“The EU, to preserve the integrity of the internal market, has to ensure the same conditions for all” in the bloc – António Costa
Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, welcomed the latest European Commission proposals to deal with rising energy prices, saying after a summit in Prague on Friday that they were “along the right lines” and similar to the proposals put forward by Portugal itself.
Speaking at the end of an informal summit of European Union heads of state and government that was dominated by a long debate among the 27 member states about what should be the EU’s response to the energy and price crisis, Costa began by pointing out that this meeting “really served to prepare the formal Council” scheduled for October 20 and 21 in Brussels, where decisions must be taken.
“Today, as was known, was not a day for conclusions,” he told journalists. “It was a day of work, of exploring solutions and of seeking approximations with a view to the conclusions that we want to draw on October 20 and 21, and also the guidelines that may be issued from here for the meetings of the energy ministers that will take place in the meantime.”
According to the prime minister, “a fairly broad consensus was reached around the general lines that the president of the Commission” – Ursula von der Leyen – had presented to the leaders “as a work programme between now and the European Council” in a fortnight’s time.
“And I would like to welcome the fact that the proposals that the Commission president is presenting go in the right direction with regard to the proposals we have been making, with a view to setting a maximum price for gas, with a view to developing joint gas purchasing platforms and also to being able to strengthen the unity of the energy market, namely through the development of interconnections between EU member states,” he said.
Regarding the imposition of a ceiling for the price of natural gas, as called for by a large group of member states, including Portugal, Costa noted that “what started out as a position that was strongly rejected in the Council, now has a large majority” and said that 15 member states had “expressly” called for it.
He also noted that “one of the countries that was very reluctant from the beginning already accepts that the maximum price of gas is fixed for gas supplied by pipeline.”
He declined to say which country this was, but European sources said that it was the Netherlands.
Costa then underscored the need to “preserve the integrity of the EU’s internal market” – which he said was one of the “hottest” topics of the Prague summit, given the very harsh criticism from several member states of Germany’s plan to “inject” €200 billion into companies in that country to help them cope with soaring energy prices.
“On the other hand, several member states have followed my position that it is necessary to ensure, as happened in [the crisis caused by] Covid-19, that all states have the conditions to be able to support companies in this very difficult phase in which they are facing brutal rises in energy costs,” he said.
According to Costa, “leaving this exclusively in the hands of each state means creating a great asymmetry within the internal market, because there are states that have great budgetary capacity and can support [companies] more, and there are states that have less budgetary capacity and cannot support as much or not at all.”
He said his comments were not a “reproach” but that “the EU, to preserve the integrity of the internal market, has to ensure the same conditions for all” in the bloc.
“It is not possible within the same internal market, where all companies compete with each other and should compete on an equal footing, for one member state to have the capacity to take €200 billion to support its companies, and for those companies to compete on an equal footing with companies based in other member states that do not have the capacity to mobilise €200 billion to support companies that compete with German companies,” he said.
On Tuesday, von der Leyen had proposed to EU leaders an intervention to limit prices in the gas market, as well as advocating joint purchasing and management at the EU level.
In a letter sent to EU heads of government and state for discussion at Friday’s informal summit in Prague, the Commission president proposes a “road map with new actions” for the EU bloc to tackle the current acute energy crisis, with EU institutions working “together with member states to develop an intervention to limit prices in the natural gas market”.