EU ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday have postponed the final decision on a proposed ceiling on natural gas prices until next week, despite the urgency of the issue.
The European Commission proposed the price cap last month after the economic turmoil caused by Russia cutting gas supplies to Europe and driving up energy prices.
What happened at Tuesday’s EU meeting?
Ministers agreed on two other measures to reduce the bloc’s energy deficit: joint gas purchases and accelerated permits for renewable energy installations would be adopted once the price cap was finalized.
“I was hoping to open a champagne today to celebrate the agreement. But apparently we have to keep the bottles in the fridge for a while,” says Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela. Poland currently holds the EU presidency and chaired the talks.
He told journalists: “Our goal is to approve all three items in a package by Monday,” when talks on the price cap resume.
The commission had proposed a price cap of €275 ($292) per megawatt-hour, but only if the price stayed above that level for at least two weeks, and then only if the liquefied natural gas (LNG) price rose above €58 for 10 days in the same two-week period.
To reach an agreement, EU ministers must agree on how high the price cap should be, which gas contracts it should apply to and what safeguards should be put in place, such as the EU’s power to immediately suspend the cap in case of undesirable consequences.
Cap exposes ‘fragile balance’ in EU
Some countries, including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, fear that the gas price cap risks diverting supplies to higher-paying markets.
“We’ve made progress, but we’re not done yet. Not all questions could be answered today,” German Economics Minister Robert Habeck said after the meeting, which dragged on for hours as country delegates searched for a compromise.
Other states, including Greece, Belgium, Italy and Poland are pushing for a cap, claiming it would protect their economies from high energy prices.
“European citizens are in agony, European companies are closing and Europe has been debating unnecessarily,” Greek Energy Minister Konstantinos Skrekas said on Tuesday ahead of the meeting.
“The time for consultations has run out,” Italian European Affairs Minister Raffaele Fitto said as he entered the meeting.
Both sides could each have enough votes to block a deal, with France potentially proving decisive in final negotiations on Monday.
Sikela said the price cap was “extremely sensitive” and had revealed a “fragile balance” in the European Union.
“Some countries believe that if we get it wrong with the mechanism, it could actually cause a much bigger problem that we want to avoid,” he said.
los/wd (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)