France state

France wants to strengthen EU energy independence as gas prices skyrocket

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

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LUXEMBOURG – France is pushing the EU to reduce its energy dependence on foreign countries as gas prices soar on the continent.

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

The price of gas for the first month at the Dutch hub TTF, a European benchmark, has increased by almost 400% since the start of the year. Energy experts predict further increases in gas prices as the winter season approaches.

Eurozone finance ministers discussed the issue together for the first time on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg.

“We don’t want to depend on supplies from abroad [countries]”French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters on Monday.

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

Russia is likely to supply more natural gas to the block after Gazprom recently completed construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a politically charged project designed to deliver more gas to the EU via Germany. The Russian state-owned energy giant began filling the pipeline with gas for testing on Monday. Gazprom is awaiting approval from German regulators to turn on the taps.

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

When asked if the EU was too dependent on Russian gas, EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said the issue would come up in the talks “for sure”.

He also said that the debate among euro area finance ministers would include: “How can we approach [and] strengthen our independence, manage supply costs [and] different storage modes. “

Some EU national governments, notably Spain, have called for a European response to soaring energy prices.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, was due to come up with new ideas on how the bloc could tackle the problem together this week. This announcement was postponed, however.

“We will take a little more time to work on it,” Dana Spinant, deputy spokesperson for the committee in Brussels, Belgium, told reporters. “This is a very important question,” she said.

The French model

According to Le Maire, the EU should follow the French path, where nuclear energy represents a large part of the market.

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

However, there is a big debate within the 27-member bloc as to whether nuclear should be considered a clean energy source. At the same time, there are fears that rising energy prices could derail Europe’s green ambitions. Indeed, consumers are likely to pay higher energy bills in the future, which could impact their support for a rapid transition to climate neutrality.

“On the contrary, it only reinforces the plan to abandon fossil fuels,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, European trade chief, in Luxembourg.

Gentiloni added that the EU must coordinate its actions in this area, but the measures cannot 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.