Energy crisis, ties with Poland take center stage at EU summit

The recent global energy price hike and Poland’s rule of law topped the agenda of the two-day European Union (EU) summit concluded in Brussels on Friday.

Leaders of the EU member states endorsed a package of measures to deal with the immediate effects of the soaring energy prices and called for medium- and long-term measures, but with divided opinions on specific solutions.

In addition, concern over judicial independence is growing for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, following the Polish constitutional court’s ruling early this month that Polish laws enjoyed supremacy over EU laws.

ENERGY PRICE SOLUTIONS

Leaders of the EU member states were particularly concerned about the the impact of the recent spike in gas and electricity prices on households and industries, especially at a time when winter is forthcoming.

Last week, the European Commission launched a toolkit containing measures to curb the rising energy prices in the short and medium terms. Short-term measures include emergency income support to households, state aid for companies, and targeted tax reductions, while medium-term measures include supporting investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, seeking to store energy or purchase gas reserves, and assessing the current electricity market design.

France on Thursday announced a special inflation allowance of 100 euros (116 U.S. dollars) for people with a net monthly income of less than 2,000 euros amid the fuel price spike.

However, leaders at the EU summit were divided over solutions to the energy crisis, with some believing that the current crisis is only temporary, and others calling for more decisive action to cushion its impact on the economy.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the press that “we need to find a solution without shutting down markets,” adding that “the issue of rising energy prices should be decoupled from the fight against climate change.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte believed the spike is temporary and the European Commission’s toolkit can work to keep energy prices low without breaking EU laws.

However, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged member states to beef up measures, warning that the crisis can “undermine the competitiveness of the EU.”

Amid the soaring energy prices, some member states want to slow down the development of renewable energy. However, EU leaders have insisted on the decision and steps of realizing the goal of climate neutrality via energy transition, urging member states to “urgently make the best use of the toolbox to provide short-term relief to the most vulnerable consumers and to support European companies.”

The leaders called for providing security of supply and supporting the transition to climate neutrality, and called on the European Investment Bank to “examine how to speed up investment in the energy transition.”

International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol pointed out that the recent increases in global natural gas prices are the result of multiple factors, and “it is inaccurate and misleading to lay the responsibility at the door of the clean energy transition.”

EU-POLAND ROW

At the summit, leaders also touched upon the issue of Poland’s rule of law, expressing worries about the EU-Poland conflict following a Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on Oct. 7 that Poland’s constitution enjoyed supremacy over EU laws.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has defended his government’s position in the conflict, adding that Poland remains committed to following EU laws and principles.

The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution, calling on the European Commission and European Council to launch infringement procedures against Poland. The resolution said Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, which ruled that parts of the European treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, is “contested and illegitimate.”

“We need to find ways and possibilities to come back together,” Merkel said Thursday, calling for candid dialogue between EU member states and Poland to settle the row. “An avalanche of legal disputes taken before the European Court of Justice is not a solution to the problem.”

The European Commission expressed concern over judicial independence, which has been exacerbated by the Polish constitutional court decision. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told journalists at the EU summit that “the core question is the independence of the judiciary in Poland.”

She warned that the Commission will use one of the tools at its disposal, either an infringement procedure, or the new budget protection mechanism leading to the suspension of EU funds, or the Article 7 sanctions procedure, which could ultimately strip Poland of EU voting rights.

Multiple state leaders called for political dialogue to deal with the legal disputes, while some expressed their strong support for the European Commission’s pledge to punish Poland’s action.