The two days started and ended with at least some positive results for Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
fter the heady symbolism of the united Western allies opposing Putin on Thursday, yesterday’s stalemate in dealing with soaring energy prices brought everyone down to earth.
Mr Martin’s better outing began with his release from a week-long Covid purdah in Washington that allayed lingering doubts about whether he would even be able to attend. And it ended in a small victory in untangling a Brussels deadlock on possible VAT cuts on fuel that now appear a certainty.
But even for the Taoiseach, there were some hard things to do, as an assessment by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Irish support was, in his best estimation, ambiguous. Some observers found it critical – but more on that in a moment.
The real point was that European Union leaders struggled all day yesterday to agree on steps to de-escalate the spiral in energy markets, which has been greatly exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Difficult trade-offs on how to limit the impact of rising gas and oil prices on hard-hit consumers proved very elusive, and most critical issues were referred back to the European Commission for further work.
Brussels officials said talks had been “intense”, with demands for a cap on energy prices again pitting some of the southern EU countries, led by Spain and Greece, against northern countries Germany and the Netherlands.
At one point, a Spanish government source told reporters that things were on the brink. However, it emerged that tense discussions had only briefly stalled after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez left the room for “a technical stop to allow negotiations to get going again”.
Mr Sanchez has tried to take action on this issue, which has taken people to the streets in Spain over the unusual nature of their electricity price structure. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented detailed proposals earlier this month.
Talks centered on reforming energy markets by breaking the link between gas and electricity prices, using the EU’s combined weight to buy gas in bulk and using that purchasing power to cap prices. The counter-arguments are that none of this is practical and realizable.
Much of the electricity in the EU is generated from gas, but while buying gas together may be feasible, it’s not as easy as coming together to buy Covid-19 vaccines. And the cap on gas prices in particular could only drive suppliers to other countries, compounding already shaky supply problems.
But as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pointed out, EU leaders simply have to try to fix these things if their work is to mean anything to the average citizen. Belgium seemed to come to terms with the southern states and opposed its close neighbors.
By that standard, Mr. Martin had a much better second day.
Ireland is unlikely to benefit directly from any of these EU initiatives as a large proportion of our supplies come from Scotland and Norway. But the Taoiseach rightly pointed out that everyone in the EU will benefit from stabilized energy markets no matter where they buy.
However, a new LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) supply plan approved by US President Joe Biden will fuel a row between the Green Party and politicians from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over a proposed LPG plant at Ballylongford on the Shannon Estuary . This series will return.
Since it was Friday, the meeting was supposed to end in the afternoon, but instead dragged on until just before 8 p.m. By then, the Ukrainian embassy in Dublin had intervened in the row, which involved their president’s controversial assessment of Irish support, tweeting that Ireland had been at the forefront of efforts to help their country.
President Zelenskyy had previously addressed EU leaders via video link and commended several countries for their full support in this gut fight against Russia. He openly said that the EU’s kingpins, France and Germany, could do more to help.
Cyprus and Italy came through with flying colors, while comments on the others were hardly a ringing endorsement.
But his statements about that country – “Ireland – well, almost” – sounded quite critical, even if the Taoiseach completely rejected this view.
Mr Martin said the leader of Ukraine appreciates our relief efforts and is particularly grateful for our support of Ukraine’s application for EU membership.
https://www.independent.ie/news/eu-leaders-still-at-loggerheads-over-how-to-tackle-energy-price-spirals-after-10-hours-of-tough-talking-41489333.html EU leaders are still bickering over how to tackle spiraling energy prices after 10 hours of tough talks