The leaked plans, covering the so-called ‘EU Taxonomy’, classify environmentally sustainable economic activities. Gas and nuclear have reportedly been added to that list as “transitional” sources of energy deemed essential for meeting the EU’s climate goals.
Esther de Lange, a Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s centre right EPP Group argued that “by using gas as a bridge technology, we can achieve CO2 reductions faster by moving away from, for example, coal without having to wait for fully carbon-free technologies to be widely available”
The Dutch MEP added, “in many parts of the EU, gas can help bridge the gap and help us get concrete results faster.”
However, for other EU policymakers, such a classification for gas would be incompatible with the EU Green Deal’s climate and energy objectives.
Spanish Socialist MEP Nicolás González Casares attacked the proposals in a tweet, tagging Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other senior Commission officials:
"1- You make it mandatory to pay for the CO2 emitted by fossil gas under EU ETS. Correct. 2- You call fossil gas "sustainable" as renewable energy. Mad. #taxonomy"
German Greens/EFA Group deputy Jutta Paulus meanwhile argued, “investments in natural gas are to be considered sustainable until 2030. With that, we would be giving away eight years in which this money would be much more urgently needed for renewables!”
Nuclear power is a contentious issue for the EU, as it pits two opposing Member State groups against each other, led by the two biggest, namely France and Germany.
It also divides many political groups along national fault lines; Finnish Green MEPs for example, support nuclear as part of a coalition government in Helsinki. Finland is one of ten EU Member States calling for nuclear to be included in the Taxonomy proposals in a letter to the Commission last autumn.
The Parliament’s ECR Group meanwhile welcomed the proposed inclusion of nuclear unreservedly, with Czech MEP Alexandr Vondra saying that “only nuclear energy offers a realistic possibility of achieving the necessary energy stability”.
Nuclear and gas were not included in the first Taxonomy Regulation of July 2020. However, the Commission asked the EU’s in-house scientists at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) to conduct a study on whether nuclear energy complies with the so-called “do no serious harm” principle.
That principle aims to ensure that EU actions do not cause significant harm to the environment.
The JRC, which historically is closely linked to Europe’s nuclear energy union EURATOM, presented its findings to the Commission in May 2021, in favour of nuclear energy.
Strongly anti-nuclear EU Member States criticised the study as incomplete as it did not include any consideration of accidental radiation risks or uranium mining, but pro-nuclear supporters felt vindicated.
ITRE committee member Sara Skyttedal (SV, EPP) told the Parliament Magazine: “Either one acknowledges the scientific fact that [nuclear] is sustainable and necessary, or one does not”.
Whereas Marisa Matías, the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Left Group told this site that, “an energy that produces nuclear waste in enormous quantities and that condemns the planet and public health for thousands of years can never be considered green.”
Of the anti-nuclear-leaning Member States, Austria reacted most strongly to the new Taxonomy proposals, with Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler announcing potential legal action if the proposals end up being agreed.
By bringing both nuclear and gas into the Taxonomy equation, the Commission hopes to get the two leading proponents, nuclear friendly France, and nuclear averse but gas friendly Germany, to reach a compromise.
Despite the new German government distancing itself from the proposals, this outcome might still be achieved.
Commenting recently, former Greens MEP and now German secretary of state FOR Economy, Energy and Climate, Sven Giegold said, “The last thing we need is a protracted fight with France over some delegated acts.
He added, “We Greens are clear about being against nuclear and gas to be classed as green, but we have to find a compromise that we can all agree upon. Europe depends on it.”