Europe

EU faces several ‘terrible winters’ without price cap: minister

The EU will endure several “terrible” winters without controls on natural gas prices, Belgium’s energy minister warned on Sunday. 

“The next 5 to 10 winters will be terrible if nothing is done,” Tinne Van der Straeten wrote on Twitter. “We must act at the source, at European level, and work on freezing gas prices.”

Belgium’s energy minister called for an EU-wide price cap on gas, adding that “the time for talking is over, now is the time to decide.” 

Support for price controls at the EU level has grown across the bloc, amid surging energy costs sparked by the Ukraine war. 

“There is an urgent need to introduce a European price cap,” claimed Van der Straeten. “This can reduce the energy bill by 770 euros per year per family.”

She continued: “The European energy market is failing and urgently needs reform. This is no longer tenable for many families and companies … By reforming, we are tackling exuberant excess profits.

Governments throughout Europe have taken action to ease energy costs at home, with many households struggling to make ends meet. 

Other measures being proposed to tackle the cost of living crisis are taxing energy companies’ profits, providing financial assistance to households and subsidising public transport. 

Several major oil and gas companies have raked in record-breaking profits this year due to high energy costs. 

Van der Straeten said Belgium was taking the lead in calling for a price ceiling at the European level and had discussed the proposal with the European Commission. 

Households in Belgium currently pay below the European average for their gas and electricity, with Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Greece forking out the most. 

Van der Straeten claimed “Germany” shares the Belgian position on EU-wide price controls, though Berlin has not publically said so. 

In July, German firms called for an energy price cap to avoid social unrest. 

Germany — which is heavily reliant on Russian gas — has sought to build up natural gas supplies ahead of what is set to be a challenging winter. 

It is also offering heavily subsidised public transport tickets to alleviate living costs, while reducing taxation on natural gas from 19% to 7%. 

On Sunday, the country announced that German gas reserves were filling up faster than expected. 

In a statement, Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said the government was on track to hit its target of building up reserves to 85% of capacity by October.

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