European Union member states failed to agree on a bloc-wide response to surging energy prices in an emergency meeting of Government Ministers on 26 October, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.
European gas prices have hit record highs this autumn and remain at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.
Countries are struggling to agree however on a longer-term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake- up of the way EU energy markets work.
Spain made the case for joint gas purchases by EU countries and proposed that individual countries should be able to opt out of the EU’s current system of setting electricity prices. Those proposals faced resistance from other countries, who are wary of overhauling EU energy laws in response to what they say is a short-term price crunch.
Nine states including Germany, EU’s biggest economy and market for electricity, published a joint statement ahead of the meeting that said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.
The European Commission is analyzing the design of Europe’s electricity market and gathering evidence on the behavior of gas suppliers after some countries accused Russia’s Gazprom of manipulating the market to push up prices. The Commission will also assess the pros and cons of joint gas buying among EU countries. According to EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, there are many issues to be considered, such as who will pay for the costs of procuring and storing the gas, how the gas will be transported from the different regions.
With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions among EU countries as they prepare to negotiate a raft of new policies to tackle climate change, including higher tax rates for polluting fuels. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last week dismissed the plans as a utopian fantasy, a stance at odds with other states who say high fossil fuel prices should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy.