European leaders put pressure on their ministers: there must be an agreement on gas

 Writing that the leaders of the EU have put more pressure on their ministers this Thursday is as rigorously true as it is redundant and insufficient to understand what is happening in Europe these days. On Tuesday, the Energy Council was once again unable to nail down the last technical details for a gas price cap. They came close, closer than ever before, but while the broad outlines seem pretty sharp, and there is some consensus on almost three of the four items in the instrument, the exact numbers remain an issue. The ministers will meet again on Monday,hopefully at the last meeting of the year, and for this reason their bosses, those ultimately responsible, welcome the progress made in the conclusion document approved today, but urge them to “finish the job.”

The initial draft, negotiated by ambassadors and sherpas, the special envoys, urged completion “urgently”, but the agreed final language is much more specific: they must finish on Monday, the 19th, without further ado. s delays, delays, blockages or excuses. “Today, after the lack of results from the Energy Council, we could not continue going around and we have mandated the ministers, this time yes, so that we can reach a definitive agreement on the 19th”, explained the Spanish president. ol when finished.

It is more or less clear how the cap on gas would be deactivated in the event of a threat to supply or a financial emergency. It is more or less clear what scope of application, what derivative instruments it will affect and in what markets. But two key elements are missing. The first, if there would be a maximum price from which the ceiling would be activated (the initial proposal of the Commission was 275 euros, that of the Czech presidency 220 and some want it below 200) or if the Spanish idea that there are no fixed elements, but only dynamic ones, goes ahead. The second is precisely the dynamic part.Spain wants the cap to be automatic, and to last for at least three weeks, at the moment in which the price of purchased gas is higher by a certain amount than the market reference. For example, 35 euros more expensive.

The last discussion should be if one element is enough for activation, if they should be both simultaneously, and in any case the exact numbers. Leaders have addressed it, but superficially. Some, like Spain, have put it on the table, and they would not have minded going deeper, but the vast majority of the delegations believe that the experts from the ministries should be in charge of the details. exact, once the framework seems acceptable. “This is the dilemma that we have to work on: whether or not we want to defend European industry, whether or not we want to defend the European economy,” Pedro Snchez said upon arrival.

A ‘Broom Council’

The last European Council of 2022 has been a ‘broom’ summit, a mixed bag in which to touch all the important sticks of the course, from the war in Ukraine to the energy crisis, through inflation and foreign relations. Without much emotion after the most sensitive issues, such as the Hungarian veto on several key issues, were left on track the day before. No bitter debates or polemics. The 27 approved, after months of delay, Bosnia’s request to be a candidate country. And they resolved the pending fringes of the mega-package that will imply macro-financial aid of 18,000 million euros to Kiev and the approval of a 15% rate for Corporate Taxfor large companies, something that was settled in theory on Monday, but that had been complicated by the reserves of Poland.

They also pressured to carry out the ninth round of sanctions against Russia, with the help of the ambassadors of the 27 in charge of finalizing it, trying to overcome Poland’s reservations about the proposed exemptions, since Warsaw believed that they were too soft. Security and defense conclusions were also approved. And there was a deeper debate on transatlantic relations and how the Union should deal with the massive aid that Washington is offering its green companies, creating a huge competitiveness problem for those here. .

The issue is of the utmost importance but there is no clear answer right now. Leaders have tasked the Commission with crafting a response, which will go hand in hand with relaxing the rules for state aid and outlining a kind of European Sovereign Fund. At the beginning of the year they should have technical proposals on the table and there will be an extraordinary summit to discuss it, probably on February 9. There is urgency but the IRA, the North American legislation with an air of protectionism, has progressive application, and it will be by then when the clash is clearer.

The Heads of State and Government also had time for a long exchange with the president of the European Parliament on the corruption case that has jumped these days and that involves Qatar and Moroccoin alleged bribes to deputies and assistants to influence community legislative processes. Normally his intervention is very fast, but this time there were questions, comments, because the subject worries and affects everyone. “The president has explained to us the actions taken since this scandal became known and others that they are going to take. We must place all our trust in the president and wait for the conclusion of the investigation, with all confidence in Belgian Justice. From there we will have to take the appropriate measures to defend the autonomy or independence of an important institution”, said the Spanish president.

And a critical issue was also addressed: the expansion of the space for free movement. Schengen welcomed Croatia last week, but the Dutch and Austrian veto closed the door, temporarily at least, to Bulgaria and Romania, who are furious and demanded explanations and a solution.