23rd Mar 2023

EU to discuss gas-price cap, as Russia keeps pipe shut

  • Russian state firm Gazprom operates Nord Stream 1 (Photo:
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EU countries are to discuss imposing a gas-price cap, as strained markets reopen this week to news that Russia's pipeline to Germany will stay shut.

Energy ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday (9 September) will consider caps on imported gas and on gas used for electricity production, according to a Czech EU presidency document seen by Reuters.

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They will also discuss the creation of a "pan-European credit line support" for EU energy firms struggling to cope with market volatility.

The emergency talks come after Russia, on Friday, said its Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany would remain closed indefinitely for maintenance.

Trading firms predicted the move would drive prices, which are already four times normal levels, even higher when markets reopened on Monday.

"We are not afraid of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin's decisions. We ask them to respect their contracts but if they don't we are ready to react," EU economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said at a business fair in Italy on Saturday.

But Russia's gas cut-offs, widely seen as retaliation at EU sanctions over Ukraine, are already making a political as well as a financial impact in Europe.

Some 70,000 far-right and far-left supporters protested against EU arms for Ukraine in Prague on Sunday at a 'Czech Republic First' rally.

They called for a new gas deal with Russia and some wore pro-Putin T-shirts, Czech media reports.

"It is clear that Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns are present on our territory and some people simply listen to them," Czech prime minister Petr Fiala said.

Russia "is trying to attack with poverty and political chaos where it cannot yet attack with missiles," Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky also said on Saturday on Russia's energy warfare.

For his part, the EU Council president, Charles Michel, will visit Qatar on Tuesday amid hopes of boosting supplies from the top exporter.

But at the same time as mulling EU-level measures, some member states are taking unilateral action to stave off a potential energy crisis.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz unveiled a €65 billion fund on Sunday to help private households and companies get through the winter period of peak consumption.

"Russia is no longer a reliable energy partner," Scholz told press in Berlin.

And the socialist leader promised a crackdown on profiteering by giant energy producers.

"There are excess profits by some producers who can simply take advantage of the situation that the very expensive price of gas determines the price of electricity, and that therefore make a lot of money," he said.

"We are firmly determined to change the market rules in such a way that such windfall profits no longer occur".

Finland and Sweden said they were earmarking tens of billions of euros to protect vulnerable utility-providing companies from insolvency.

"If we do not act, there is a serious risk of disruptions in the financial system, which in the worst case could lead to a financial crisis," Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson said in Stockholm on Saturday, according to Reuters.

The Group of 7 industrialised nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US — also agreed a cap on Russian oil prices last week.

"I'm sure that countries like Australia and South Korea could be interested in joining this coalition," the EU's Gentiloni said.

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