Winter hasn’t started yet, but the cold is already in the air in Brussels. This Thursday, EU government leaders will come together to seek – again – a joint response to the energy crisis. But while taboos are constantly being broken and more and more radical measures are being tabled, this only seems to increase the disagreement about the right approach. In the run-up to the meeting, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo spoke on Monday of “the week of truth” for Europe and “the most important European Council in a long time”. Not everyone uses such big words, but it is certain that the meeting comes after months of mounting tension and on the eve of a difficult winter season. Prime Minister Mark Rutte predicted “a close fight” in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Twitter about a “huge debate”. In short, there is disagreement about how radically the energy market should be turned upside down and how much uncertainty about its effects is acceptable. But in the background it is about economic inequality, solidarity and imbalanced growth in the internal market. It is difficult because the measures discussed are so technical that it is often unclear whether Member States understand them in the same way. That also proved to be a problem two weeks ago, when an informal meeting of government leaders in Prague yielded disappointingly little. ‘Iberian model’ Thus the mutual resentment increases. Many EU leaders are under great pressure at home to find a magical solution to the energy crisis in Brussels. The concerns are not only about households, which are groaning all over Europe under sky-high energy bills. There is also concern about heavy industry, which in more and more Member States is being forced to shut down production in response to high prices. Are important sectors disappearing from Europe? With a new package of measures, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tried to get people on the same page on Tuesday. The most important proposals are the mandatory joint purchase of gas and a ‘price correction mechanism’ that should remove the sharpest peaks in the gas market. Plans that were unthinkable until recently, but now do not go far enough for many countries. The fact that the opponents of radical EU steps in their own country do roll out generous aid packages leads to skewed eyes It is not yet close to a real solution, Spanish energy minister Teresa de Ribera emphasized in response. “These proposals still leave a feeling that we are not acting with the speed and intensity that is needed.” Spain is part of a large group of countries, including France, which not only wants an even tougher ceiling on the wholesale price of gas, but also a maximum price for gas used to generate electricity. The latter proposal is also known in Brussels as the ‘Iberian model’ because that peninsula received permission to experiment with it earlier this year, very exceptionally. But according to opponents, Germany and the Netherlands in the lead, that experiment shows exactly why the rest of Europe should not start. After the introduction of the ceiling price, gas consumption increased in Spain and Portugal. Because the price incentive disappeared, but also because cheaper electricity ‘leaked’ to France. Skeptics also wonder whether it works in countries that generate a lot of electricity with gas, such as the Netherlands. Hesitation and procrastination In response to the great pressure, von der Leyen indicated this week that he certainly did not rule out such an ‘Iberian model’, but that he first wanted to see the ‘open questions’ clarified. Hesitation and delay are now causing great annoyance to several EU Member States. In Prague, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi lashed out at von der Leyen, accusing him of having done nothing in the past seven months and thus causing a recession in Europe. Patience with the European Commission is running out, it is also heard from other EU countries. Also read: Economist Isabella Weber: ‘The price ceiling rewards frugality’ But Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, among others, fear that hasty, ill-considered measures will turn the market upside down and have major undesirable consequences. The EU decision earlier this year to make gas storage compulsory to fill has had a major price-increasing effect this summer. Look before you begin, the skeptical group continues to preach. Prime Minister Rutte expressed “great concerns” on Wednesday about the ‘dynamic price ceiling’ that von der Leyen presented this week. According to the Netherlands, the effect on the gas supply to Europe is uncertain, a view shared by Berlin. Also read: The Dutch gas exchange is the most important marketplace for gas in Europe. How does the stock exchange work and why is it a lot of criticism? The fact that those opponents of radical steps in their own country do roll out generous support packages leads to skewed eyes. The German mega package of up to 200 billion euros has especially caused bad blood. That criticism is not entirely fair, governments everywhere in Europe are generous. And so the Commission is waiting for a clear signal from the Member States. The underlying problem is that the relationship between Germany and France is currently strained. There is still little chemistry between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron and a common position is certainly not reached. That is now also hindering the European discussion. Whether the hoped-for unambiguous European signal will actually come is, according to insiders, highly questionable. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 20, 2022