The 27 EU leaders are expected to back parts of a package of energy proposals made this week, including an alternative price benchmark for liquefied natural gas and joint gas buying, after earlier agreeing to fill gas storage and claw back revenues from energy firms to spend on helping consumers with crippling bills.
But they remain as split as they were months ago on whether and how to cap gas prices to stem high inflation and stave off recession, after Russia cut gas flows following its invasion of Ukraine.
While 15 countries including France and Poland are pushing for some form of a cap, they face strong opposition from Germany and the Netherlands – respectively Europe’s biggest economy and gas buyer, and a major European gas trading hub, which warn a gas price cap could compromise stability of supplies.
“An agreement is extremely unlikely… Opinions seem to be really far apart,” a senior EU diplomat said ahead of Thursday’s talks.
A draft of the leaders’ summit conclusions, seen by Reuters, would ask Brussels to propose a price cap on gas used to generate electricity – an idea favoured by France and already used in Spain and Portugal.
But even before the meeting has begun, that idea has hit roadblocks – with Germany requesting that all mentions of price caps are removed from the text.
The leaders will also discuss emergency spending to mitigate the effects the acute energy crunch has on their economies and 450million citizens.
While some countries have called for the bloc to issue new joint debt to finance that, more frugal members say hundreds of billions of euros unused from previous programmes should be spent first.
“Division is not a luxury we can afford,” the summit’s chairman, European Council President Charles Michel, said.
Given EU countries’ diverse energy mix and interests, the meeting risks falling short on short-term action to tackle high energy prices ahead of winter.
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As regards bringing those responsible for alleged war crimes in Ukraine to justice, some EU countries want to set up a dedicated tribunal quickly, while others are seeking to go more slowly to ensure maximum international endorsement.
“The European Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent indiscriminate Russian missile and drone attacks targeting civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure in Kyiv and across Ukraine,” the leaders will say, according to their draft statement.
They will single out Belarus for enabling Russia’s war but are not expected to support further sanctions against Moscow on Thursday.
The bloc is already moving to impose new sanctions on Iran over the use of Iranian-made drones in Russian strikes on Ukraine.