not gained much support so far. Europe depends
heavily on imported gas, mainly from Russia.
EU countries have asked the commission to look into the bloc's emissions
trading program, which has companies pay for carbon dioxide they emit. The aim
is to check whether manipulation of the market could have influenced carbon
Longer term, the commission wants the EU to prepare for a repeat of such
price shocks by accelerating investment in renewable energy sources and
developing energy storage capacity.
The energy squeeze has reignited a debate about whether the EU should
promote nuclear power projects as a way of becoming more energy independent.
The bloc has yet to decide whether nuclear can be included in the so-called
taxonomy, a classification system attempting to define what economic activities
can qualify for sustainable investment while avoiding "greenwashing."
France recently asked for the inclusion of nuclear power in the framework by
the end of the year, leading the charge with nine other EU countries. The group
faces strong opposition from Germany and other countries that want nuclear
power to be ineligible for green financing.