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Energy crunch sparks fuel poverty warning

October 17, 2021

The number of people unable to heat their homes this winter is expected to rise, says EU Labor Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. Rising global energy prices are causing a huge spike in heating bills.

An elderly woman runs her hands by her gas fire
Record gas and coal prices have prompted a warning from the EU about fuel povertyImage: DW/N.Martin

European Union Labor Commissioner Nicolas Schmit on Sunday warned of a rise in so-called energy poverty in Europe this winter due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

He told Germany's DPA news agency that there are already millions of people in Europe not able to heat their home sufficiently "and this number could rise further."

While the European Commission can help EU countries to limit the impact of the high energy priceson the public, Schmit said it was primarily up to national governments to take action.

A household is said to be in fuel or energy poverty when its members cannot afford to keep their property adequately warm at a reasonable cost.

In September, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) warned that more than 2.7 million people in Europe could not afford to keep their homes reasonably warm, even though they had jobs.

Last week, Germany slashed its tax on renewable energy by a third. The levy accounts for one-fifth of German consumers' power bills.

France is offering low-income households €100 ($116) to offset the additional cost of heating a home.

Economic rebound forcing prices up

Global natural gas and coal prices have reached record levels in recent weeks, and the oil price has spiked to more than $80 a barrel.

The price hikes have been blamed on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for electricity to power manufacturing is causing supply shortages globally.

Pressure on gas prices not easing

Some politicians have blamed Russia, which supplies about 50% of the EU's natural gas imports.

Russia's gas supply fell during the pandemic and is now back to normal levels but not meeting the additional demand.

Speculation is building that Moscow may be holding back extra deliveries to pressure Germany to formally commission the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea, which was completed last month.

The pipeline's construction was criticized for potentially making Europe too reliant on Russian gas.

The EU has previously said it believes the energy price spike is temporary and will ease in the spring.

With material from DPA news agency