Mario Draghi is the most prominent, but by no means the only EU politician who is not amused by Berlin’s 200 billion spending package. Europe should not be “split according to the respective leeway in the national budgets,” said the still incumbent Italian Prime Minister shortly after the Berlin “double boom” became known on Thursday evening.
The energy crisis calls for “a European response that avoids dangerous and unjustified distortions of the internal market,” Draghi added. Guido Crosetto, an influential ally of Prime Minister-elect Giorgia Meloni, wrote on Twitter that the German package was “an uncoordinated and uncommunicated act that undermines the Union’s logic at its roots.”
Such criticism, aimed at protecting the internal market, contradicts the traditional attitude of the right-wing camp of Italian politics, which always refuses any interference from outside – especially from Brussels. In terms of content, too, the criticism of Berlin contradicts the traditional Italian position, especially that of the right-wing camp. In the past, Germany was repeatedly criticized for its supposed “austerity” – now it’s the other way around.
Also criticism from Spain
But not only Italy dislikes the “double boom”. On the fringes of a special meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels, the Spanish head of department Teresa Ribera criticized the fact that despite all the understanding for the special German situation due to dependence on Russian gas, the German approach should not lead to decades of work on the internal market being destroyed.
Ribera called on the European Commission to take a close look at the German approach from this point of view. Claude Turmes from Luxembourg called for an end to the mutual outbidding competition between states to support their own economies. “We have to stop this insane competition,” he said. He also called on the EU Commission to set a uniform framework to prevent distortion of competition in the EU internal market.
Permission from Brussels required?
The appeal to the internal market and competition contains a logic that is difficult to dispute. If a member state grants its citizens – and above all its companies – subsidies that other states cannot afford for financial reasons, then its “own” companies are in principle given preference over companies in other member states. Therefore, the Berlin package could be classified as state aid, which in any case must be approved by the EU Commission. A Commission spokeswoman said on Friday that she expects the package to be registered in Brussels; the Brussels authorities will then probably examine the application. However, she added that the Commission is preparing a special subsidy rulebook that should be generous in its assessment of energy aid. These rules would be presented in October.
The energy aid rules are likely to be similar to the special rules introduced by the Commission in the 2020 corona pandemic. They enabled all member states to provide generous aid that helped companies compensate for the loss of income due to the lockdowns. Of course, even then there were grumblings about the fact that Germany spent significantly more on this purpose than other countries. In May 2020, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager pointed out in an interview with the FAZ that half of the aid notified to date had come from Germany. This represents “a problem” that has to be solved “beyond competition law”.