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On the sidelines of the meeting, Macron Scholz prepares another painful defeat

The crisis continues, but there are still no concrete EU solutions to the high gas prices.

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On the sidelines of the meeting, Macron Scholz prepares another painful defeat

The crisis continues, but there are still no concrete EU solutions to the high gas prices. After more than ten hours of negotiations until late last night, the head of the 27 EU heads of government, Council President Charles Michel, only announced via Twitter at 2.20 a.m. that it was agreed at this summit to “develop measures to contain energy prices for households and companies .” That could take many more weeks, if at all. The aim now is to work out a "temporary dynamic price corridor", a kind of EU price cap for gas trading, which, however, must not jeopardize security of supply. This is going to be hard enough.

Two weeks ago, the EU governments were unable to reach an agreement at an informal summit meeting in Prague. The positions are too different, the cracks are too deep and the interests are too different when it comes to concrete measures. "We will introduce a market correction mechanism to limit episodes of excessive gas prices," said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

That should be the message of this night to the 440 million Europeans? In his letter of invitation to this EU summit, Council President Michel had warned: "We must act extremely urgently." On Thursday morning, several top EU diplomats also emphasized: "People rightly expect concrete answers from us. And we have to deliver it now.” Instead, von der Leyen announced that the commission authority would work with the ministers of the EU states on a legislative proposal. The EU now has “a very good timetable”. Couldn't you have done all this a lot earlier?

Of course, the task is complicated. Basically, it's about this: EU countries want to intervene in the fight against the high energy prices in the market - in such a way that prices fall, the supply of gas remains guaranteed and - as the Brussels Code of Ethics wants it - "solidarity". among themselves is preserved. Is that possible? Isn't the price so high for a good reason, since gas is so scarce because of Putin's war in Ukraine? Isn't the global gas market so big that European politicians can partially undermine the billion-euro cycle of supply and demand in order to cap import prices by means of a resolution with an upper limit - Chancellor Olaf Scholz calls it a "politically set price cap"?

Exactly these doubts plague Scholz. "No one wants to make decisions where it is theoretically good afterwards, but there is no gas," he said on the subject of the gas price cap. "We have to set up what we decide to make it work," he said. And added: "Not that there's no gas afterwards. That would not help anyone.” This is a problem for Germany in particular. Experts emphasize that southern European countries could hope for sufficient supplies even with a gas price cap. But that doesn't apply to Germany.

Scholz is not alone in his skepticism about the gas price cap. In principle, the EU Commission shares the views of the German Chancellor, but also states such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark and Sweden. "The ships with liquefied natural gas (LNG) would still pass Europe because they can earn more elsewhere," said a diplomat from northern Europe.

In contrast, the majority of EU countries have been vehemently demanding a price cap for weeks. They do not say how this limitation should look in detail. But the representatives of these countries - including Italy, Spain and France - were louder and more aggressive than Scholz from the start

This is especially true for the French President. Macron coldly countered Scholz at this EU summit – also with lies. This has a history: Macron had to learn last year that "cher Olaf" is much less impressed by the Frenchman's charm, his grand gestures and the ever solemn emphasis on Franco-German friendship than former Chancellor Angela Merkel. Macron's cutlery just doesn't work with Scholz.

And so last night Germany and France faced each other irreconcilably over the issue of a cap on gas. Scholz stayed firm. Early on Thursday afternoon, Macron had tried to corner the German chancellor. There is great unity among the EU countries, stressed Macron. He will do everything to convince Chancellor Scholz, he whispered. And then said: "I think it's not good, neither for Germany nor for Europe, that it (Germany) isolates itself."

Scholz was not isolated at all, even if the majority called for a gas price cap. But Macron was playing a game. He used a mood that actually exists in the EU: Germany, as the richest and largest country with a special historical responsibility, must not act selfishly and is particularly committed to solidarity.

Scholz's problem was that a few weeks ago he had catered to exactly this mood with an announcement that was perceived as cocky in the EU: with the "double boom", i.e. the German defense shield against the consequences of the energy crisis, which was worth up to 200 billion. Other EU countries also have such an umbrella - but it's naturally smaller there and they didn't advertise it rhetorically as aggressively. For example, an informed EU top diplomat reported that as a result of the Madrid support payments for gas purchases for electricity, Spanish companies were already beginning to try to force German companies out of the market with lower prices. "But nobody talks about that," said the diplomat from Eastern Europe.

Scholz angrily rejected the accusations that Germany was “isolated” last night. This applies "in no way", said Scholz. He described the cooperation with Macron as "intensive" and "successful". They want to meet again in Paris next week. However, Paris and Berlin had previously canceled a joint ministerial meeting, citing a lack of agreement on central points as the reason.

Macron said on Friday night that he mediated at the summit together with Council President Michel and "created unity between the positions". Scholz sees it differently. He expressed the mood at this summit as follows: "We pulled ourselves together". The foundations have been laid so that Europe can act and decide together on issues relating to high energy prices, said the Chancellor dryly. But isn't that a matter of course? Scholz emphasized the banal. Are the cracks within the EU in this energy price crisis really so deep that it needs to be emphasized?

After all, according to Scholz, the EU countries have agreed on joint gas purchases, which the EU Commission proposes should also be mandatory to a small extent. "I think that's good progress," said the Chancellor. At least 15 percent of the storage requirement (about 13.5 billion cubic meters for the entire EU), as proposed by the EU Commission, should be purchased by the companies in the member states via a common EU gas purchasing platform.

This is intended to prevent states from outbidding each other when purchasing gas. As recently as the summer, several countries - Germany in the lead - had bought the market virtually empty in order to fill the stores as quickly as possible. At that time, the price rose to more than 300 euros per megawatt hour. It is now below 150 euros again; before the Ukraine war, a price of 20 euros per megawatt hour was normal.

For Scholz, this EU summit, which will continue on Friday, has not gone well so far. In their joint fight against high gas prices, the Europeans have bought time that they actually don't have. Scholz suspects that the debate about the gas price cap is likely to become even more heated without ultimately finding a solution that is satisfactory for everyone and that is good on the matter.

On the fringes of the summit, Macron inflicted another painful defeat on the German chancellor: the French president agreed with the heads of government from Spain and Portugal to build a third energy pipeline between the Iberian peninsula and France. This is now to replace the midcat pipeline rejected by Paris, for which Scholz recently campaigned together with Spain and Portugal. The federal government had hoped to be supplied first with gas and later with hydrogen through this pipe via the Pyrenees from Spain to France. Macron opposed it, arguing that it would promote fossil fuel infrastructure. Berlin reacted irritably. But it was no use: Macron is now celebrating a new "green energy corridor" between Barcelona and Marseille.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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