Written by Chris Gewers for Mailonline, PA Media and Ap
20:58 Oct 21, 2021 Updated at 09:15 Oct 22, 2021
- Middle-income motorists will get €100 (£84) in financial aid
- French Prime Minister Jean Castix announced the one-time payment on TV
- Those who earn less than 2,000 euros will start receiving payments in December
- Meanwhile, EU leaders have struggled to reach consensus on the energy crisis
- Summit of bloc leaders to be held in Brussels ahead of COP 26
Millions of low- and middle-income motorists will get €100 (£84) in financial aid in France to help them deal with rising fuel prices.
French Prime Minister Jean Castix announced the move on TF1 TV, saying it was an “exceptional response to an exceptional situation”.
Castix said the one-time payment would help around 36 million people earning less than 2,000 euros (1,680 pounds) a month, including employees, self-employed people, job seekers and retirees.
Assistance will begin in December.
The measure comes amid growing public dissatisfaction with the global energy crisis, which comes at a time when many families are struggling to recover from the pandemic economic crisis.
Last month, the French government promised €100 cash aid to 6 million low-income families to help pay their energy bills.
Castex, who earlier announced the government’s decision to freeze natural gas prices, said this measure would continue until the end of next year.
The issue is particularly sensitive after the anti-government yellow vest movement that began in 2018 against increased fuel taxes – named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to have in their cars.
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It soon turned into a public protest against economic injustice, which led to weekly, sometimes violent demonstrations.
The government’s move also comes ahead of the French presidential elections scheduled for April, in which President Emmanuel Macron is expected to run for re-election.
Far-right political talk show star Eric Zemmour was expected to reach the second round of France’s presidential election in a new poll published on Friday, although President Emmanuel Macron was still expected to win in the first round.
Meanwhile, EU leaders struggled to find common ground during a long debate on Thursday about how to ease the pain of high energy bills.
The hours-long energy discussion at the EU leaders summit came amid price escalations hitting households and businesses still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In need of immediate solutions, leaders are also seeking to protect the energy supply of the 27-nation bloc by accelerating the transition from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives.
To help consumers and businesses this winter, leaders agreed that tax cuts, state aid and other measures such as bill delays proposed by the European Commission would be beneficial in the short and long term.
In their conclusions, they asked the EU’s executive arm to consider the gas and electricity markets, as well as the Block Emissions Trading Scheme, under which companies pay for the carbon dioxide they emit.
The goal is to check whether market manipulation has influenced the increase in carbon prices.
But there was no mention of a joint procurement program for gas reserves, an idea recently proposed by Spain.
The talks came just 10 days before the opening of the United Nations climate summit widely seen as the last chance to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive and its member states are already working to ease the burden of high energy bills on homes and businesses.
She said leaders would also have to look at the way energy markets work, but stressed that “in the medium and long term, it is very clear that the strategy has to be to invest heavily in clean and renewable energy” produced in Europe.
Soaring energy prices have also been debated against the backdrop of frosty relations with Russia, a major supplier of gas to Europe.
With the bloc importing 90% of its gas – much of it from its strategic adversary Russia – “that leaves us vulnerable,” von der Leyen said on Wednesday. Gas makes up a quarter of Europe’s total energy consumption.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy coordinator, described the explosion of energy prices this year as “the result of a great geopolitical game”.
Von der Leyen said that while Norway has raised its gas exports to the bloc to meet rising demand, Russia’s Gazprom has not gone beyond honoring its long-term contracts with the European Union.
Gas prices have risen this year to €95 from around €19 per megawatt-hour, affecting everything from home heating bills to farmers and food producers. The European Union’s Executive Committee says low-income families are hardest hit because they spend a higher proportion of their income on energy.
Many states have already offered energy tax cuts to ease the pain.
While all leaders would like to reduce the impact of rising energy prices on their populations, they differ in how they do so.
Entering the summit on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the issue of high energy prices should be distinguished from the long-running fight against climate change.
‘I think we should respond calmly; We in Germany will do it anyway.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo said his country is among those helping families and businesses pay their rising electricity bills. But he added that long-term solutions must also be found.
“And in the long term, there is only one solution – investing more in renewable energy so we are less vulnerable to the fluctuations in fossil fuel prices,” he said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has blamed the rise on the Commission’s Green Deal plans which include cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and making the bloc carbon neutral by 2050.
The current crisis has reignited the debate over whether the European Union should promote nuclear power projects as a way to become more energy independent. This can be done by making them eligible for billions of euros as part of the European Green Deal and the Coronavirus Recovery Fund.
Two years ago, leaders agreed that nuclear power could be part of the European Union’s efforts to become carbon neutral. However, they have not yet decided whether nuclear projects can be included in the so-called classification, a classification system that attempts to identify activities that could qualify for sustainable investment.
France recently requested that nuclear energy be included in the classification framework by the end of the year, leading the task along with nine other EU countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Energy ministers from the bloc are due to meet early next week to continue talks, with leaders set to reassess the situation at their next summit in December.