Countries ‘furious’ over EU reluctance to consider gas price cap
The Commission is only promising to ‘deepen its analysis’ if countries press for a cap.
The European Commission has some explaining to do Friday when national energy ministers gather to discuss ways to lower energy prices, several diplomats said.
They want to know why Brussels still hasn't detailed what a cap on the price of imported natural gas could look like — three weeks after being asked to do so at the last emergency Energy Council.
That demand was again pressed this week by 15 energy ministers, who sent a letter to Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson urging her to prepare a detailed menu of gas cap options before Friday, "followed by a legislative proposal as soon as possible."
Despite the growing momentum for direct intervention in the gas market, the EU executive is digging in its heels.
A Commission policy paper meant to guide Friday's discussion consists mainly of warnings against capping the price of all gas imports, and encourages countries to consume less and renegotiate better supply contracts with "reliable" suppliers like Norway and Algeria.
It also re-proposes Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's widely panned idea to only cap the price of Russian gas imports.
One national diplomat summarized the general reaction to the reheated policy leftovers: "Da fuck is this?"
"It has been three weeks since we said what we needed, and the Commission is just focusing on risks," complained another. "If we just speak about disadvantages and not advantages we won't get much further."
Countries "are furious the Commission is playing hide and seek on a gas price cap,” a third diplomat said.
"Many countries criticized the paper, and we will make this very clear [on Friday]," said a fourth.
"Hopefully the Commission will take into account the outcome of the discussion and not push its own idea of a Russian-only cap anymore," a fifth EU diplomat said.
A draft Council compromise obtained by POLITICO shows agreement on less controversial measures, such as a 10 percent power demand cut over the winter period and windfall taxes on energy producers.
But on gas, "don't expect anything final," a Commission official warned.
As capitals gear up for the fight, Brussels insists it is doing all it can — even as it plays for more time.
"There is no confrontation, we are seeking common ground to address an exceptional situation," a second Commission official said Thursday. On a gas price cap, "we did lead with addressing risks ... but of course, if the member states consider we need to go in that direction, we will deepen our analysis."
That's time EU countries say they don't have: Heating season begins on Saturday, and spot gas prices are still nearly five times higher than a year ago.
But Paris, at least, says Brussels is slowly — if grudgingly — coming around to the idea of allowing gas prices to be subsidized.
"The Commission laid out its preliminary ideas, which go in the right direction ... particularly the possible extension of the Iberian mechanism to the entire EU market," said a French energy ministry official.
That refers to a special system enacted by Spain and Portugal, under which the price of gas used for electricity production is partially subsidized, in a bid to lower power prices — without directly intervening in the bidding process on wholesale markets.
Germany announced Thursday it would implement its own version, issuing €200 billion in fresh debt to set a limit for wholesale gas prices and pay the difference between that cap and the actual cost to import from global suppliers.
The issue is highly political, and will be further discussed by EU leaders at an informal meeting in Prague next month.