France urges strengthening the EU’s energy independence as gas prices rise

Cooling towers of the Tricastin Evolutionary Power Reactor nuclear power plant in France.

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LUXEMBOURG – France urges the EU to reduce its foreign energy dependency as gas prices soar across the continent.

The EU has struggled with higher energy bills in recent weeks, prompting governments in Spain, Italy, Greece and France to take drastic measures to mitigate the impact on consumers.

The front month gas price at the Dutch TTF hub, a European benchmark, has risen by almost 400% since the beginning of the year. Energy experts expect further gas price peaks as the winter season approaches.

The finance ministers of the euro zone discussed the issue together for the first time on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg.

“We don’t want to be dependent on deliveries from abroad [countries]“French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters on Monday.

The EU gets most of its natural gas supplies from Russia. In 2020, Moscow accounted for 43.4% of the EU’s natural gas supply, followed by Norway with 20%.

Russia is likely to provide more gas to the bloc after Gazprom recently completed construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a politically charged project that aims to deliver more gas to the EU via Germany. Russia’s state energy giant began filling the pipeline with gas for testing on Monday. Gazprom is awaiting approval from German regulators to open the taps.

“It is vital to diversify energy supplies and reduce Europe’s dependence on gas exporting countries as quickly as possible,” Le Maire said in a letter last week.

When asked whether the EU relies too heavily on gas from Russia, Europe’s Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said that this topic would “certainly” be discussed in discussions.

He also said that the debate between euro area finance ministers would include, “How can we [and] Strengthen our independence, address procurement costs [and] various storage options. “

Some national EU governments, particularly Spain, have called for a European response to the rise in energy prices.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, should come up with new ideas this week on how the bloc could jointly tackle the problem. However, this announcement has been postponed.

“We will take a little more time to work on it,” Dana Spinant, deputy spokeswoman for the commission, told reporters in Brussels, Belgium. “It’s a very important matter,” she said.

The French model

According to Le Maire, the EU should follow the French route, where nuclear power makes up a large part of the market.

“Thanks to the French model, we have more independence,” he said, “and that is the key: being independent.”

However, there is a big debate within the 27-strong bloc about whether nuclear power should be considered a clean source of energy. At the same time, there is concern that higher energy prices will undo Europe’s green ambitions. This is because consumers are likely to pay higher energy bills in the future, which could affect their support for a quick transition to climate neutrality.

“If anything, it only reinforces the plan to move away from fossil fuels,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, Europe’s head of trade, in Luxembourg.

Gentiloni added that the EU must coordinate its action in this area, but that action must not contradict its climate plans.

The EU is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and to become climate neutral by 2050.

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