EU descends into chaos as Macron rejects VDL plans to end Putin’s grip

Putin ‘playing chicken’ with gas supplies as Russian economy

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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has been scrambling to end its reliance on Moscow’s energy exports. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been gradually squeezing gas supplies flowing into Europe, as a way to exert pressure on the bloc. However, measures to end Europe’s dependence while bringing down wholesale gas costs have not gone as well as EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen would have liked, as the bloc descends into chaos over her plans. 

Already, the bloc has been forced to U-turn on its plans to impose a price cap on Russian gas, after Putin threatened to cut off all gas flows to Europe if they did so. 

Instead, the bloc is focussing its efforts on tackling the massive profits made by oil and gas companies, by issuing a windfall tax on “surplus profits” made, while also severing the link between natural gas and electricity. 

Another one of Ms von der Leyen’s plans includes building large interconnecting pipelines across Europe, joining the North and South of the continent, while also being capable of carrying green hydrogen in the future. 

If built, such a project could transport green hydrogen generated from massive solar and wind farms in Spain and Portugal, and carry them to energy-hungry countries like Germany. 

However, France has thrown a wrench in these plans by opposing the pipeline, as it reportedly wants to sell its own hydrogen produced with nuclear energy to Germany, senior officials told Politico.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed he would not relaunch plans to build the MidCat gas interconnection project between France and Spain, despite calls to do so by Spain, Portugal and Germany.

He noted that the project “will not solve the European gas problem. It is false, it is factually false”, however adding “I am willing to hear my colleagues give me other facts that would convince me otherwise”.

This pipeline was launched in 2013 under Mr Macron’s predecessor François Hollande, with support from the EU Commission, and was meant to be a major energy bridge between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of the continent.

However, these plans were scrapped in 2019 by France, following cost and impact studies, with Mr Macron saying: “there is no obvious requirement.”

In August, Spanish environment Minister Teresa Ribera backed the pipeline, stating that work on the MidCat project on the Spanish side could be completed in “eight to nine months”.

However, Mr Macron fired back saying that “the work would not be easy, because there is a lot of opposition, especially environmental opposition”.

He also rejected the idea that pipelines could transport hydrogen in the future, saying: “all experts tell me that it is wrong to imagine that today’s gas pipeline will transport hydrogen tomorrow”.

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According to EU diplomats, the plan to impose a price cap on Russian gas was a very contentious measure when Ms von der Leyen first announced the measure, which is primarily aimed at punishing Putin financially for the war in Ukraine.

The member states reportedly have “very contradictory views”, one EU diplomat noted, with Germany noting that it is “sceptical” about the idea.

Meanwhile, Hungary, which is Russia’s closest ally in the EU, is against the plan and is supported by Slovakia and at least two other countries.

Many of the EU countries that are heavily dependent on Russian gas were against this move, fearing that Vladimir Putin could retaliate by completely cutting off gas flows to Europe, plunging them into a cold winter. 

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