Persistent EU rifts seen delaying any approval of gas price cap
By Gabriela Baczynska and John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium, Greece, Italy and Poland on Friday threatened to block a new set of European Union steps to alleviate an acute energy crunch because they are angry that a gas price cap is not among detailed proposals, diplomats said.
Persistent disagreements between the 27 EU countries raise the prospect that the bloc’s energy ministers will not be able to give a final approval to the cap at a meeting on Nov. 24 as had been expected.
The four countries told a meeting of national envoys to the European Union that they wanted a comprehensive proposal on the cap from the EU’s executive European Commission before Nov. 24, according to four diplomatic sources.
Otherwise, they would not agree to a whole package of measures up for approval, which also include launching joint gas purchases by the bloc and speeding up permitting procedures for renewable energy sources.
The European Commission – which drafts EU laws for approval by member countries – reacted by promising to put forward an outline of a gas cap in time for the discussion on Nov. 24.
But chances that it would be ready for approval then are slim, according to the sources who took part, or were briefed on the closed-door discussions on Friday.
The four countries cannot block an agreement on their own. But they could if they build a broader coalition among most of the EU states that have been calling for months for a gas cap to bring down high market prices.
Opposed is a small but powerful camp led by Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy, which says a cap would risk putting off suppliers and reduce incentives to bring down gas consumption.
The disagreement weakens the EU’s response to an acute energy crunch, related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and driving record-high inflation in the bloc, which now faces a new recession before it has had time to fully recover from the COVID pandemic.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Susan Fenton)