The Green Party of Belgium is calling for a cap on energy prices to provide relief to consumers. While they hope for coordinated action by the European Union (EU), they are urging their coalition government to find a national solution if relief cannot be arranged at the European level.

Since Russia reduced its supply of natural gas to Europe in response to western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, Belgium and other European countries have been struggling to adjust. Energy prices have hit record highs in Belgium. 

The Belgian government, a coalition of four political parties, including the Greens, lowered the value added tax on gas and electricity from 21% to 6% and provided energy subsidies to households. Nonetheless, the government recognizes that more needs to be done to protect the average consumer and also Belgian businesses, which have suffered with several having had to shut down production facilities due to the high cost of energy.

The current crisis is expected to be long term. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, of the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats party, foresees that the next five to ten winters will be difficult and adds that for the moment: “It’s all hands on deck. Winter is coming, we need to work with all governments and across all party lines to make bills affordable for people again.” 

Green Party member and Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten proposed a European wide cap on gas prices at the outset of the war in Ukraine. While there was initial support from European heads of state, analysis has to be done on how maximum prices could be set across Europe continues. 

Van der Straeten fears that Belgium cannot wait for the rest of Europe to act. She intends to investigate national measures to cap costs if no policies are put in place by the EU. She is not alone as France and Lower Austria did not wait and have already imposed restrictions on energy prices.  

Although De Croo acknowledges that there are limits to what the Belgian Government can do on its own to address the crisis, other measures have been proposed. The Government is considering how the average consumer can reduce energy consumption.  It also plans to limit heating in public buildings to 19 degrees Celsius and to reduce the use of air conditioning. Furthermore, the lighting of offices and monuments will be switched off at 7 p.m.. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, of the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, has proposed tax reform, “whereby we ensure that people have more net income at the end of the month.”  While this could help consumers pay high energy costs, the Green Party insists that tax reform should include taxing the record high profits being made by energy companies during the crisis. The Belgian Government agrees and promises a proposal for such a tax by the end of September.

While De Croo is still working with the EU on a European plan, he has not ruled out a freeze on energy prices in Belgium if one cannot be arranged throughout Europe. The Belgian’s Greens remain hopeful for a European wide solution and recognize that acting alone requires discussions with the energy sector and will have a much smaller effect.  Nonetheless, the Greens know the situation is urgent and there is little time to waste.

David Arnott

David Arnott of Toronto, recent graduate of Political Science from McGill University.

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