EU looking into complaints that Russia stoking gas price surge

The moon rises as electricians work atop a power pole near the lignite power plant of Neurath of German energy supplier and utility RWE, near Rommerskirchen north-west of Cologne, Germany, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay//File Photo
  • Commission says Russia seems to be meeting long-term contracts
  • EU's energy chief says solution to price surge is green shift
  • Brussels drafting 'toolbox' to respond to spike in prices

BRUSSELS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The European Commission is looking into complaints by some EU countries that Russia is using its position as a major supplier to propel the soaring price of gas in Europe, the bloc's energy policy chief said on Tuesday.

Russian supplier Gazprom has been fulfilling its sales obligations under long-term contracts but not adding more. That has drawn accusations by European Union lawmakers that it is pushing up gas prices in Europe, which have surged to record highs amid tight supply and other factors.

"We are looking into this claim, together with Executive Vice President Vestager, who is responsible for competition rules, because it is of course a very serious matter," European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson told Reuters, referring to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager.

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"Our initial assessment suggests that Russia is fulfilling its long-term contracts," she said in written responses to questions.

​Gazprom and the Kremlin have repeatedly said Russia has been supplying its customers with gas in accordance with existing contracts. Russia is Europe's biggest gas supplier, contributing 43% of the 27-country European Union's gas imports last year.

Moscow is awaiting regulatory approval for its Nord Stream 2 pipeline to start pumping gas to Germany. Opponents say Russia has applied pressure to try to speed up the project's approval, by not supplying extra gas to Europe as prices have surged.

Brussels will next week publish a "toolbox" outlining countries' options to respond to energy price spikes, such as consumer subsidies and energy tax breaks - measures some governments have already rolled out.

Simson said the toolbox would also "consider steps that can be taken at the EU level to make us better prepared for similar situations in the future".

Countries including Spain, France and Poland have said the price crunch should be met with a coordinated EU response, such as reforms to EU energy market regulations or common gas purchasing by member states.

Simson said a faster transition to green energy would be the most effective way to protect Europe against future fossil fuel price spikes.

The EU is preparing to implement a raft of measures to cut emissions faster this decade, including taxes on polluting fuels, a new carbon market for buildings and transport, and a multi-billion-euro fund to help low-income consumers invest in green options.

"Ultimately, the solution is the same, whether it's about prices, security of supply or climate: scaling up local, affordable, renewable energy is the way forward," Simson said.

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Reporting by Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin Editing by John Chalmers and Mark Heinrich

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