European Union ministers on Monday finalized a long-awaited deal to implement a natural-gas price cap that they hope will help households and businesses better weather excessive price surges.
EU member countries had failed to overcome their differences at previous emergency meetings, but several EU leaders said last week that fixing a maximum ceiling to pay for gas
was likely to be achieved this time.
After talks in Brussels on Monday, the Czech presidency of the European Council, which represents member countries, said a deal was reached. Details of the agreement have yet to be unveiled.
Since it could not find a consensus on the divisive topic, the Czech presidency opted for a “qualified majority” as the voting rule to get the political agreement. Under EU rules, a qualified majority requires that 55% of member countries, or 17 out of the 27, vote in favor of a proposal. Such a vote also requires that those nations represent at least 65% of the bloc’s population.
The 27 EU nations have stuck together through nine rounds of sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine and energy-saving measures to avoid shortages of the fuel used to generate electricity, heat homes and power factories.
But they were unable until Monday to close a deal on setting the complicated price cap for natural gas. The cap was promised in October as a way to reduce energy bills
that have soared during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The gas cap issue was a divisive one because of fears that global suppliers would bypass Europe when other buyers offer more money.
“No one, least of all me, has anything against low prices on the gas market. We have to bring gas prices down,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said upon his arrival at the meeting. “We just know from previous market interventions that we must be very careful not to want to do something good and trigger something bad.”
The EU’s executive Commission last month proposed a “safety price ceiling” to kick in if natural gas exceeds 275 euros ($290) per megawatt hour for two weeks and if it is 58 euros higher than the price of liquefied natural gas on world markets. Such a system might not have averted hikes as high as in August — when prices hit nearly 350 euros per megawatt hour on Europe’s TTF benchmark but fell below 275 euros within days — and was met with derision by many countries pushing for a lower trigger.
The Czech presidency proposed a new proposal before Monday’s meeting that would see the mechanism kick off if prices exceed 188 euros per megawatt hour for three days.
The scare of exorbitant prices came in the heat of summer when a massive August spike stunned consumers and politicians, forcing the bloc to look for a cap to contain volatile prices that are fueling inflation.