By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi on Friday hosted a huddle of leaders from three fellow Mediterranean countries to push for an urgent, common European response to the energy crisis, which has been worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is threatening the economic recovery of small businesses and ordinary citizens.
The prime ministers of Spain and Portugal participated in person in the meeting in Rome, while Greece’s leader, who is positive for COVID-19, joined in by video hookup from Athens.
In statements to reporters following their discussions, the four leaders said they agreed on the pressing need for a European Union-wide response to concretely emerge from next week’s European Council meeting in Brussels.
Prices for gas and electricity were already soaring in Europe and elsewhere before Russia began the war against its neighbor last month.
Draghi has been pushing for EU-wide stockpiling of energy resources plus a deal for all 27 countries in the bloc to cap gas prices.
“The invasion of Ukraine by Russia opened up a period of strong volatility for the markets for raw materials, gas and oil,” already high in price before the war, Draghi said. “We must intervene right away. We (four leaders) all have the impression that something substantial, significant must be done right away” by all EU members.
“Europe reacted united to the invasion. Now it must find the same determination and unity” on energy, the Italian premier said. Draghi added that “a common market in energy is beneficial to all.”
He said the four discussed a price cap on gas but none of the participants gave details.
“We have similar ideas, but we must convince other countries that have different needs and different infrastructure” to quickly adopt a common approach, Draghi said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the four Mediterranean leaders “commit ourselves to diversifying energy sources as fast as possible.” And action is needed immediately on prices, Sanchez said, noting that “small businesses and citizens can’t bear” the soaring costs of gas and electricity.
“All the European countries are hit by this energy crisis, that was provoked by one person, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Sanchez said. “So we must have a European response.”
Portuguese Premier Antonio Costa said next week’s meeting in Brussels “must be a European Council of immediate decisions,” so that Europe’s recovery, after the damage dealt by the pandemic, isn’t interrupted.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sounded a warning that high prices for heating and electricity might lead to “re-awakening the nightmare of populism” on the European continent.
In a tangible sign of worry on both sides of the Atlantic for the economic and defense implications of the war, U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Brussels next week for talks with leaders of NATO member countries as well as leaders gathered for the European Council.
The four prime ministers also discussed security concerns in Friday’s talks.
“If there is a lesson that Putin gave us with his unjust and unjustifiable war it is that peace must be defended,” Sanchez said. The two meetings in Brussels next week, the Spanish leader said, could help develop a “strategic compass” helpful for integrating European defense with NATO’s defense.
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