Tough Winter for Whom? Politicians, Overseas Students and Citizens amidst the Energy Crisis in Europe

In September, the consumer price in Germany reached 10.9% compared with last year, the first time since Euro was introduced in 20 years. Among these, energy prices increased 43.9% on an annual basis. The growth is higher than expected as the approaching cool weather accelerates the influence of Russia’s energy supply cut.

Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, introduced a €200 gas price cap to shield consumers and companies from soaring energy costs, though in fresh debt. Many, especially his EU companions do not welcome his initiative. Prime ministers from Spain and Belgium warned that such a bailout could distort energy markets on the Continent and splinter the bloc’s united position this winter.

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“For me, I think the government’s measures are acceptable,” said Weng, “there are at least some subsidies to the poor, better than nothing.”

Jiaqi Weng is a second-year postgraduate at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). Having witnessed both the Euro-zone and migration crises since 2016, when she moved from China to Munich, it is the first time for her to “really feel the impact” on individuals.

“I can notice that the food prices vary each week,” said Weng, “I feel like my supermarket bill is 10 euros more expensive each week than the previous week, even with the same purchases.”

The reason behind the inflation is clear —– Russia’s cut on natural gas supply due to the ongoing Ukraine war. Germany is the hardest hit by the energy supply shortage, given its heavy reliance on Russia’s natural gas import known as Nord Stream 1 and 2. Added to such an acute cause of energy cuts is the long-term mass disruption brought by the pandemic. Germany’s proud auto manufacturing industry has not recovered from Covid, as sales have been sluggish.

“There’s a rumour saying that we are returning to online classes due to the lack of heating in the classrooms in my Uni. That’s absurd.” said Weng, “Even though our principal has proved that it was fake news, he told us to wear more clothes to school as the heating might be running less.”

Weng believed that low-income households were the most vulnerable group in the crisis. “Sometimes I’m a bit detached from all those slogans and ideological support in backing up Ukraine because it will always be the poor to pay out the bill,” said Weng.

Planning to work in Germany after graduation, Weng has faith in Germany, or the EU, to tackle the crisis. “At least people have channels to vent their grievances.”

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (L), Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (C) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) arrive for the European Political Community summit, in Prague, Czech Republic on October 7, 2022. (Source: Getty Images)

The situation on the other side of the English Channel is not much better. Britain, along with Germany, introduced the energy price cap of £2,500 per household a year, which would cost Westminster up to £150bn by borrowing. Experts and charities questioned the effectiveness of the price cap, as it is not adjusted based on household income, thereby failing to target low-income households.

The other thing that interrupted the British was the death of Queen Elizabeth. Shirley did not expect to encounter such a scene in her second week in London —– the city’s transportation was paralysed; shops were closed; all TV channels were broadcasting the same footage. “No one really cared about the energy crisis and the ongoing war at that moment, but the Queen’s funeral,” said Shirley.

Shirley Wang embarks on her postgraduate study at the Imperial College London this fall. She admits that the UK is very different from what she imagined in terms of diversity. “I’m not sure whether it is diversity or, say, polarisation, ” said Shirley, “I pass Hyde Park every day where groups are protesting the support for Ukraine and inflation. On the other hand, EU leaders are rallying people’s attention to the struggle in Ukraine.”

Since the end of August, 300,000 people joined Enough is Enough, a campaign to fight the UK’s cost of living crisis. The campaign carried out massive rallies in over 50 towns and cities across the UK on a National Day of Action. Their demands target food poverty, pay rise, and taxation for the rich, which radically responded to Prime Minister Liz Truss’ tax-cutting policy.

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Prime Minister Liz Truss giving her leader’s address at the ICC on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference, as seen on a television screen in a home on 5th October 2022 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Source: Getty Images)

Shirley is uncertain about her future after graduation. “Before coming to the UK, I hoped to work in London after graduation. But I doubt this now because I feel my strength can’t be used here,” said Shirley.

“In a crisis like this, it may take me longer to adapt and get through this new normal this winter, just like other European citizens,” she added.

(Featured image: Matthew Henry/ Unsplash)

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