By: Zoe Prin
A simple, temporary donation program holds the key to short-term energy cost relief for Europeans while also addressing humanitarian supply shortages in Ukraine, inflation, and donor fatigue. By offering European citizens energy stipends proportional to a set of donation offerings, participating countries can maximize government spending outcomes, partially relieve rising energy costs, increase Ukraine-bound aid, and engage individuals in supporting Ukraine.
According to the EU, the price of energy reached an all-time high in 2022. Consumer energy prices were €172.39/MWh in January 2023 compared to €138.22/MWh in February 2022 before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Increased energy costs worsen inflation and increase the cost of living for Europeans while draining 10% or more of select family incomes. Along with economic concerns, lack of heat during the 2022-2023 winter caused a six-figure increase in European deaths; this loss of life could continue if Europe experiences extreme heat waves this summer. As Europeans face increased costs of living and energy alongside inconsistent energy supplies, political support for Ukraine is likely to waiver as short-term needs take priority over long-term foreign policy values.
Meanwhile, the EU reports that damage to Ukrainian housing, water, electric, heating, and public infrastructure continues to leave millions of Ukrainian civilians without access to basic needs. The same report estimates 17.6 million people will rely on humanitarian aid in 2023. These needs include medical supplies, vehicles, generators, temporary shelters, food, and other basic relief items. As European energy costs rise, so does the need for targeted humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
Optimally, European leaders will offer several donation-to-stipend offers. While this policy burdens government organizers, it maximizes government spending outcomes, engages as many Europeans as possible, restores an appearance of stability and trustworthiness to participating European governments, and does not require new infrastructure.
Alternatively, European leaders can offer a donation-to-stipend exchange program. While this policy is simpler than offering multiple donation options and addresses both problem areas, it fails to maximize government spending outcomes and expand the program to as many Europeans as possible, ultimately not fulfilling the original intention of the policy.
The least desired option would be for European leaders to continue to address the European energy crisis and Ukrainian aid crisis separately and with only one-dimensional, short-term solutions, such as one-time energy stipend to qualifying households. While this policy mirrors others across Europe and poses no additional burden to government organizers, it fails to minimize suffering and maximize existing resources.
The proposed multi-donation policy is not meant to reduce government spending, act as a long-term solution, or alleviate the financial burden of energy costs on low-income European households. Rather, this policy would maximize government spending outcomes in a “two birds, one stones” approach. It engages Europeans in supporting Ukraine hence reducing donor fatigue, offers the middle-class temporary energy cost relief while long-term solutions are explored, provides additional, needed humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and reflects participating government’s awareness of the socio-economic effects of the energy crisis all while utilizing existing infrastructure.
Picture this: a Belgian citizen making an average €3,832 per month is looking to reduce his energy bill which costs him over €100/MWh during the cold winter of 2024. He collects a bag of extra winter coats and canned goods already in his home and takes the train to the nearest military base where military personnel have set up temporary donation intake stations. His donations are weighed: the coats weigh 15kg for which he receives €30 (€2 per 1kg) and the canned goods weigh 10kg for which he receives €10 (€1 per 1kg). Military personnel verify the contents of the Belgian man’s donations, provide a digital receipt, and furnish a digital energy voucher uniquely accepted by the man’s electric provider. The donations can then be shipped to Ukraine along with other governmental aid such as the 3,000 tons of salt donated by Belgium to Ukraine in January 2023. If the Belgian government allows donations like these to be collected monthly, this average Belgian man can earn back €480 per year in energy costs while directly contributing to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
Obviously, each participating country must modify its donation-to-stipend protocols based on demographics, potential for abuse, urban concentration, government spending capabilities, and other factors. However, this framework prioritizes individualization, decisiveness, and exemplifies the multitude of policy options available to European leadership during this transitional period.
About the Author
Zoe Prin graduated in 2023 from Seton Hall University with a B.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy as well as specializations in Russian language and Eastern European studies. Zoe received the RFG Fellowship and will continue her academic development through Syracuse University’s MPA+MAIR Program from which she will graduate in 2025.