MEPs quarrel over high energy bills

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The European Parliament struggled last week (25 September) to pass a resolution on energy prices as Socialist MEPs accused the centre right EPP-ED group of rejecting proposals aimed at shielding the poor from soaring gas and electricity bills.

The vote on the resolution has highlighted divisions among MEPs over the need to take measures to protect living standards in the face of rising energy costs.

“There is now a clear political breach in this parliament over social Europe,” Labour MEP Stephen Hughes stated after the vote.

The Socialist Group sees the final resolution, adopted on 25 September, as a failed opportunity to make its concerns known to the Commission. “Thanks to the EPP’s obstruction, Parliament failed to take advantage and we are left with no official Parliament position,” said Socialist Group Vice-President Hannes Swoboda. 

But the EPP-ED Group staunchly opposes any attempt to fix energy prices at EU level, with Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho rejecting “any kind of regulation on energy prices such as a fiscal harmonisation of fuel prices”.

Nonetheless, he accepts that “temporary fiscal intervention in favour of households and industrial sectors that are most heavily affected” by energy prices could be envisaged, as agreed by the Commission in June (EURACTIV 12/06/08). 

MEPs also called on the EU executive to ensure that its proposed ‘Consumer Charter for Energy’ sets out consumer rights clearly. The charter, which was launched by the EU executive in July, has run into criticism from consumer groups, which argued that its non-binding character would not be sufficient to stop borderline commercial practices (EURACTIV 06/07/08).

MEPs asked the Commission to investigate the link between high oil and gas prices and the long-term contracts to which consumers are often forced to sign up. 

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