EU energy ministers fail to reach gas price cap deal
A marathon meeting ends with countries starkly divided over the Commission’s plan.
Efforts by EU energy ministers to strike a deal on capping the price of natural gas flopped on Tuesday after more than six hours of talks failed to reach a final agreement.
The extraordinary Energy Council was meant to discuss proposals for a so-called "market correction mechanism" aimed at avoiding the kind of dramatic price spikes seen in the summer — a knock-on effect of the turmoil in energy markets caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
But there are very deep divisions among EU countries over whether there should be a cap at all, and if it is to happen, at what price it would be triggered.
"Last time I was hoping to open champagne to celebrate the agreement, but apparently, we still need to keep the bottles in the fridge for a while," said Czech Industry Minister Jozef Síkela, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council.
Under the European Commission’s original plan, the cap would go into effect when prices on the Dutch TTF hub hit €275 per megawatt-hour for two weeks, and if those prices are more than €58 per MWh higher than liquefied natural gas prices on the global market.
That proposed cap was set so high that it would not have been triggered even during August's price spike, when prices briefly reached €350 per MWh — prompting outrage from cap-backing countries.
The Czech Council presidency has since suggested several amendments to the Commission proposal, but hours of talks failed to make a final breakthrough.
“We knew that reaching an agreement on this topic was never going to be easy. For the past weeks of intense negotiations, we have made progress on technical aspects” said Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, adding that despite the "skill" of the presidency, "there are still different views on this aspect of the proposal."
The talks now shift to another Energy Council set for Monday.
"The truth is we will have a long discussion on Monday," an EU diplomat said, adding that the precise trigger price remains an open debate, with options still on the table ranging from €160 to €220 per MWh.
Riina Sikkut, Estonia’s minister of economic affairs and infrastructure, told POLITICO that there was an agreement that the cap should be triggered when gas prices are €35 per MWh higher than global LNG prices for three days, but that disputes remained over whether all European gas hubs should be included when calculating the cap strike price.
The delay affects other files aimed at helping the bloc wean itself off Russian gas imports, including measures to speed up approvals of renewable energy projects and jointly purchase gas. Síkela said those files would be approved next week.
"It could go either way," another EU diplomat said of the renewed effort to agree on a price cap. "The process could implode or we could reach a deal. It depends strongly on [member states'] willingnesses to broker a deal."
“Let’s hope — in the spirit of Christmas,” Sikkut said.