Energy price crisis: EU must support consumers and businesses

In an opinion adopted at its January plenary, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) states that nobody should be left behind and that it is essential to step up the coordination of national fiscal policies with the monetary policy of the European Central Bank.

The EU's response to the energy price crisis should aim to protect all households and businesses facing major problems paying their energy bills.

This is the main message of the opinion on Euro area economic policy 2023, drafted by Petru Sorin Dandea and adopted at the January plenary session.

Helping consumers and businesses

The EESC supports the European Commission's two-tier proposal to protect the most vulnerable: up to a certain level of energy consumption, vulnerable consumers will pay a price that is lower than the market price.

However, the Committee warns that this policy should cover both people below the poverty line and those belonging to the lower middle class who, due to low incomes, will not be able to pay their energy bills at market prices.

As emphasised by Mr Dandea during the plenary: The winter of 2022-2023 has created major problems in the Union. To really protect vulnerable households from the energy price crisis, the Commission's two-tier policy must be inclusive.

With reference to businesses, in order to prevent the shutdown of their activities, the EESC backs the Commission's proposal that Member States should make use of the State Aid Temporary Crisis Framework and urges them to use all possible means to help businesses, particularly small and medium‑sized enterprises.

Tackling inflation

Inflation, driven primarily by the rise in natural gas prices and the energy crisis, reached 10.6% in October 2022 in the euro area, its highest level since the introduction of the euro, before decreasing slightly to 10.1% in November and 9.2% in December 2022.

The European Central Bank has taken action in a timely manner, using monetary policy to contain the rise in inflation and pave the way for a return to below 2% (the medium-term target).

However, the EESC warns that monetary policy should be used prudently, since it can have a cyclical effect in the current complex context, in which inflation is being driven by exogenous factors.

For monetary policy to be successful in curbing inflation, the EESC stresses the importance for euro area countries to coordinate their fiscal policy with the monetary policy of the European Central Bank.

The Member States should also make efforts to speed up and finalise the Capital Markets Union and the Banking Union, as the completion of these two political projects constitutes an important step towards deepening the Economic and Monetary Union.

Easing the burden on households and businesses must remain the key objective and, at this time of multifaceted crises, the Member States must take action to reduce the negative fallout and involve the social partners in designing and implementing effective policies through social dialogue.