EU fury as Macron allows French companies to resume business as usual in Russia

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French carmaker Renault resumed operations at its Moscow plant on Monday, in a blow to western efforts to sanction Russia. The move has sparked fury in the EU with diplomats blaming President Emmanuel Macron over his failure to dictate rules on French companies.

The French firm had suspended operations in Moscow in late February saying at the time it was due to a “forced change in existing logistic routes”.

The move came after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, although Renault, which has three car assembly plants in Russia, did not specify whether its supply chain had been affected by the conflict.

Reacting to the news, an EU diplomat told The Daily Telegraph: “Apparently Macron is weighed on a different scale than other Europeans. While the rest of us are absorbing pain of sanctions, he lets Renault and other French companies operate in Russia.”

Renault, which returned to profit in 2021 after two years of losses, is among Western companies most exposed to Russia, where it makes 8 percent of its core earnings, according to Citibank.

In a statement, the French carmaker’s Russian unit said its Moscow production would stop from Feb 28-March 5 amid “some interruptions in supplies of components”.

“Interruptions are primarily caused by tighter border controls in transit countries and the forced need to change a number of established logistics routes,” the unit said, without naming any countries.

It comes as leaders from European Union countries will agree at a summit this week to jointly purchase gas, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen ahead of next winter, according to a draft of their summit statement.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe’s top gas supplier, has caused energy prices to soar to record highs and put the EU on a mission to cut Russian gas use this year – a move that will require a jump in imports from other suppliers, such as Qatar and the United States.

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“With a view to next winter, Member States and the Commission will urgently… work together on the joint purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen,” EU leaders will say following a summit on Mar. 24-25, according to a draft summit statement.

The European Commission last year proposed a system for EU countries to jointly buy strategic stocks of gas, which some members including Spain had called for as a way to provide a buffer against potential supply disruptions.

Fears of supply shocks have grown since Russia launched what it calls “a special military operation” in Ukraine. Russia supplies 40 percent of EU gas.

Brussels has said it will help countries kick-start joint gas buying this year, and is expected to propose rules this week requiring countries to fill gas storage to 90 percent ahead of winter each year.

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EU storage is currently at 26 percent of capacity.

The draft statement said countries agreed to coordinate measures to fill storage and start doing so “as soon as possible”.

Leaders will also consider fresh measures to cushion consumers from soaring energy prices, and discuss how to potentially “optimise” the functioning of energy markets. They will ask the Commission to take “necessary initiatives” to do this, according to the draft statement.

European gas prices had already risen in the months leading up to the invasion, prompting governments to spend billions on tax breaks and subsidies to shield citizens from the costs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with President Macron on Tuesday and discussed peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, Interfax news agency said.

RIA news agency said the call had come at the request of Paris.

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