EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is facing a major facing headache, as her top commissioners from France and Italy expressed their fury over Germany’s plans to unveil a €200billion (£179billion) support package for its companies and households struggling with a huge surge in energy prices. This new fund referred to as a “defence shield” is aimed at lowering the cost of gas, as industries across Europe struggle to cope with the energy prices that have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, this major cash injection into Germany’s industries and consumers has sparked a major revolt from two of the most senior commissioners in the EU, Paolo Gentiloni from Italy and Thierry Breton from France.
As a result, Ms von der Leyen has been forced to distance herself from some of the leading officials, coming from the EU’s second-biggest and third-biggest economies.
While EU Commissioners are not strictly supposed to act as the emissaries of their home countries, Politico observes that the protests made by Mr Gentiloni and Mr Breton have perfectly mirrored the arguments made by Italy and France.
Both countries have slammed Berlin for its “Germany first” energy package, arguing that such a measure would hollow out the EU’s common market, putting German companies at an unfair advantage compared to the rest of the EU.
This has particularly sparked fury as many critics have accused Germany of triggering the energy crisis, by becoming heavily dependent on Russia for gas exports by building new pipelines.
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“We need to reflect urgently on how to offer Member States — which do not have this fiscal room for manoeuvre —the possibility of supporting their industries & businesses.”
Following these statements, the EU Commission was forced to distance itself, with one spokesperson saying: “Op-eds are personal initiatives of the relevant commissioners,” adding that “they do not commit the Commission.”
He said: “We have not even defined how the famous €200billion package will be used. But, German industry keeps complaining to us that their offers are undercut by European competitors which are profiting from energy price caps.”
In an op-ed in the Irish Times, Mr Breton and Mr Gentiloni said: “It is more important than ever that we avoid fragmenting the internal market, setting up a race for subsidies and calling into question the principles of solidarity and unity that underpin our European project.
“Faced with the colossal challenges before us, there is only one possible response: that of a Europe of solidarity. In order to overcome the fault lines caused by the different margins of manoeuvre of national budgets, we must think about mutualised tools at the European level.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said he has defended his country’s plan adding “Our package is not disproportionate, in fact it is proportionate if you compare the size and vulnerability of the German economy.”