Sánchez defends in Berlin the reform of the electricity market and taxing profits: “There are companies making a lot of money” | International
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The appointment in front of delegates from the European social democratic family could not be more timely: a few days before a European Council (20 and 21 October) focused on the challenges posed by the energy crisis, Pedro Sánchez had a propitious scenario to underline the position Spanish: “We have to intervene in the energy market because it is not working”, began his speech forcefully. Sánchez’s energy recipe for Europe involves delinking the price of gas, at historical highs, from that of electricity, as Spain and Portugal have done with the approval of Brussels through the so-called Iberian exception.
The notable reduction in the electricity bill, which according to the Spanish president has saved citizens 2,600 million euros, is the best letter of introduction to export the system to Europe, Sánchez boasted. His defense of Iberian model in Berlin it also included taxes on extraordinary profits: “In every crisis there are many large companies that make a lot of money, and they have to be taxed,” he stated, and aroused great applause in the auditorium of the Verti Music Hall in the German capital. Sánchez, who had met privately the night before with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, participated in a round table of the congress of European Socialists together with Costa and the leaders of Sweden and Malta. Scholz is also in favor of cutting the excessive benefits of the large energy companies, as he recently recalled in an interview with EL PAÍS.
Sánchez stressed that the war in Ukraine cannot become an “excuse” for the members of the European Union to postpone the commitments and objectives of decarbonising their economies. Madrid, he assured, will take advantage of the crisis to accelerate the energy transition, but he regretted that Spain cannot show as much solidarity as it would like with the countries most affected by the lack of supply of Russian hydrocarbons. The Iberian Peninsula is practically an energy island since it is not interconnected with European networks, he recalled. And this despite the fact that it concentrates a third of all the regasification capacity in Europe with which powers such as Germany replace part of the Russian gas that they have stopped receiving.
Energy interconnections, and specifically the MidCat project for the construction of a gas pipeline that transports gas from Portugal and Spain to central Europe through the Pyrenees, were the main protagonists of the meeting held by Sánchez on Friday night with Scholz and Costa. Without naming the MidCat, Sánchez stressed this Saturday that energy interconnections are key to the security of European supply. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is reluctant to give the go-ahead to the project: he assures that it would not arrive in time to make a difference in the current crisis, it is not profitable and it involves building a new infrastructure for hydrocarbons that Europe has proposed to abandon in the next years. Scholz has supported him publicly, the last time at the Spanish-German summit on October 5 in A Coruña.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the focus of a good part of the interventions of the Social Democratic leaders in Berlin. All insisted that the EU must continue the concerted effort to support kyiv in defending itself from aggression. “We have to maintain unity, providing financial support, humanitarian aid and military capabilities,” insisted Sánchez, who spoke in English, like the rest of the participants in his round table. The Spanish president called for “not being naive” and understanding that Vladimir Putin’s challenge is also directed at the European Union and “the democratic systems” of the member states. Spain, he added, is the fifth country that has received the most Ukrainian refugees, around 140,000 people, mostly women and children.
Sánchez took the opportunity to “send a message” to Russian citizens at a time when the Twenty-seven seek a common position in the face of the departure of Russian refugees after the forced mobilization of tens of thousands of reservists ordered by Putin. “We have nothing against the Russian population,” he stressed.
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The rise of the far right
The progressive leaders meeting in Berlin warned about the advance of right-wing populism in Europe and called for the creation of a common front to counter their messages. They also did self-criticism. Former Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who resigned in September after learning the results of the elections that gave a majority to the right-wing bloc, pointed out that the Social Democrats have “a lot of work ahead of them” to understand why citizens are voting for parties of far right.
Sweden reached a government agreement on Friday with the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who will not enter the Executive, but have signed the pact for the conservative Ulf Kristersson to lead the country. This party, Andersson warned his Social Democrat colleagues, “is of the extreme right, it was created by neo-Nazis” and its members are already placing themselves in prominent positions in the Swedish Administration.
The new president of the European Socialists, former Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, also lamented “the growth in Europe of populists, who pit social groups against each other” and seek to “dismantle democracy” from within. “It is very easy to play the fear card and give simple answers to difficult questions”, he criticized these parties that “deny the climate crisis” and ignite public debate by opposing immigration. The vice president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called on the progressive family to “wake up” to the push of the extreme right. Costa pointed out that the Socialists are not knowing how to respond to the concerns of the citizens, something that has been evidenced in the last electoral appointments. The Social Democrats have lost weight in recent months in Sweden, Italy and France and have not celebrated a victory since Scholz’s in September last year.
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