Lawmakers in the European Parliament have formed a cross-party coalition in an attempt to block nuclear energy and fossil gas from receiving a green investment label under the EU’s green finance taxonomy.
The cross-party coalition has put forward an objection against a European Commission proposal, tabled at the end of last year, to include fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU’s list of green investments as “transitional” sources of energy.
The objection was submitted ahead of a vote in the Parliament’s economy and environment committees, which are meeting in a joint session on Tuesday (14 June) to decide their stance on the proposal.
Regardless of the outcome, the motion will then be submitted again for a decisive vote at the Parliament’s July plenary, which will have the final say on the matter.
A simple majority – or at least 353 MEPs – is needed in plenary to kill the proposal and the joint committee vote is seen as a dress rehearsal for this.
“For us, of course, it is not acceptable to qualify gas and nuclear as sustainable and allow the green finances for the future to finance those projects,” said Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourgish lawmaker from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in Parliament.
Hansen was speaking at a press conference on 8 June alongside colleagues from other political groups, including the centrist Renew Europe, the Greens, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Left.
“That is not saying that we will not need, in the next years, gas and nuclear,” Hansen said. “But we just are of the point of view that we shouldn’t misuse or greenwash the sustainable finance to do so.”
It is very rare that such a broad spectrum of political groups opposes something “with the same voice,” said Silvia Modig from the Left, adding: “I hope that tells you how seriously the Parliament takes this effort”.
The resolution objects to labelling nuclear and gas as green, particularly following the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the EU executive’s handling of the file.
However, it is still uncertain if the coalition has the numbers to block the Commission proposal.
“Both the votes will be really tight,” said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP from the Greens who are opposed to the inclusion of nuclear and gas in the taxonomy. “There’s no guaranteed majority, but I remain positive that we can stop this. Tomorrow will be a good indication for the plenary majorities,” he told Euractiv.
His colleague Michael Bloss, a Green MEP from Germany, has done the maths. “We calculated the numbers and it’s almost even,” he said at a Brussels event on Monday evening (13 June).
According to his calculations, the Parliament’s economic and environment committees are almost evenly split on the matter, with 67 against 68 MEPs who are ready to oppose or approve the inclusion of gas and nuclear in the taxonomy.
“If we win, I think there will be a momentum for the plenary,” Bloss said. “This vote tomorrow doesn’t have a real meaning because even if we lose, this same objection will be put to plenary anyway.”
According to S&D lawmaker Paul Tang on 8 June, “above 80%” of his group is opposed to the inclusion of nuclear and gas in the taxonomy, with some national delegations still deciding and only the Finnish delegation in favour.
Renew Europe, the EPP and the Left are also split on the topic, according to lawmakers from these groups.
If the objection passes, the inclusion of nuclear and fossil gas will still be voted on by the whole European Parliament in July. If it fails, it will be tabled again during the plenary vote.
But “if it passes, then it’s a clear signal”, said Martin Hojsík, a Slovak lawmaker from Renew Europe.
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While groups like the S&D and the Greens have been opposed to the inclusion of nuclear energy and fossil gas from the outset, the war in Ukraine has pushed more lawmakers to oppose it.
“Gas as a transition fuel is dead,” Hojsík told Euractiv, referring to the idea that fossil gas could act as a bridge away from coal. However, this notion was shattered by the outbreak of war and concerns about payments for fossil fuels funding the Kremlin war machine.
His colleague Emma Wiesner criticised the EU’s previous policies to reduce dependence on Russian gas following the annexation of Crimea. After these, EU dependence on Russian gas increased.
“We cannot afford to repeat the same mistake and that’s why we have to object to this illegal greenwashing,” she told journalists.
The possibility of further supporting Russian gas by granting it a green label has not gone unnoticed in Ukraine.
“Gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy is a very clear gift to Putin to feed his war machine against Ukrainians,” said Svitlana Romanko, an environmental lawyer from Ukraine and a coordinator at the Stand With Ukraine campaign.
“The EU is sabotaging their own efforts to cut dependency with Russia and end the war in Ukraine,” she told Euractiv. She pointed to the fact that EU lawmakers have already voted to ban all Russian energy imports, including gas and nuclear fuel, and called for lawmakers to support the objection.
Meanwhile, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Inna Sovsun, wrote on Twitter: “Labeling gas as climate-friendly is [a] departure from the green future and a gift to Putin to pursue war.”
Scepticism around the inclusion of nuclear and fossil gas is also echoed in the financial world. During a public hearing on Monday (30 May), Nancy Saich, Chief Climate Change Expert at the European Investment Bank (EIB) explained that investors looking for green investments are not eager to put their money into nuclear and gas.
“We wish to use our resources to focus on the low carbon solutions because the climate crisis is just as urgent as it was before,” she added.
Since the proposal was tabled, there have been criticisms that it was purely a political move to please France’s nuclear industry and Germany’s appetite for gas, rather than a decision based on science or the market’s wishes.
It was “tampered with in the favour of Germany and France”, said Tang.
“This is private money that is needed for transition going towards the largest countries, which are perfectly able to finance the transition and so more and more delegations in the S&D are realising that this is not to the benefit [of national delegations],” he added.
“This vote ultimately is about whether we will turn the taxonomy into a less science-based instrument and a less market-based instrument and much more of a political tool,” said Hojsík.
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However, according to experts, nuclear energy can make a substantial contribution to reaching the EU’s climate goals.
At the debate on the taxonomy, French Renew Europe lawmaker Gilles Boyer, spoke in favour of nuclear, saying it was needed to reach the EU’s objectives of energy independence and phasing out fossil fuels.
“Can we really imagine that we are going to be able to achieve our objectives without investing extra funds in nuclear energy?” he said.
Speaking to Euractiv, he explained that the EU treaties are clear that each EU country can choose their own energy mix. Some EU countries have chosen nuclear because of its lack of carbon emissions and security of supply, he added.
He pointed to an assessment by the European Commission’s joint research centre that found the impact of the full nuclear energy lifecycle on humans and the environment is below harmful levels.
“The discussion about gas and nuclear, which has been going on for some time, has maybe become a more mainstream discussion since the war in Ukraine began,” Boyer told Euractiv.
“I think that some people who had maybe not considered some of the benefits of a reliable supply of zero emission nuclear energy have reconsidered their opinions. I believe that many have reinforced their resolve that the EU needs to move away from Russian gas as soon as is possible and that this need has become even more urgent,” he added.
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In France, the inclusion of nuclear power in the taxonomy could come to the aid of its ageing nuclear fleet. The country has more than 56 reactors, with many about to reach or exceed 40 years of age.
In October 2020, French energy company EDF estimated that investments worth €49.4 billion were needed to maintain reactors that are over 40 years. If nuclear fails to make it into the taxonomy, EDF’s survival in its current form could be put in question, threatening France’s energy security, observers say.
Germany, meanwhile, has taken an ambiguous stance. In its feedback to Brussels, Berlin initially reiterated its opposition to nuclear power while calling on the European Commission to ease restrictions on fossil gas in the transition to a low-carbon energy system.
It later said it would oppose the inclusion of both fossil gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy.
This article was produced by Euractiv and cross-posted under a content sharing agreement.