EU struggles to agree gas price cap, considers 220-euro limit

  • EU countries could decide cap on Dec. 13
  • Diplomats say deal may be delayed
  • Commission's proposed cap criticised as too high

BRUSSELS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - European Union countries on Tuesday considered the latest proposal for a lower gas price cap of 220 euros ($231), a week away from a meeting when the bloc hopes to resolve an issue that has deeply divided the 27 member states.

A handful of states, including Europe's biggest economy Germany, has opposed the idea of any cap, saying it could make it harder to secure supplies, while Belgium, Italy and Poland see it as a way to protect consumers and economies from the shock of high energy prices.

Under a compromise put forward late on Monday by the Czech Republic, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, the cap would be implemented if prices exceeded 220 euros per megawatt hour for five days on the front-month contract in the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) gas hub, according to the proposal seen by Reuters.

The TTF price, which serves as the European benchmark, would also need to be 35 euros higher than a reference price for liquiefied natural gas (LNG) based on numerous existing LNG price assessments, for the cap to be triggered.

The new Czech compromise is below the 275 eur/MWh limit proposed by the the Commission, the EU executive, on Nov. 22.

Some EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said countries' positions had not shifted and predicted another meeting may be needed on Dec. 19 after next Tuesday's ministerial talks.

EU country diplomats will discuss the latest draft proposal on Wednesday to try to get closer to agreement.

The Commission had been reluctant to propose any price cap, which some EU countries have demanded for months, and many criticised its proposal as too high and accompanied by conditions so strict it was unlikely to be triggered.

Gas prices surged this year following the invasion of Ukraine in February by major gas exporter Russia, although they have eased compared with record-highs reached in August, as European countries filled winter storage to try to protect themselves from a shortfall.

The TTF price was around 134 euros on Tuesday, down from a peak of 340 euros in August.

Member states dissatisfied with the EU proposal have also put forward their own. The Netherlands suggested a price cap for government-supported gas buying only, while countries including Belgium and Poland proposing a fluctuating cap.

($1 = 0.9512 euros)

(This story has been refiled to fix a typographical error in first paragraph)

Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Barbara Lewis

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