BERLIN — The German government is punching back against criticism from France and its EU commissioner over Berlin’s €200 billion gas price relief scheme, arguing that Paris is rolling out energy support measures of a similar scale.
The giant German scheme, which comes on top of an additional €95 billion of energy price support measures that Berlin announced in recent months, has triggered both strong censure from Italy and barely veiled warnings from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said Germany is in danger of creating an unfair advantage for its industry over poorer EU countries that can’t afford such support measures.
French EU Commissioner Thierry Breton was forthright in his opprobrium and cried foul about Berlin’s behavior in an op-ed he penned with his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni, sparking a Franco-Italian revolt in Brussels.
Berlin has reacted with annoyance to the condemnation — particularly since it is coming from Breton, who appeared to speak more in his function as a French envoy than a politically neutral European Commission representative. At a press conference on Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that Breton should take a closer look at the energy support measures Paris is taking.
“Commissioner Breton certainly looks around, even where he comes from, and therefore knows that the measures we are taking are not singular but are also being taken elsewhere, and with good reason, by the way,” Scholz said at a press conference in Berlin.
Sven Giegold, a state secretary at the Green-led German economy ministry, also defended Berlin’s spending, arguing others like France were introducing price caps. “We have not even defined how the famous €200 billion 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,” he said.
France has said it won’t allow gas prices to rise for households beyond 15 percent in 2023.
Scholz said Tuesday that “perhaps not everybody realized immediately” that the €200 billion scheme was not just for this year, but for 2023 and 2024 as well, noting that Germany had been forced to bail out large energy companies like Uniper.
A French economy ministry official said Monday that it was too early to assess the German plan, but noted that it was similar to what France has been doing in recent months.
“Several things there are similar to things we’ve done, including [energy] price cap for households,” the official said, adding: “It is very important that everyone can take measures to protect their populations and businesses, of course, but this be done in a coordinated manner so that those who have the most fiscal space cannot support more and thus generate the risk of fragmentation of the eurozone.”
Giorgio Leali in Paris contributed reporting.