The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday (12 February) against a motion to reject a proposed list of priority energy projects, ignoring the demands of Greens and leftists who warned against funding new gas infrastructure that risks being stranded as Europe moves to a zero-carbon economy.
Lawmakers in Strasbourg were voting on a motion tabled by the Greens that would have rejected the so-called fourth EU list of Projects of Common Interests (PCI), presented in October last year by the previous European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker.
That motion was rejected on Wednesday by an overwhelming majority: 443 votes against, 169 in favour and 36 abstentions.
“In a transition period, we need energy from gas as a necessary bridge towards even cleaner, climate neutral energy sources,” said Cristian Bușoi, a Romanian MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) who chairs the Parliament’s industry committee.
The Commission’s proposed list contains 151 energy infrastructure projects, 70% of which are related to electricity and smart grids.
But it also contains 32 gas infrastructure projects which critics warn contradicts Europe’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, an objective championed by Ursula von der Leyen, who took over the European Commission’s reins in December.
“Common sense prevailed,” said Lars Ole Løcke, a spokesperson for the EPP, which supported the list.
“The security of our energy supplies is vital. When we support the 151 EU energy projects on the so-called PCI list we for instance help the Baltic countries to become independent from the Russian electricity grid,” Løcke said on Twitter ahead of the vote.
Rejecting the list would also have prolonged the existing list, which dates back to 2017, the EPP said before the vote, warning this would “not help the Green Deal”.
The security of our energy supplies is vital. When we support the 151 EU energy projects on the so-called #PCIlist we for instance help the Baltic countries to become independent from the Russian electricity grid. #EnergyUnion 8/9
— Lars Ole Løcke (@LoeckeEPP) February 12, 2020
Greens and environmental groups, for their part, were furious.
“What a shame,” said Michael Bloss, a Green MEP from Germany.
“This PCI list is undermining the EU Green Deal and heating up the planet,” he said on Twitter, denouncing the attitude of the centrist Renew Europe group, which sided with the EPP, the socialists (S&D), the conservatives (ECR) and the far-right Identity and Democracy Party (ID) in support of the fourth PCI list.
“Giving priority and money to these gas projects means cementing Europe’s future in a gas lock-in over the next 40-50 years and wasting up to €29 billion of EU taxpayers’ money in stranded assets,” said Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, an environmental group.
But despite the Greens’ disappointment, the focus is now quickly turning to the next battle.
Speaking in Parliament before the vote, EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson drew attention to an upcoming revision of the TEN-E regulation, which provides guidelines to EU member states when building cross-border energy infrastructure.
“I am fully committed to review the TEN-E regulation still this year and work closely with the European Parliament to make the investments fit for EU’s future,” Simson declared on Twitter, adding that she shares the Parliament’s vision of a “modern, clean, secure and smart EU energy infrastructure”.
Appearing on the PCI list is by no means a guarantee that projects will actually receive funding, Simson reminded lawmakers before the vote.
Frans Timmermans, the Commission vice president in charge of overseeing the Green Deal, went a step further, saying the EU will only provide funding for energy projects that support Europe’s climate neutrality objective.
“To receive EU funding, projects on the PCI list will have to support our EU Green Deal ambitions,” Timmermans said on Twitter, confirming earlier statements by EU officials.
According to the Commission’s new political line, funding will only be provided for “future-proof” gas infrastructure capable of handling low-carbon gases such as hydrogen, and avoid a “lock-in” into fossil gas.
Pascal Canfin, a French MEP from the Renew Europe political group who chairs the Environment committee, applauded the Commission’s commitment to reject EU funding for fossil gas infrastructure.
“Timmermans stated ahead of the vote that the Commission will not finance any gas projects that are incompatible with the Green Deal and carbon neutrality,” he said, calling it “a major breakthrough” for the EU’s climate policy.
“The Commission must now undertake the assessment and act accordingly,” Canfin said.
The Commission’s new approach to provide funding only for “future-proof” gas infrastructure was backed by Christian Ehler, a German EPP lawmaker who sits on the Parliament’s industry committee.
“To assure the gradual transformation of our energy system, the gas projects on the list should be compatible also with hydrogen in order to future-proof the infrastructure,” Ehler said in a statement before the vote.
And despite the defeat, even the Greens appeared defiant after the vote, saying they “will continue to fight to ensure the European Green Deal is implemented”.
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)
Today #EPlenary didn't reject the #PCIlist of energy infrastructure projects eligible for EU funding. BUT our Group will continue to fight to ensure the #EUGreenDeal is implemented!💪We hope others will join. pic.twitter.com/V7UIY0TGYr
— Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament 🌍 (@GreensEFA) February 12, 2020