Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson found it difficult to present the “toolbox” on the energy crisis announced in September on Wednesday.

Since then, the EU states have presented various papers on the tools they expect the Commission to use to respond to the sharp rise in prices in recent weeks.

Hendrik Kafsack

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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France is pushing for electricity and gas prices to be decoupled and for nuclear power to play a bigger role.

Spain wants the EU to buy and store their gas together.

Poland demands that the Commission investigate whether speculators and Russian supply cuts will drive prices up.

At the same time - much to the displeasure of the Commission - there are increasing voices calling into question the EU's ambitious climate plans.

The Commissioner's balancing act

In addition, the fact that the toolbox was originally only supposed to list which tools the states can use to cushion the direct consequences of the energy crisis for socially disadvantaged households and companies has become secondary.

It was not about new ideas, but about clarifying the EU requirements for such aids.

But as it was, Simson, who left the stage to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her Vice President Frans Timmermans, unlike usual, was forced to do a real balancing act.

On the one hand, it presented a list of short-term measures that states can take to ease the pressure of high prices.

On the other hand, it announced medium and long-term solutions with which it at least responded to the most important demands of the member states - but without making any concrete commitments.

The money is here

"The short-term answer to the crisis lies with the member states," Simson clarified. They could relieve socially disadvantaged households in various ways, as long as the aid is clearly limited in time. This includes the award of energy checks and other direct grants, as well as the exemption from certain taxes or the reduction of VAT on energy.

Aid for companies is also possible as long as it does not distort competition in the internal market, said Simson.

Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Belgium have announced such aid.

The Commission should therefore not put any obstacles in their way, even if Samson announced that it would carefully examine their plans.

Simson emphasized that money was available.

In the first nine months of this year alone, the states achieved additional income of 10.8 billion euros from emissions trading.

In the medium and long term, Simson is relying on the further expansion of renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency.

“The Green Deal is not part of the problem, but part of the solution,” she stressed.

Rather, the problem is that the EU is still too dependent on fossil fuels, more than 90 percent of which are imported.

Simson intends to take up ideas such as the joint purchase of gas and storage in a larger package for the gas market in December.

However, she made it clear that this was only conceivable on a voluntary basis.

In fact, both have been possible since the 2015 Energy Union resolution, but have not yet been used.

The Commission wants to examine France's demands for reform of the electricity market.

Simson said at the same time, however, that the electricity market is providing exactly the right incentives for the expansion of renewable energy and that it is more likely to lead to low prices.

France would benefit from a decoupling of electricity and gas prices because it gets 70 percent of its electricity from cheap nuclear energy.

Above all, the Commission wants to use the tool kit to prevent high energy prices from jeopardizing its climate plans.

It is ultimately a sedative pill for the states.

She emphasized that the share of the price increase for CO2 emission rights in emissions trading, which had already risen since summer 2020, was small in the price increase.

It is between 10 and 15 percent.

The authority is betting that the price increase, which in its view was primarily triggered by the upswing after the Corona crisis, will not be repeated.

It assumes that prices will start falling again from April onwards.

The EU leaders will deal with the toolbox and energy prices at the summit in Brussels next week.

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