PARIS (AFP) – Almost every week now, European governments are announcing emergency measures to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Hundreds of billions of euros – and counting – have been shelled out so far since Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour in late February.
Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to household to fill up their cars. The public spending has continued even though European Union (EU) countries already accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies from the fallout of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.
After announcing EUR14 billion (USD13.9 billion) in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted that this put Italy “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.
The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank tracking energy crisis spending by EU government, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe after Germany.
Rome has allocated EUR59.2 billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Germany tops the list with EUR100.2 billion, or 2.8 of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its heavy reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.
On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.
France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises as early as November, ranks third with EUR53.6 billion allocated so far, representing 2.2 per cent of GDP. EU countries have now put up EUR314 billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.
“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” a senior fellow at Bruegel Simone Tagliapietra told AFP. The energy bills of a typical European family could reach EUR500 per month early next year, compared to EUR160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.
The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy to the energy price freeze in France and subsidies public transport in Germany.