EU and Norway agree ‘joint tools’ to tackle Europe’s gas crisis
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Norway and the EU have agreed to “jointly develop tools” aimed at reducing Europe’s high gas prices, as Brussels rushes to find both effective and politically acceptable measures to tackle a looming energy crisis this winter.
Oslo said it would work with Brussels to “stabilise energy markets and limit the impact of market manipulation and of price volatility”, in a move that could spur efforts to narrow EU divisions on how to tackle soaring prices caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Norway, which replaced Russia as the EU’s biggest supplier of gas after the invasion, said it would continue to boost production and take steps “to reduce excessively high prices in a meaningful way in the short and longer term”, in a joint statement released by Norway’s prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Oslo’s pledge came as a meeting of 44 leaders in Prague on Thursday aimed at showing a united front against Russia’s war was overshadowed by rifts inside the EU on whether to impose a price cap on wholesale gas.
That initiative is opposed by countries including Germany and the Netherlands which fear it could result in lower supplies as producers secure higher prices elsewhere. Arriving at the Prague summit, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said “it cannot be the case that the EU’s energy policy is dictated by Germany”.
Støre used his speech to the summit plenary to say Oslo had “flexibility” to increase exports and that it was “ready to explore” EU proposals, according to two people briefed on his remarks.
Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, said EU states would on Friday discuss the wider implications of Norway’s commitment, adding that Tallinn is keen to bring down prices but also afraid of driving away suppliers.
“[Liquefied natural gas] can go to anywhere in the world. So if there is a price cap, then our security of supply could be in danger,” she told the Financial Times.
Proposed by Paris as a means to co-ordinate views from Lisbon to Ankara, the European Political Community grouping saw UK prime minister Liz Truss and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan huddle with the EU’s 27 leaders and those from 15 other states.
Ahead of the meeting, Truss said it was a chance to “find common cause with our European friends and allies” as they try to defeat Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Moscow and its client state Belarus are the only two continental powers that were not invited to the forum, which will discuss other issues such as European defence.
The participation of Truss was seen by many EU officials as a sign that London could be open to compromise over trading arrangements that have dogged the post-Brexit relationship.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, hailed the event as “extremely important”. The meeting would “try to renew the co-ordination and co-operation in order to have more stability, more security, more peace”, he said.
As he arrived at Prague castle, Emmanuel Macron, president of France, said the summit sent a “message of unity”, but went on to criticise the planned gas pipeline connecting Spain and France, which Germany wants to see built in order to access the Iberian gas market.
Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz maintained his position on Berlin’s €200bn energy aid package, saying on his way into the meeting that other countries were also passing measures to offer relief to citizens struggling with energy bills.
While British officials were keen to steer clear of Brexit, Mark Rutte, prime minister of Netherlands, told reporters on Thursday: “The relationship between the UK and the EU will be on the agenda.”
The UK and EU have agreed to restart technical talks over trade arrangements in Northern Ireland that could solve the dispute. London’s non-compliance with the deal it signed has triggered legal action by Brussels.
But the UK’s commitment to the EPC could wane if there are not concrete achievements, British officials have said.
One ally of Truss said: “The PM remains sceptical for a number of reasons — it can’t just be a talking shop, it needs to not cut across Nato and the G7, and must have strong involvement from non-EU countries. It has to show it can deliver.
“But given the situation in Ukraine and the energy crisis it’s right we attend. We played a huge role in setting the agenda on energy and migration.”
Truss’s key demand is that the EU and Norway keep supplying power to the UK.
Truss has also said she wanted joint action with France and the Netherlands to stop criminal gangs helping migrants cross the English Channel. She was scheduled to meet Macron and Rutte on the margins of the summit.
EU leaders are staying on for an informal European Council meeting on Friday, which is likely to focus on the energy crisis.
Additional reporting by George Parker in London and Valentina Pop in Prague