31st Mar 2023

More time needed to agree possible EU gas price cap

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Prague. The commission is expected to come up with a proposal to reduce gas prices ahead of this month's summit (Photo: EU2022_CZ)
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EU leaders discussed on Friday (7 October) Europe's gas price cap options, during an informal summit in Prague.

They are expected to come back to the issue at their usual meeting in Brussels on 20 and 21 October — when a potential agreement on how to lower natural gas prices to tackle soaring bills may be reached by the 27 heads of state and government.

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"The next formal European Council will be an important deadline," Czech prime minister Petr Fiala told a press conference, after the meeting.

Several proposals to limit the price of gas have been put on the table after 15 member states call to limit the price of gas directly.

These include negotiating prices with gas suppliers in Norway and the US, creating a complementary index for LNG and setting price caps — either for gas imports, intra-EU transactions or both.

EU states have been taking different and varying measures at a national level to lower prices.

But calls for coordination and common solutions have been gaining momentum in recent weeks — especially after some countries criticised Germany's new  €200bn stimulus package to shield its economy and consumers from the effect of rising energy prices.

"Our common ambition is to reduce energy prices," said the EU Council president Charles Michel.

Ahead of the meeting, Latvian prime minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš argued that tackling skyrocketing prices is not only important for Europe's economy, but also to support Ukraine.

"If we can get the price of gas down in Europe, we can help our economy and our citizens, but we also have to do that to maintain the support among our citizens for the war effort against Russia," Krišjānis warned.

EU split

Belgium, France, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Greece, Italy and Spain are among the supporters of a wholesale gas price cap, while Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark have opposed the move — so far.

"This is the moment" to take common action, said Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo. "If we agree on that we can start looking at the technical side".

Efforts to tackle the energy crisis, including price caps, will be discussed by EU energy ministers during next week's informal meeting (11 and 12 October).

But some countries have already voiced concern over the impact of price caps on the security of supply.

"We are supporting the price gap if it doesn't hinder the security of supply," said Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas ahead of the meeting with her counterparts.

"We are on the global world market, competing, for example, for the LNG. If our region has a price gap and the other regions don't have a price gap, then we will just be out of gas because nobody will sell us the gas".

The commission is expected to come up with a clear proposal to reduce gas prices ahead of the European Council later this month.

"How to partially decouple the influence of the gas price in the formation of the electricity price might be the first step for a far-reaching market reform that we are envisaging," EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in Prague on Friday.

The commission proposal is expected to push for further energy saving, beyond current volunteer targets.

"Today, seven months into the war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine. We are much better prepared for the winter than it was the case before," she said.

Gas imports from Russia have dropped from 40 percent before the war to eight percent today, von der Leyen said.

Meanwhile, there is broad support to have joint procurement of gas next spring in order to avoid a situation in which member states outbid each other in global markets.

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