Frans Timmermans was placed in an uncomfortable position during a recent debate at the European Parliament on the ‘Fit for 55’ climate package.
Challenged on rising electricity prices, the European Commission vice-president and climate lead claimed that ‘only about one fifth of the price increase can be attributed to CO2 prices rising’—blaming ‘shortage in the market’ for the rest.
It was an unconvincing defence of the European Union’s flagship emissions-trading system (ETS). And it did not stop the Polish MEP Anna Zalewska from charging that ‘the prices of ETS are driving up, but unfortunately prices of energy are driving up as well’. Fifty million Europeans were ‘energy poor’, she claimed, and citizens were asking about price increases ‘because it’s them who’re going to unfortunately pay for the ambitions of the EU’.
In Spain, where energy prices increased by 35 per cent in the 12 months to August, the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has dialled back prices to what Spaniards paid in 2018, while blaming the rise on the unacceptable and ‘extraordinary’ profits of energy firms, to the tune of almost €3 billion, which he promised would be ‘redirected to consumers’. The €1 billion in help offered to Italians by his counterpart, Mario Draghi, is proving insufficient as prices there are set to rise by 40 per cent in the next quarter. Meanwhile in France the president, Emmanuel Macron, promises the French an early Christmas €100 cheque to help pay their winter electricity bills.
So serious is this social problem that Realpolitik, with unadorned protection for consumers, is taking precedence over political ideology. And so from the centre-right Macron through the ‘technocrat’ Draghi to the socialist Sánchez, household electricity tabs are being picked up by the public purse.