Madrid regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a maverick politician who refused to implement Covid-19 restrictions during the pandemic, has stepped up to the Spanish government again, this time for EU-wide energy-saving measures.
Ayuso has vowed that ‘Madrid will not go out’ after Spain’s cabinet approved measures requiring shops and public buildings to turn off their lights by 10pm every night.
The head of the central region, one of Spain’s richest, said the measures would ‘create insecurity and threaten tourism and consumption’.
The plan, which includes temperature limits for businesses, museums and public transport as well as restrictions on street lights, was approved after the European Union agreed on July 26 to cut gas consumption by 15 percent from August to March to save sure. winter is threatened by a reduction in supply from Russia.
EU countries are scrambling to find ways to reduce their energy consumption before winter arrives, after Russia began distributing gas supplies to the continent.
Madrid regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso (pictured), a maverick politician who refused to implement Covid-19 restrictions during the pandemic, has stepped up to the Spanish government again, this time for EU-wide energy-saving measures.
Ayuso has vowed that ‘Madrid will not switch off’ after Spain’s cabinet passed measures requiring shops and public buildings to turn off their lights by 10pm every night (Madrid file photo)
Germany has already started turning off street lights in Berlin while Hanover turned off hot water in public buildings. Oktoberfest and Christmas markets are also facing cancellations, politicians have agreed, and breweries may close.
In Austria, the city of Linz has stopped lighting historical landmarks at night while Salzburg is preparing plans to follow suit.
The EU treaty included various types of exemptions, however, and opposition at the regional level could increase difficulties in its implementation.
The Spanish government’s measures, published in the official gazette on Tuesday, aim to cut the energy bill by seven percent by ordering shops and public buildings to turn off their lights by 10 p.m.
The rules will be implemented within seven days, during which those who violate them will face a fine of 100 – 30,000 euros (£83 – £25,051). The measures will apply until at least November next year.
‘This will not be used in the Madrid area. Madrid will not shut down,’ Ayuso wrote on Twitter. “Before closing, banning, closing, why don’t you talk to citizens and administrations like adults and ask them to cooperate based on clear criteria?”
He said the restrictions ‘will bring insecurity and threaten tourism and consumption’.
Ayuso added: ‘It causes darkness, poverty, sadness – while the government silences the question: what savings will you keep?’
Germany has already started turning off street lights in Berlin while Hanover turned off hot water in public buildings. Pictured: Equestrian statue of Frederick the Great on Unter den Linden with its light turned off in Berlin to save energy.
The Spanish government dismissed Ayuso’s threat.
“It is a royal law that must be followed, but we are used to this type of response from Mrs. Ayuso, she always shows a lack of solidarity and selfishness,” Economy Minister Nadia Calvino told Cadena Ser radio on Tuesday. saying that measures to save energy are necessary for regional governments.
Last week, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez told Spaniards to put their work ties to rest instead of relying on air fraud as Europe struggles to deal with its energy crisis today.
Ayuso, from the conservative People’s Party, has locked horns with the coalition’s minority government during the pandemic, defying measures to contain the virus and its more permissive strategy for Madrid that allowed bars and restaurants to remain open.
Also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Madrid’, Ayuso won the 2021 regional elections by a landslide after allowing shops, restaurants and nightclubs to remain open during the pandemic to protect businesses.
This comes as Europe faces a major energy crisis as Putin uses energy supplies as revenge on leaders who defy him on Ukraine.
The continent normally gets about 40 percent of its gas from Russia, but now faces the reality of a severe winter without it or with severe restrictions.
Germany will be hit the hardest because it depends too much on Russia – getting more than half of the equipment used in a typical year via pipeline directly from Moscow.
And, unlike other EU countries, it does not have ports capable of getting gas from elsewhere. It’s building two, but they won’t be ready until the New Year.
Berlin’s cathedral is partially illuminated overnight as Germany tries to find ways to save energy, while Russia injects gas supplies.
German households have been told to pay higher bills than usual this winter as energy companies pass on the cost of gas.
A typical household’s bill could double from October 1, German group RheinEnergie warned in a statement on Monday, the first major utility to provide detailed estimates.
The company supplies about 2.5 million people with energy in an area near the city of Cologne, in western Germany.
A ‘nearly 450 percent increase in the cost of purchasing natural gas’ over the past year was behind the penalty increase, RheinEnergie said.
‘The market deteriorated significantly again with the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine’, which further increased prices, RheinEnergie said.
A household of two, with an average gas consumption of 10,000 kilowatt hours each year, would see their bill jump from around 960 euros (£801) a year ago to 2,002 euros (£1,671), the company said.
Germany has been heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies to meet its energy needs, but Moscow has gradually cut supplies since the start of the war.
The threat that Russia may cut off exports altogether has raised the possibility of winter shortages and brought Germany closer to ration supply.
To avoid shortages, Germany is restarting mothballed coal plants and is looking to extend the life of its three remaining nuclear reactors that were due to be decommissioned at the end of the year.
Similar measures are underway in Belgium, where negotiations are ongoing between the government and the French contractor that operates two nuclear reactors to extend their life by another ten years.
However, the company has said plants may not come back online until 2026 at the earliest – too late to help with the looming crisis.
In France itself, which has one of the largest and most advanced concentrations of nuclear reactors anywhere in the world, there are also problems.
Half of its power plants are currently offline due to an unexpected problem with its cooling systems, and there is no set date for back-up.
At the same time, EDF – the company that runs them – is forced to run up huge debts to buy energy from elsewhere in Europe to cover the gap.
France is considering nationalizing energy provider EDF to bring about half of its nuclear reactors online, which have been shut down for maintenance.
The situation has become so bad that Emmanuel Macron’s government is floating the idea of nationalizing the company so that the plants can work again.
Countries are also trying to store as much gas as possible before winter sets in, which has pushed prices to near-record levels.
Households in the UK – which buy gas from Europe – and Germany have been warned that bills could triple, with Germans also facing a ‘gas surcharge’ to stop damage to supplies.
The exact amount has yet to be announced, but economy minister Robert Habeck has warned it will undoubtedly be in the ‘hundreds’ of euros with some experts reckoning it could be as much as an extra £1,000 a year.
The charge will come into effect from October, and will last until at least March 2024. It will affect almost half of German homes that use gas boilers.
While the energy crisis has been brewing for some time, things escalated this week when Russia cut the amount of gas coming through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline – the main route into Germany – to 20 percent capacity.
Officially, Moscow says the flow is being choked because of repairs to gas pumping plants, but Germany says this is just an excuse.
Instead, many believe that Putin is taking revenge on European leaders for defying him on the war in Ukraine.
The move is desperate. Russia depends on income from energy to keep its economy afloat, and would inevitably face a deep recession without it.
But Putin seems to be betting that the European Union over Ukraine will collapse before the worst effects are felt at home.
If Kyiv loses its Western support, then it may have to seek a peace deal that favors Putin – or it could lose more ground to its troops.