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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis
Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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ENERGY

Germany says must brace for ‘unimaginable’ after gas leaks

Germany's interior minister said Wednesday the country must prepare for previously "unimaginable" threats to its energy security after dramatic pipeline leaks the EU blamed on sabotage.

Germany says must brace for 'unimaginable' after gas leaks

Nancy Faeser said Europe’s top economy would need to enhance its vigilance to address such risks in the wake of the damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 energy links between Germany and Russia.

“We have to adapt to scenarios that were previously unimaginable,” she said. “That requires strong security authorities with the necessary resources and powers.”

Faeser called for a rapid probe of the “probable act of sabotage” on the pipelines beneath the Baltic Sea close to Denmark and Sweden so that “those responsible” can be identified.

“Protecting critical infrastructure has top priority,” she said, adding that Berlin had presumed “for months” that there was an “abstract threat to energy infrastructure” given its high profile in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

READ ALSO: WATCH: Baltic Sea foams as gas leaks from damaged Nord Stream pipeline

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the “troubling incident” underlined the importance of an ongoing “modernisation” of the German navy’s fleet for surveillance in cooperation with partner states on the Baltic.

Methane gas from the leaks are bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea in discharges expected to last for a week, until depletion of the gas in the pipelines.

The three outflows from the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, whose cause remain a mystery, have sent natural gas prices soaring, exacerbating an energy crunch in Europe as it stands on the threshold to winter.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that “all available information” indicates the leaks “are the result of a deliberate act”.

Suspicion has focused on Russia, which has cut gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for severe Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

Germany, which until recently was highly dependent on Russia energy, will wait for a full investigation of the incident before drawing conclusions, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Who is behind the Nord Stream Baltic pipeline attack?

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