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Germany heats up as EU leaders meet to discuss energy crisis

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BRUSSELS — The mood in European diplomatic circles this week could be summed up in two words: “Really, Germany?”

After years of listening to German government lectures on austerity, and a summer in which some turned down the air conditioning in part to help correct Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas, European Union leaders, officials and diplomats were baffled. for Germany’s $200 billion plan. to protect its residents and businesses from high energy prices.

Diplomats accuse Germany of taking an independent approach and fear Berlin’s debt-financed spending spree will worsen inflation, exacerbate Europe’s rich-poor divide and unfairly benefit German companies in a way that clashes with the spirit of the European Union. market.

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Germany has defended its measures as fair and proportionate, while opposing proposals for EU-wide price caps or joint loans. If any country is to blame, German politicians have suggested, it is France, whose faulty nuclear power plants have added pressure to Europe’s energy grid.

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The acrimony continued on Friday at an informal summit in Prague, where EU leaders focused on the energy crisis, including measures to control prices and concerns about the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines that transport gas from Russia to Europe.

More than a dozen countries among the 27 EU members have called for a broad cap on the price of natural gas.

Before the summit, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that she supported the consideration of temporary price caps “which would show that the EU is not ready to pay the price of gas”, but also warned that “without a common European solution, we run a serious risk of fragmentation”.

The German announcement seemed to surprise the rest of Europe, and immediately raised eyebrows.

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, credited with keeping the euro zone together in his previous job as head of the European Central Bank, criticized Germany, saying: “We cannot divide ourselves according to our fiscal room for manoeuvre.”

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Similar criticism came from France and Spain, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban calling it “the beginning of cannibalism in the EU” at a news conference.

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Two powerful EU commissioners from France and Italy echoed those points in a joint op-ed published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other European newspapers on Monday. Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market, and Paolo Gentiloni, commissioner for the economy, wrote that Germany’s plan raised “many questions”. They called for financial solidarity within the EU, suggesting the bloc could turn to the same tool – the joint loan – that it used in the pandemic.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended Germany’s subsidies and opposed both a bloc-wide price cap and additional joint debt.

Germany’s plan is a “very balanced, very smart and very decisive package that serves to keep prices low and tolerable as long as these challenges exist,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

Furthermore, he argued that Germany’s move was in line with what other countries have been doing. “The measures we are taking are not unique, but are also being taken elsewhere and rightly so,” she said, pointing to neighboring France.

The EU prepares for blackouts this winter, in the midst of an energy crisis

Paris has said it will not allow natural gas and electricity prices for homes to rise more than 15 percent in 2023. However, those price caps are expected to cost about $12 billion if you take into account the excise taxes on energy companies, far less than Germany can spend, even when calculated on a per capita basis.

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Meanwhile, less wealthy EU countries lack the same means to protect consumers.

On the issue of the joint loan, Scholz pointed to the EU’s pandemic recovery fund. “We have a huge program totaling €750 billion, most of which has not yet been used, but can be particularly effective at the moment,” he said.

He also argued that an EU-wide price cap would make it more likely that Europe would lose out to China and others in the competition for liquefied natural gas.

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Germany’s newspapers are firmly following the Chancellor’s example and reading them, there is a feeling that Europe’s energy situation is France’s fault.

“Macron is keeping our electricity, and we pay the bill,” reflected the conservative weekly Focus, summarizing a general sentiment.

Roughly half of France’s nuclear power plants are undergoing maintenance, depriving France of its title as Europe’s biggest energy exporter and forcing it to import electricity from Germany.

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“But it appears to be more of a technical and administrative planning failure, rather than a political failure,” as in Germany, said Elisabetta Cornago, a researcher at the Brussels-based Center for European Reform.

For many Germans, it is an emotional issue. In 2011, the country decided to abandon nuclear power production and was supposed to shut down its last reactor by the end of this year. But when German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, a key supporter of such a nuclear exit, recently had to announce a delay, he blamed France. Two German nuclear plants are likely to have to run until next spring to offset France’s production problems, he said.

Another source of German frustration with its neighbor has been French opposition to a gas pipeline project between Spain and France through the Pyrenees. The project had been dormant for years. But the Germans, Spanish and Portuguese now see the pipeline as a critical link between LNG terminals in southwestern Europe and central European customers like Germany.

French officials have argued that existing pipelines between the two countries have enough capacity and that it would take too long to build a new pipeline.

“I don’t understand why we jump like goats from the Pyrenees on this issue,” Macron said recently.

When he met with European leaders in Prague on Thursday, he made another thinly veiled hint about Germany’s insistence on abandoning nuclear power, even as it struggles to find alternative energy sources.

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Instead of another gas pipeline between Spain and France, he said, Europe needs a strategy for renewable energies and for nuclear energy.

Noack reported from Paris, Brady from Berlin, and Rios from Prague.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, after holding referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is requesting “accelerated accession” to NATO, in an apparent response to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse setbacks in his war against Ukraine. The announcement sparked an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to the service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counter-offensive that forced a major Russian withdrawal in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the first days of the war, abandoning large amounts of military equipment.

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Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war; here we present some of his most impressive works.

How can you help: Here are ways those in the US can support the Ukrainian people, as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.

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