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EU Council chief says Commission was late to respond to energy crisis

Charles Michel

In a rare instance of criticism among their own, European Council President Charles Michel has said the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen has been late in responding to the energy crisis.

In an interview published in several European news outlets on Saturday, Michel is quoted as saying that as far back as March and also during summits in May and June, the Commission was asked to submit proposals on key energy issues.

“We do not start this debate today,” Michel was quoted as saying. “That is why we invited the Commission several times in the past to put concrete proposals on the table to help the member states decide.”

The issue dated back even before the Ukraine crisis, he said. “There is not a day to lose,” he added.
Michel said the Commission cannot wait von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech on September 14 to propose solutions.

“For many months, heads of states and government have been calling on the Commission to work on this issue”, specifically on price caps and the possible need to reform the electricity market.

“There was no consensus on the type of decision that should be taken, but there was a consensus to call on the Commission to submit concrete proposals,” Michel said, clarifying that his remarks were not a criticism but a call to the heads of state and government.

“There is a sense that the Commission wasted time, and that is unfortunate,” he said.

Asked if this delay can be attributed to the technical difficulties of the electricity market, Michel said he could not accept this as an obstacle. The system has been derailed, he said.

Michel said that electricity prices are rising and companies are making huge profits. Before the summer, he added, there was a feeling in certain Brussels quarters that it might not be so bad and that these companies would use their profits to reinvest massively in the energy transition.

He described this as “a state of mind cut off from political and democratic realities” while member states were heading towards impoverishment.

“Citizens are suffering, companies are suffering, states are suffering and some energy producing companies are making super profits. I do not deny that the subject is complex but it is unacceptable to stand idle. And it’s hard to explain that, since March, there haven’t been some serious business proposals on the table,” said Michel.

Calling for “decisions to be taken quickly”, for fear of social tensions, he said the EU must do everything possible to guarantee the cohesion of their societies.

“We are in a vicious cycle that must be broken. Energy prices, far higher in Europe than anywhere else in the world, are fuelling inflation, which is fuelling poverty, reducing growth and threatening jobs,” he said, adding that one of the strategic goals of Europe’s enemies was to try and create great social tensions to fuel extremism and populism.

Michel said that both the French president and the Belgian prime minister had told the truth to the people and this must be done across the bloc.

“It is necessary to make citizens aware that very quickly, we will all have to change our behaviour in terms of energy consumption,” he added, starting with the EU and European Council buildings. “The Union must lead by example.”

Von der Leyen said on Friday that Europe needs to impose a price cap on Russian pipeline gas, to foil what she said were Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to manipulate the bloc’s energy market.

She also called for measures to skim off some windfall profits that electricity suppliers have made from the gas crisis, using the money to support vulnerable citizens and companies.
EU energy ministers are scheduled to meet on September 9 for an emergency summit.

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