EU calls for relief funds to help energy price hit consumers
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to provide relief funds to consumers and small businesses hit hardest by rising gas and electricity prices, as criticism mounts that the bloc’s climate change fighting policies are fueling the problem.
In recent days, France and Spain have led the charge for change to the rules governing EU energy markets as the price surge ramps up already-high utility bills and increases pressure on many people already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said that “providing targeted support to consumers, direct payments to those most at risk of energy poverty, cutting energy taxes, shifting charges to general taxation, are all measures that can be taken very swiftly under EU rules.”
“The immediate priority should be to mitigate social impacts and protect vulnerable households, ensuring that energy poverty is not aggravated,” Simson told EU lawmakers. She said businesses “can be given relief through state aid or by facilitating longer term power purchase agreements.”
The 27-country EU imports about 90% of its natural gas needs, compared to the U.S., which produces its own and where prices are lower.
Simson said the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, will present next week a “toolbox” of short- and medium-term measures for countries to take. Some countries are interested in setting up a strategic gas reserve for use in emergencies.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban took aim at the commission’s “Green Deal” policies for fighting climate change, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and make the trading bloc carbon neutral by 2050.
“The reason why the prices are up is the fault of the commission. So, we have to change...