ISSN 2330-717X

France Keen To Push Brussels On Capping Russian Energy Imports

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By  Paul Messad

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(EurActiv) — Following EU energy ministers’ negotiations on measures proposed by the Commission to face lowering energy supplies last week, the French government said it is open to taking the matter further by putting a cap on Russian energy imports.

On Thursday (8 September), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed five measures to mitigate the worst effects of the current energy crisis.

Though some think the Commission’s push is too little too late, EU countries called for an immediate suspension of the automatic increase of the maximum price threshold.

France said it largely backs the Commission’s plans, with Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher saying her government favours “a mechanism to cap the price of electricity on the spot market.”

During the debates, France also said it was in favour of reforming the EU’s electricity market to decouple gas prices from electricity prices despite such a measure only being “urgent and temporary”, as EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said at the end of the Council.

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Though structural reform does not seem to be on the agenda, Manon Aubry, co-chair of the EU Parliament’s Left group, told EURACTIV France that fundamental reform is “indispensable because the crisis has shown how inadequate the current rules are.”

Capping energy revenues

France is also in favour of the Commission’s proposal to cap revenues of low-cost energy producers and introduce a solidarity contribution from fossil fuel producers to finance support measures for vulnerable households, said Pannier-Runacher.

The French government would thus “support a mechanism to cap Russian gas deliveries by pipeline”, she added, noting that the French storage facilities are more than 90% full.

The Commission’s proposed support measure would also benefit companies, said Simson, adding that it would “preserve incentives for investment in renewable energy.”

Capping gas prices and the price of Russian oil is also backed by the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, according to a press release from Wednesday that called on the Council “not to fall back into intergovernmental reflexes, which would lead to fragmentation and finally, insufficient national strategies.”

Price cap on gas 

The French minister also said that France, like 14 other EU countries, is also “rather open” to capping the prices of all gas imports.

She said that such a measure would have to be accompanied by exemptions to ensure suppliers, particularly those from Asia, are not alarmed, adding that such a platform would make it possible “to cool down market prices [without] losing agility on the market”.

However, the proposal to cap the prices of all gas imports has not been universally welcomed – five EU members oppose the measure, while three ask for guarantees.

When pressed about the issue by journalists following the Council meeting, Simson said that “if the objective is to fight against the manipulation of Russian gas, it would be logical to apply it only to Russian gas”. However “nothing is excluded” for now.

However, the French government hopes to push the issue further.

According to one EU diplomat, France would even support an embargo on all Russian fuels, while Germany would support a ceiling under conditions.

Insufficient ambition

The Council summit showed a certain “lack of ambition”, according to Aubry, who said her group, the Left, defends the “capping of the price of all energy, Russian or not.” The co-chair also described the current state of the proposals as “vague” in a tweet.

Green MEP Marie Toussaint said: “We remain with the same economic, industrial and energy model”, which “does not allow us to accelerate the transition.”

Speaking to EURACTIV France, Toussaint said that while she supports the Council’s solidarity for Ukraine, she pointed to member states finding it “difficult to take binding measures,” especially regarding reducing energy consumption.

In response to criticism of France’s record on working towards independence of Russian gas and environmental transition, Pannier-Runacher pointed to the measures France has taken to accelerate green gas production, its launch of energy sobriety plans, and the country’s ultimate goal of reducing energy consumption by 40% by 2050.

The Greens, for their part, want to see an embargo on Russian gas.

“We must first do everything we can to reduce energy demand,” Toussaint said, adding that the current situation should even allow for “a reboot of the European project” to finally move away from fossil fuels – and in particular gas – from 2035.

Renaissance MEP and chair of the EU Parliament’s environment committee, Pascal Canfin, praisedthe current stage of negotiations, saying it had resulted in “concrete measures” and the “start of a European energy shield”.

The Commission will present official legislative proposals this week, likely on Tuesday (13 September), is the so EU energy ministers can decide on concrete measures, a Commission spokesperson has said.

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