Policy brief

An assessment of Europe’s options for addressing the crisis in energy markets

Action to intervene in the gas and electricity wholesale markets is also being taken at European Union level, which is what we analyse in this paper.

Publishing date
29 September 2022
Power plant with countryside in background

Executive summary

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, wholesale prices for electricity and gas in the European Union have risen five to fifteen-fold, with severe impacts for households and businesses. The crisis is also creating liquidity problems for energy companies, with contagion risks for the financial sector. 

In response, European governments have taken a range of actions. Some have introduced measures at retail level, while others have introduced windfall-profit taxes on energy companies. Some countries have provided emergency liquidity to energy companies facing soaring collateral costs. Some energy companies have even been nationalised. 

Emergency-intervention proposals should be evaluated against three principles. First, energy supply must meet demand at prices that do not cause major damage to the European economy. Second, the most vulnerable consumers must be protected. Third, measures should be consistent with the case for investment in a sustainable energy system, in order to safeguard Europe’s ability to decouple structurally from fossil-fuel imports.  

Gas price caps have been proposed as an emergency measure in different forms: a cap on Russian gas only, a cap on gas used in electricity generation, a cap on all wholesale gas. All entail significant risks. The first might lead to a full stop of Russian gas into the EU. The second might increase gas demand from the electricity sector. The third might raise gas demand and also undermine Europe’s ability to attract much-needed gas supplies. Instead of capping gas prices, the EU should engage collectively with external gas suppliers and negotiate new long-term contracts with provisions to limit price volatility. 

A September 2022 European Commission proposal involving electricity demand reduction, a revenue cap on inframarginal generation, solidarity payments from fossil-fuel companies and consumer support measures, is broadly positive, notably because it emphasises demand reduction. However, it is not sufficient. A more comprehensive plan needs to ensure that all countries bring forward every available supply-side flexibility, make real efforts to reduce gas and electricity demand, keep their energy markets open and pool demand to get a better deal from external gas suppliers. In the longer term, measures to split the markets for energy generated from renewables and fossil fuels should be examined.

The authors are grateful to Pantelis Capros, Rebecca Christie, Marek Dabrowski, Maria Demertzis, Natalia Fabra, Alicia Garcia-Herrero, Michael Grubb, Péter Kaderják, Pawel Karbownik, David Kleimann, Marie Le Mouel, Ben McWilliams, Leonardo Meeus, Karsten Neuhoff, Joanna Maćkowiak Pandera, Georgios Petropoulos and Nicolas Véron for their comments on previous drafts.

About the authors

  • Conall Heussaff

    Conall is a Research Assistant at Bruegel working on energy and climate policy. He studied his BSc in Theoretical Physics at University College Dublin. He then undertook an MSc in Climate Sciences with a special qualification in Economics at the University of Bern, Switzerland, including one semester spent at the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in Dublin. At NESC, Conall researched Ireland’s energy and economic modelling capabilities. 

    His MSc thesis applied a stylised industrial organisation model to the Irish electricity sector, investigating the climate, economic and social impacts of incentivising community energy development. Before joining Bruegel, Conall worked on the Wholesale Electricity Markets team at the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, the Irish energy regulator. 

    Conall is an Irish citizen and is a native speaker of English and the Irish language. 
     

  • Simone Tagliapietra

    Simone Tagliapietra is a Senior fellow at Bruegel. He is also Adjunct professor of Energy, Climate and Environmental Policy at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and at The Johns Hopkins University - School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Europe.

    His research focuses on the European Union climate and energy policy and on the political economy of global decarbonisation. With a record of numerous policy and scientific publications, he is the author of Global Energy Fundamentals (Cambridge University Press, 2020), L’Energia del Mondo (Il Mulino, 2020) and Energy Relations in the Euro-Mediterranean (Palgrave, 2017).

    His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media such as the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Corriere della Sera, Il Sole 24 Ore and others.

    Simone holds a PhD in Institutions and Policies from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Born in the Dolomites in 1988, he speaks Italian, English and French.

  • Georg Zachmann

    Georg Zachmann is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, where he has worked since 2009 on energy and climate policy. His work focuses on regional and distributional impacts of decarbonisation, the analysis and design of carbon, gas and electricity markets, and EU energy and climate policies. Previously, he worked at the German Ministry of Finance, the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, the energy think tank LARSEN in Paris, and the policy consultancy Berlin Economics.

  • Jeromin Zettelmeyer

    Jeromin Zettelmeyer has been Director of Bruegel since September 2022. Born in Madrid in 1964, Jeromin was previously a Deputy Director of the Strategy and Policy Review Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Prior to that, he was Dennis Weatherstone Senior Fellow (2019) and Senior Fellow (2016-19) at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Director-General for Economic Policy at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (2014-16); Director of Research and Deputy Chief Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2008-2014), and an IMF staff member, where he worked in the Research, Western Hemisphere, and European II Departments (1994-2008).

    Jeromin holds a Ph.D. in economics from MIT (1995) and an economics degree from the University of Bonn (1990). He is a Research Fellow in the International Macroeconomics Programme of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), and a member of the CEPR’s Research and Policy Network on European economic architecture, which he helped found. He is also a member of CESIfo. He has published widely on topics including financial crises, sovereign debt, economic growth, transition to market, and Europe’s monetary union. His recent research interests include EMU economic architecture, sovereign debt, debt and climate, and the return of economic nationalism in advanced and emerging market countries.    

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