Chancellor Olaf Scholz is coming under increasing pressure from European partners because of his course in the energy crisis. Even France, its closest ally, is now openly criticizing the German position. "I think it's not good, neither for Germany nor for Europe, that it [Germany] isolating itself," said President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday at the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels. In the current situation, it is important to maintain unity. Scholz himself considers the criticism of his EU colleagues to be completely unfounded. "It is very clear that Germany acted in a very solidary manner," said the SPD politician.
However, he is quite alone with this assessment. For weeks, other EU countries such as Poland, Latvia and Italy have been criticizing the actions of the federal government, some in drastic terms. As a result of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Europe is in one of the deepest crises since World War II - and Germany is primarily taking care of its own people, according to many.
Latvia's Prime Minister Karins warns against protectionism in the energy crisis
The 200 billion euro "double boom" of the federal government against the high gas and electricity prices is an example of this. Scholz said in Brussels that Germany supports its citizens and its economy like other countries. Converted, it is “exactly the same as what France does, what Italy does, what Spain does and many other countries do.”
Many EU countries, on the other hand, see this as a distortion of competition because they cannot afford similar programs. "We have to find a way to overcome the - let's say - almost protectionist tendencies in times of crisis and to work together," said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.
Franco-German engine falters violently
The fact that Macron is now also putting pressure on Scholz weighs particularly heavily. The often invoked Franco-German engine is currently largely absent. The cancellation of the joint Council of Ministers at short notice is just one symptom of many. After all, Scholz and Macron met immediately before the summit, and another one is planned for next Wednesday in Paris.
A point of contention between Berlin and Paris was cleared up on the sidelines of the summit: the governments of Spain, France and Portugal agreed to build a third energy pipeline between the Iberian Peninsula and France. This is to replace the midcat pipeline rejected by Paris, for which Scholz had recently campaigned together with Spain and Portugal. Instead, a "green energy corridor" between Barcelona and Marseille for green hydrogen is now planned, as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said. In a transitional period, this should still be used to transport gas.
Scholz warns of risks with the gas price cap
The two-day summit in Brussels should bring progress in the fight against energy shortages and high prices. Chancellor Scholz and his colleagues discussed suitable measures for hours on Thursday - however, the proposal by the EU Commission to pool demand for part of the gas requirement in the future and thus depress prices on the market is particularly likely to reach consensus.
In any case, Scholz let it be known before the summit that he would not vacate his previous positions. Joint gas purchases - yes; a politically set maximum price for gas - no. The latter carries the risk "that the producers will then sell their gas elsewhere - and in the end we Europeans will not get more gas, but less," Scholz said on Thursday morning in the Bundestag.
More than half of the 27 EU countries are now calling for a gas price cap - although the details of such an intervention are still completely unclear. The aim is not only to relieve households and companies with subsidies, but also to lower the prices for the raw material. In addition to Germany, countries such as the Netherlands and Hungary also reject such a price cap. What Germany still rejects? New European debt to deal with the energy crisis.
Instead, Scholz pointed out that only a fifth of the Corona fund had been paid out so far - more than 600 billion euros were still left. This money could be used for the expansion of renewable energies. EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola, on the other hand, called on the heads of state and government to increase the EU multi-year budget for the period 2021 to 2027, which is around 1211 billion euros according to current prices. Anything else will not bring the solutions that citizens expect in the current situation .
Climate protectors criticize Scholz' push for gas fields in the world
Scholz, on the other hand, wants to promote support for countries outside the EU in developing new gas fields - "of course as part of our obligations under the Paris climate agreement," as he said in the Bundestag. The chancellor himself is already doing this. In May, during a trip to Africa, he promised Senegal support in developing a gas field off the coast. Such investments in the promotion of fossil fuels do not go down well with climate protectors. They argue that this contradicts the Paris goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees if possible.
So is an agreement on a common path out of the question? "I hope that there will be a small change of heart among our colleagues," said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. He thinks it's possible to come to a compromise. In order not to jeopardize fair competition within the EU, European measures are needed. It is also about the solidarity that is so often talked about.