Usually, on the eve of a European Council, diplomats want to be reassuring. But, in recent days, as the meeting of heads of state and government in Prague on Friday, October 7, drew closer, several of them did not hide their concerns. And not only because of the risks of escalation, in particular nuclear, of the war in Ukraine. While soaring energy prices, fueled by the Kremlin’s gas offensive, threaten social peace and their economies, the Twenty-Seven remain unable to agree on the course of action to mitigate the deleterious effects. Between panic and pitched battle, they tried, on Friday, “to identify their points of convergence”confided in the entourage of Charles Michel, a way of saying that a compromise is still far away.
Eager to show their unity, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, arrived side by side at the castle located on the heights of the Czech capital, flanked by the head of the Dutch government, Mark Rutte. But behind the image, tensions between Paris and Berlin over energy issues remain high.
More broadly, the Twenty-Seven, who have managed to stand together since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, know that today their unity is threatened by the return of galloping inflation. Since the invasion of Ukraine, they have certainly made sure to do without Russian gas as much as possible: filling reserves to 90%, diversifying supplies and reducing consumption. But in doing so, they have also exacerbated the rise in prices, at their expense. “We have very substantially reduced our dependence on Russian gas”rejoiced Emmanuel Macron, but, “in the very short term, we have a price problem”.
Von der Leyen under pressure
To make matters worse, Germany’s lone horseman, by first buying high-priced gas to fill its reserves, then by announcing, on September 29, a tariff shield of 200 billion euros, constitutes an almost existential for the European Union (EU). To the risk of fragmentation of the internal market is added that of seeing the interest rates granted to the countries of the euro zone diverge and the Monetary Union sway.
Admittedly, all governments have adopted plans to support households and businesses, but not all have the same means, in the south and even more so in the east of the continent. “The German economy is so big that what Germany gives to its companies could destroy the internal market”thus attacked Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins on Thursday morning. “This is the beginning of cannibalism in the EU. Brussels must act on this, because it will destroy European unity”commented, for his part, the Hungarian Viktor Orban, on October 3, despite being reluctant to call on the EU for help. “German selfishness must be put away”for his part, cursed the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.
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