BRUSSELS — On winter’s doorstep, European Union nations have not been able to surmount bitter disagreements as they struggle to effectively shield 450 million citizens from massive increases in their natural gas bills as cold weather sets in.
An emergency meeting of energy ministers Thursday only shows how the energy crisis tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine has divided the 27-nation bloc in almost irreconcilable blocs.
A massive August spike in natural gas prices stunned all but the wealthiest in the EU, forcing the bloc to look for a cap to contain volatile prices that are fueling inflation. Following several delays, energy ministers are back trying to break a deadlock between nations that are demanding cheaper gas to ease household bills — including Greece, Spain, Belgium, France and Poland — and those like Germany and the Netherlands that are insisting a price cap could cut supplies.
A solution was nowhere near the horizon — to the frustration of many.
“It’s already minus 10 (Celsius) in Poland,” said the nation’s energy minister, Anna Moskwa. “It’s winter now.”
Natural gas and electricity prices have soared as Moscow has slashed gas supplies to Europe used for heating, electricity and industrial processes. European officials have accused Russia of energy warfare to punish EU countries for supporting Ukraine.
So finding a deal is not only about providing warmth to citizens but also about showing a united front to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Talks have dragged on for months and even if a summit of EU leaders proclaimed some sort of breakthrough last month, nothing has been visible on the ground. Nations had been waiting for a proposal from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to set a threshold for a price cap, and when it came Tuesday, there was dismay and accusations it could never work.
The commission set a threshold for a “safety price ceiling” to kick in if prices exceed 275 euros per megawatt hour for two weeks and if they are 58 euros higher than the price for liquefied natural gas on world markets.
In political language, it means that such a system might not even have averted hikes as high as in August.
“Setting a ceiling at 275 euros is not actually a ceiling,” said Greek Energy Minister Konstantinos Skrekas, who called for a cap that could go as low as 150 euros.
“We are losing valuable time without results,” he added.
In comparison, the price…