Written by 1:17 pm EU Investment

Heat or eat? Winter protests loom as energy price crisis sweeps across Europe

Europe is facing a major social test ahead of winter, as it juggles rising discontent, fuelled by soaring energy prices, and pressure to meet climate goals as the Ukraine conflict drags on.

British grassroots group Don’t Pay UK is calling for people to boycott energy bills from October 1, while the trade union-backed Enough is Enough campaign kicked off a series of rallies and actions in mid-August calling for pay rises, rent caps, cheaper energy and food, and taxes on the rich.

A worsening cost-of-living crisis across Europe has already seen workers in France, Spain and Belgium go out on strike in the public transport, health and aviation sectors, pushing for higher wages to help them cope with rocketing inflation.

Meanwhile, the European Union has committed to reducing its Russian fossil-fuel imports by two-thirds and cutting gas demand by 15 per cent by year’s end.

Before the Ukraine war, it had already set a target to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

The squeeze on oil and gas imports from Russia, after its February invasion of Ukraine, has left countries scrambling to plug the energy gap through a mix of energy efficiency measures, firing up old coal plants and boosting renewable energy projects.

A middle-aged man in a blue jumpsuit and white hard hat stands on a platform next to mechanical equipment.
German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck in July conducted a two-day tour of companies hit by the energy crisis.(Reuters: Annegret Hilse)

Some economists say the immediate need to keep Europe’s electricity and heating running should trump medium- to long-term goals to adopt more clean energy and curb climate change, especially heading into the colder winter months.

“Nobody wants to see blackouts,” said Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic think tank.

He added that all options must be considered to avoid that scenario, “including polluting ones”.

But climate campaigners want to see governments turn their back on fossil fuels entirely, invest more heavily in efficiency measures and add more renewables to their energy mix.

Energy protests can oust governments

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