Tuesday

6th Dec 2022

Editorial

Editor's weekly digest: Non-decisions, non-apologies, non-solutions

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Despite the European Council convening this week to hash out some concrete steps to fight rising energy costs, it was pretty much business as usual in the EU in terms of actual decision-making.

Pretty much none were made.

Read and decide

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In the conclusions published in the early hours on Friday (21 October), the council punted the issues back to the commission, calling on them to "urgently submit concrete decisions" on the matters of joint gas purchasing, a gas price cap, and "improvements to the functioning of gas markets."

In other words; 'we didn't manage, you do it.'

Energy ministers will get together next week (Tuesday 25 October) to continue the discussions, with an emergency Energy Council meeting scheduled for November to bring whatever consensus they reach into force.

The ambivalence of results led to some interesting media coverage, with some outlets celebrating the few results (Germany inching closer to accepting gas price cap), while others lamented the failure to move on gas price caps (EU summit divided over capping price paid for wholesale gas).

Politico put it nicely when noting "The result was a classic EU outcome. Everyone gets a little, no one gets everything, more talking is inevitable and many will grumble at the interminable process."

No wonder so many politicians buckle under stress. Psychological research has shown that uncertainty causes stress, and prolonged stress can cause burnout. Which is why it's all the more important to cover this topic — as our Eszter Zalan did in a great piece on the 'silent pandemic' of mental health issues, and how EU policy is lagging in its fight.

Nice segue, no?

The article was read by an unusually large number of people (with a big share of them in UK, where I can imagine stress levels are off the charts), so I think she hit a nerve in our anxious zeitgeist. Give it a read if you haven't yet.

Also this week, we followed the steady procession of EU countries (considering) leaving the Energy Charter Treaty, which allows companies to sue governments for putting a halt to fossil fuel extraction (among other things) — and why they're considering leaving against the commission's will.

We covered the new sanctions on Iran, and at the same time published a heart-wrenching and powerful oped by an Iranian academic living abroad who offers some ideas on how we from our 'garden' could approach the brutal oppression of protests in the 'jungle' they live in, if you want to use Josep Borrell's unfortunate terminology — for which he issued a classic non-apology ("I am sorry if some have felt offended").

And to make the absurdity of interest hikes to fight the current inflation clear we spoke to German economist Phillip Heimberger, who lays out succinctly that it makes little sense for central banks to raise rates to slow down the economy (which basically means 'make people poorer and more unemployed') and push countries into recession.

Heimberger: "We still live under the illusion that the central bank is this almighty institution that can take care of price stability independently of what other policymakers in governments do." Maybe it's time to break that illusion. A report out this week underlines this by concluding that investment in renewables might actually be a better way to fight inflation.

Speaking of illusions, it seems unlikely that Germany and the Netherlands are going to budge in their position about issuing new EU pandemic-type borrowing to help less wealthy countries deal with the cost-of-living crisis. The countries are insisting funds originally intended for post-pandemic relief should be spent first — while also increasing their own government spending to cushion their own citizens and businesses.

Onwards to the articles you should not have missed this week.

A 'silent pandemic' the EU is not prepared for

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, a Cypriot psychologist, told MEPs on Tuesday (18 October) in a debate about mental health that "experts not surprisingly have warned of an approaching tsunami of mental health challenges".

Read it.

The EU should stop exporting its plastic waste, period

If you live in the EU, chances are your plastic trash might be recycled by child or migrant workers in Turkey.

Read it.

Iran has joined Russia axis on Ukraine war, EU says

New EU sanctions on Iran make clear that it has joined Russia's war against Ukraine by supplying lethal drones to Moscow.

Read it.

Iranian abroad: "We are fighting a despotic regime"

I am an Iranian abroad, working in academia. I come from the far east of Iran. I cannot share my name, because that would mean death or imprisonment for my family and friends. I am in contact with them every day.

Read it.

EU gathering intelligence on right-wing extremist threats

The EU is gathering intelligence on right wing extremist threats for a wider assessment, said the European Commission. The comments come amid a debate on Russia's influence on far-right parties and politicians in Europe.

Read it.

Report: Renewables best way to deal with inflation

The expansion of solar and wind generation in Europe—total generation in Europe went up 13 percent between March and September—saved EU countries €11bn, or eight billion cubic metres (bcm) in additional gas imports. In total, Europe generated 345 TWh of wind and solar power in these months, replacing 70bcm of gas—resulting in total savings of €99bn.

Read it.

Thank you to all new subscribers to this newsletter, and as always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip.

See you next week,

Alejandro

Opinion

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

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