Policy brief

A grand bargain to steer through the European Union’s energy crisis

The current crisis looks set to leave behind it a radically different system, but what that system will look like remains an open question

Publishing date
06 September 2022
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Europe’s energy system faces unprecedented physical and institutional stress. The policy response so far has been excessively nationally focussed and could undermine the goals of calming energy markets over the next 18 months and achieving ambitious decarbonisation targets. At the basis of the crisis is a post-COVID-19 global energy imbalance. While demand bounced back quickly as economies re-opened, supply did not. A particular challenge is that the reducing supply of fossil fuels in line with climate targets has not been matched by a commensurate reduction of fossil-fuel demand. 

Russian manipulation of European natural gas markets since summer 2021, exploiting its significant market power, has deepened the crisis. Finally, events including weak French nuclear output and the ongoing drought, which has cut hydropower generation, have further escalated the situation.

In response to high and volatile prices and forced demand reduction, European governments have tended to opt for narrow and uncoordinated measures that prioritise national security of supply and affordability over an integrated European approach. Subsidising energy consumption instead of demand reduction has been a common and misguided approach. Governments run the risk that energy consumption subsidies become unsustainable, eroding trust in energy markets, slowing action in sanctioning Russia and increasing the cost of the net-zero transition. 

An integrated European approach and a coordinated plan is essential to address the crisis. European Union leaders must strike a grand energy bargain based on four broad principles: (i) all countries bringing forward every available supply-side flexibility, (ii) all countries making comprehensive efforts to reduce demand, (iii) a political committing to maintain energy markets and cross-border flows, (iv) compensation for the most vulnerable consumers. This grand bargain can be the first step on a new course towards united energy policy at EU level.

The authors thank Jean Pisani-Ferry, other Bruegel colleagues and external reviewers of an earlier draft for their valuable comments and suggestions. Research assistance by Conall Heussaff is gratefully acknowledged.

About the authors

  • Ben McWilliams

    Ben is working for Bruegel as a Consultant in the field of Energy and Climate Policy. His work involves data-driven analysis to critique and inform European public policy, specifically in the area of the energy sector and its decarbonisation. Recent work has focussed on the implications of the ongoing energy crisis and policy options for responding. Other topics of interest include tools for stimulating industrial decarbonisation and the implications for new economic geography from the advent of new energy systems, particularly from hydrogen. 

    He studied his MSc in Economic Policy at Utrecht University, completing a thesis investigating the economic effects of carbon taxation in British Colombia. Previously, he studied his BSc Economics at the University of Warwick, with one year spent studying at the University of Monash, Melbourne.

    Ben is a dual English and Dutch citizen.

  • Giovanni Sgaravatti

    Giovanni works at Bruegel as a Research analyst. He studied Economics (BSc) at University of Venice - Ca’ Foscari - including one semester at the University of Melbourne, and holds a Master’s degree in Quantitative Economics obtained in Venice - having done the whole second year at the Economics School of Louvain.

    Before joining Bruegel Giovanni worked in the Productivity branch of the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom. As a trainee he worked at the Delegation of the European Union to Chile and at BusinessEurope. His fields of analysis span from productivity to energy and climate change.

    Giovanni is an Italian native speaker, is fluent in English and has good working knowledge of French and Spanish.

  • 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.

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