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There is still not enough consensus among the 27 EU countries to establish a cap on gas prices, as Germany and the Netherlands joined forces to oppose the unprecedented move.
The European Commission is expected to present next Tuesday a new package of emergency measures to curb energy prices and bring relief to millions of households and companies across the EU.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week the package might include not one, but two forms of a gas cap: one focused on the daily transactions taking place in the EU's gas market and another one targeting the gas used for electricity generation.
In a letter to EU leaders, von der Leyen warned about the potential risks caps entail and asked for additional energy savings and solidarity agreements to cope with potential shortages.
But after an informal meeting of EU energy ministers in Prague, the support for the caps appeared to be insufficiently strong.
Germany, the EU's largest gas consumer, and the Netherlands circulated a document ahead of the meeting with a set of energy recommendations that conspicuously avoided broad caps on gas prices.
"Measures in the electricity sector which might increase the gas demand [...] should be considered very carefully and also include burden sharing," the two countries wrote in the document seen by Euronews.
Kadri Simson, the EU's energy commissioner, said the next package of measures should enjoy the "maximum consensual support" and noted that the gas cap might be excluded if there is not enough backing.
"We will see over the weekend how we can proceed with capping the gas for power generation," Simson told reporters after the informal meeting. "If, at that stage, we can say that there is a broad majority of member states supporting the measure."
Asked about the German-Dutch proposal, Jozef Síkela, the Czech Republic's energy minister, said that "any kind of positive proposal is always welcomed."
"Today’s meeting has helped bridge the gap between member states," Síkela said. "We’re moving towards a common solution."
The Czech Republic currently holds the EU Council's rotating presidency and is tasked with moderating policy debates.
Síkela said there was a general agreement among the 27 countries in favour of joint purchases of gas supplies to prevent countries from outbidding each other. The collective scheme could be set up ahead of the 2023-2024 winter season.
Both the minister and the commissioner emphasised the need for increasing energy savings, reinforcing solidarity deals between countries, and stepping up bilateral negotiations with reliable gas suppliers, such as Norway.
All these ideas, which are much less interventionist than a gas cap, have wider backing among capitals and were featured in the German-Dutch paper.
In theory, approving an EU-wide cap on gas prices would require only a qualified majority of member states, but the untested and radical nature of the measure might compel the bloc to guarantee a unanimous front.
At least 15 member states have declared their support for a broad cap on gas prices.
"This is not about a majority," said Síkela, who spoke of "intensive" discussions among ministers. "It’s about the understanding that we want to have a measure that will help and not harm."