You would think that in the context of an impending energy crisis, installing lights would rank low on the priority list. I love Christmas as much as anyone, I hope this year is a reality check – for everyone.
In Spain, energy-saving measures came into force last week: air conditioning will be set to 27 degrees Celsius (80.5 degrees Fahrenheit), shop windows will have to turn off from 10 p.m. public buildings will have to turn off their lights. This has sparked an acrimonious debate between central government, regional administrations and tourist destinations like Madrid, where nightlife doesn’t start until after nine o’clock at night. It’s a microcosm of how Europeans in general are unprepared – emotionally and practically – for what is potentially the darkest winter the continent will see in decades.
Madrid region right-wing leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso is a leading voice against the new rules. She has kept the city open for business through much of the pandemic. Now she argues conservation will destroy jobs, scare off tourists and hamper public safety. She makes a few good points: The Spanish government rushed the measures without consensus and without a compelling narrative to justify responding to a midsummer winter crisis. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s symbolic decision to step aside during official business – to compensate for the air conditioning shutdown – came across as insignificant. It was largely ignored.
Still, it would be foolish and myopic for Diaz Ayuso and Madrid to dispense with restrictions. And bickering goes beyond Spanish borders. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is due to unveil an “energy sobriety” plan almost a clone of the Spanish measures. It is likely to meet the same resistance. His nemesis Marine le Pen says European sanctions on Russian energy have backfired and the French will have to foot the bill this winter. As wholesale electricity prices reach new highs in Paris, Le Pen is seeking to sway working-class voters by casting herself as the candidate for purchasing power.
Germany is likely to feel the brunt of the Russian winter, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has played down media fears of winter unrest even as the Federal Grid Agency – the country’s electricity regulator – called on consumers to reduce consumption and save money. for cold weather bills. Companies like Deutsche Bank AG are going further than the voluntary measures put in place by the government.
In Italy, acting Prime Minister Mario Draghi has sparked controversy by saying Italians should choose between blowing the air conditioning or helping Ukraine. However, no candidate talked about it during the campaign leading up to the September 25 vote. This will make the calculation even harder (or colder) when winter arrives – and the likely reaction of an unprepared electorate even more volatile.
For months, European officials have swept any discussion under the rug. First, they wanted to save the summer tourist season, which is a cash cow providing much of the second quarter growth for many countries. Second, governments did not want to panic consumers. It was not until July that public discourse from Brussels and national governments began to reflect covert concerns. It’s a bit late for the reality check – which politics keeps suppressing.
The result: ordinary European citizens have not fully internalized the abnormality of the coming winter. The fact that dim lights and limited air conditioning spark such heated debate does not bode well. In December, everyone will look paltry if Russia further weaponizes energy. It is daunting to even imagine what the effect will be on low-income families forced to choose between paying for food or heating.
By now, it is clear that Putin wants to impose a U-turn on the EU and its sanctions. This will happen more effectively with discord, distrust and misinformation among Europeans. Now is not the time for petty partisan politics. What is needed now is a sober assessment that crosses party lines and provides solutions. It’s getting pretty late for these reality checks.
More from this writer and others on Bloomberg Opinion:
Draghi no longer comes to the rescue of Italy: Maria Tadeo
Sweating while afraid to shiver: Andreas Kluth
Many winters are coming. Start saving energy now. : Javier Blas
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Maria Tadeo is Bloomberg Television’s European correspondent based in Brussels where she covers European politics, economics and NATO.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion