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EU countries solve the gas price ceiling rift when the cold starts to come in


BRUSSELS — On the threshold of winter, European Union nations have been unable to overcome bitter disagreements as they struggle to effectively protect their 450 million citizens from a massive spike in natural gas bills. when the cold weather starts.

An emergency meeting of energy ministers on Thursday showed only that the energy crisis tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine has split the 27-nation bloc into almost irreconcilable blocs.

A spike in natural gas prices in August stunned all but the wealthiest in the EU, forcing the bloc to seek a ceiling to rein in volatile prices that are fueling inflation. After several delays, energy ministers are back to trying to break the deadlock between countries demanding cheaper gas to ease household bills – including Greece, Spain , Belgium, France and Poland – and countries like Germany and the Netherlands are claiming price ceilings that can cut supplies.

A solution is nowhere near the horizon – to the chagrin of many.

The country’s energy minister, Anna Moskwa, said: “In Poland, the temperature is already minus 10 (Celsius) in Poland. “It’s winter now.”

Prices for electricity and natural gas have skyrocketed as Moscow cuts gas supplies to Europe used for heating, electricity and industrial processes. European officials accuse Russia of waging an energy war to punish EU countries that support Ukraine.

So finding an agreement not only brings warmth to the people, but also represents a united front with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Negotiations have dragged on for months, and even when a summit of EU leaders announced some breakthroughs last month, nothing has actually been seen. Countries have been waiting for a proposal from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to set a price cap threshold, and when it arrived on Tuesday, there was frustration and accusations that it can never be done.

The commission sets thresholds for “safety ceilings” that come into effect if prices exceed 275 euros per megawatt-hour for two weeks and if they are 58 euros above the price of liquefied natural gas on the world market.

In political terms, that means such a system may not even be able to prevent the high surges seen in August.

“Setting a ceiling at 275 euros is really not a ceiling,” said Greek Energy Minister Konstantinos Skrekas.

He added: “We are losing precious time with no results.

For comparison, prices stood at 125 euros per megawatt-hour on the European TTF benchmark on Thursday. As prices have fallen since their summer highs, diplomats say the urgency has eased somewhat, although it could rebound quickly if the weather is colder than usual and supplies are tight. rare.

About 15 countries are united around these views, but Germany and the Netherlands lead another group that wants to ensure that gas supply ships do not bypass Europe because they can get better prices there. other.

“Supply security is paramount. Europe must still be an attractive gas market,” said Estonian Economy Minister Riina Sikkut.

No decisive breakthrough is expected at Thursday’s meeting.

Czech Industry Minister Jozef Síkela, who chaired the emergency meeting, said he was well aware of the “emotional reactions” that the commission’s proposal had caused and predicted that the talks would be “quite a bit”. acrimonious”.

Due to trade disruptions related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, EU nations have reduced their total share of Russian natural gas imports to the EU from 40% before the invasion to about 7%. The gasoline warehouse has exceeded the target and is almost at full capacity.

The EU has relied on increasing imports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, including from the United States, to help address the drop in Russian supply.

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