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European leaders launch energy plans – POLITICO


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PRAGUE — EU leaders left myriad questions unanswered on Friday as they wrapped up a summit in Prague, postponing final decisions on tackling sky-high energy prices until future meetings.

Friday’s meeting – which lasted much longer than expected, reflecting deep divisions between countries over how best to cut energy costs – made no concrete progress on a series of proposals, including a controversial gas price cap.

While technically the summit was an informal meeting – meaning leaders could only strike deals in principle – the lingering energy discord underscored the scale of the challenge facing European leaders. And with Russia only escalating the war in Ukraine, the factors driving up prices show no signs of abating.

European Council President Charles Michel, who was chairing the meeting, defended the ongoing work, calling it “useful” to have informal meetings without pressure to make decisions. This allows leaders, he said, to determine “what the different opinions are, the different sensitivities.”

Yet, so far, the only agreement seems to be that they have to come to an agreement.

“There is a common will for a common approach,” said Michel. “We need strong European cooperation.”

Despite this, no one can agree on what this “common approach” should be.

The stalemate focuses on the official EU leaders’ summit on October 20-21. The European Commission has confirmed that it will present more proposals ahead of the meeting, leaving member states to fight for leverage.

Some countries want to reimburse people for gas payments above a certain price. Others simply want to limit the price EU countries could pay for gas purchases. Still others have sought a mix-and-match of these ideas.

There have also been intense discussions about whether to increase common EU debt to cover people’s rising energy costs. But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz kibossed the idea at a press conference on Friday afternoon, insisting that previous EU pandemic recovery funds could still be redirected.

Scholz’s rejection is likely to anger those already frustrated by Berlin’s decision to unveil a 200 billion euro fund to subsidize rising energy bills. Some EU countries grumbled the move was thinly veiled state aid destabilizing the bloc’s single market and leaving poorer countries out in the cold.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says previous EU pandemic stimulus funds could be redirected | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Without mentioning Germany directly, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and which was hosting the meeting, issued a warning.

“We have to comply with state aid rules,” he said. “We cannot only have national solutions. We need European solutions.”

Similarly, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, herself a German politician, said: “We must keep our single market united and avoid fragmentation.

Scholz repeatedly stressed that the 200 billion euros would be spread over the next two years, saying that meant the amount was no bigger than what other countries like France were doing.

Then there was the escalation between Germany and France over the MidCat pipeline, which would help bring gas from the Iberian Peninsula through France to Germany and beyond.

France opposed the project, arguing that it would take too long to relieve the current crisis and would only perpetuate a dependency on fossil fuels. Germany disagrees with the timetable and argues it could help improve Europe’s energy crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron was evasive during his press conference when asked if talks had improved between France and Germany at the end of the summit.

It is France’s role, he said, ‘to unite opposing viewpoints when there are tensions’ – a reference to criticism of Germany’s 200 billion euro fund .

“On MidCat, it’s a pipeline between France and Spain that passes through the Pyrenees,” he added, qualifying the decision as environmental. “So it’s not a disagreement between France and Germany.”

Even before the leaders came to these heated disagreements, they also had to tackle another thorny subject: Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the leaders again via video link – his second time in two days after appearing before a wider list of European leaders on Thursday.

He urged the leaders – again – to send more arms to Ukraine, a sensitive topic for EU countries like Germany and France facing pressure to increase arms deliveries.

“I understand – we would all rather spend the money we spend on armaments for completely different purposes – peaceful purposes, social needs,” he said. “But who and what can protect such goals and needs?

Speaking after the summit, Michel underlined the EU’s support for Ukraine. But there were few details on an EU plan to step up aid to Kyiv.

Von der Leyen said the EU should increase its financial support. The topic is another point of tension within the EU, as countries bicker over how to structure the 9 billion euros in financial aid the bloc has pledged to Ukraine.

“We will have to establish a very structured approach,” she said, stressing the need for “predictability – predictability of funding.”

European leaders launch energy plans – POLITICO

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