BRDO CASTLE, Slovenia: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (center) and Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte with Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades (second right) and Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speak during the EU-Western Balkans summit at Brdo Congress Centre, near Ljubljana yesterday. – AFP

BRDO CASTLE, Slovenia: European leaders are divided on how to respond to the record rise in energy prices, with France and Spain calling yesterday for bold EU-wide action, while others urged patience. With winter fast approaching, the cost of energy in Europe is shooting ever higher, putting pressure on national governments, some of which implemented emergency measures.

Spain, France and Greece are asking for the EU as a whole to respond and have mooted a wide range of proposals to overhaul the continent’s highly fragmented energy market. “We have asked the (European) Commission to be bold in its response,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, as he arrived for an EU leaders’ summit in Slovenia.

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis that requires extraordinary, innovative and forceful measures from the EU,” he said. The European Commission is the EU’s executive arm that will next week propose measures to mitigate the price surge for consumers. The suggestions will then be discussed by the bloc’s leaders at a summit in Brussels on October 21-22.

Spain wants the EU to make “group purchases” of gas, much as the bloc did for vaccinations for Covid-19. Greece is asking for an EU fund to help governments weather the crisis. Other countries, led by Germany and the Netherlands, however urge caution. They argue that the energy crunch is short-term and related to the unprecedented supply shock in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters he had heard “wilder plans and also some quieter ones” from EU partners. While he did not “exclude that some more should be done at the European level”, that would come only after “a thorough analysis”.

Focus on clean energy
The German finance ministry last week also argued the surge was a unique effect of the “recovering world economy after the COVID crisis” and would eventually fade away. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a bete noire for his EU counterparts, asserted that the price crunch was caused by new bloc-wide rules designed to bring the EU to zero-carbon emissions by 2050.

“We have to change some regulations otherwise everybody will suffer,” he said. Frans Timmermans, the EU commission’s climate change supremo tasked with making the bloc’s Green Deal happen, said the solution lay with quickly adopting clean-energy sources. “The quicker we increase our renewable energy sources, the quicker we can protect our citizens against price hikes in the traditional energy area,” Timmermans told reporters in Luxembourg. – AFP