Five EU countries form anti-nuclear alliance at COP26

Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal and Denmark have joined together to urge the European Commission to keep nuclear energy out of the EU's sustainable finance rules. EPA-EFE/KAY NIETFELD / POOL

In face of a French-led push to revive nuclear power in Europe, a group of five EU countries led by Germany have banded together to urge the European Commission to keep nuclear out of the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

“Nuclear power is incompatible with the EU Taxonomy Regulation’s ‘do no significant harm’ principle“, says the joint declaration for a nuclear-free EU taxonomy signed by Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal.

“We have plenty of evidence of how dangerous nuclear power can be,” said Leonore Gewessler, Austrian minister for energy, at a side-event at COP26 in Glasgow on 11 November.

The European Commission is expected to table a proposal in the coming weeks that will clarify the status of nuclear and gas under the EU’s green finance taxonomy, a rulebook that provides guidance to investors by spelling out conditions under which technologies can be considered sustainable.

Austria and Luxembourg are the fiercest opponents of nuclear power in Europe, and have resisted the inclusion of nuclear power in the taxonomy since the beginning, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV. 

The two countries appear to have used the Glasgow UN climate summit to bring Germany, Portugal and Denmark on their side.

“We recognise the sovereign right of member states to decide for or against nuclear power as part of their national energy systems,” reads the joint declaration by the five EU countries.

“However, we are concerned that including nuclear power in the taxonomy would permanently damage its integrity, credibility and therefore its usefulness.”

Svenja Schulze, Germany’s acting environment minister, has repeatedly spoken out against nuclear power in the past week.

“In Germany, a taxonomy including nuclear power, would lack integrity and credibility with a great majority of the population as well as many savers,” she said from Glasgow.

Germany's Schulze reiterates opposition to nuclear in EU green finance rules

Germany’s acting environment and nuclear safety minister, Svenja Schulze, reiterated her opposition to nuclear power’s inclusion in the EU’s green finance taxonomy, saying the upcoming government coalition refuses being placed in front of a fait accompli.

The issue is politically sensitive for Germany, which is without a government since the September election and where public opinion is largely supportive of the country’s planned 2022 nuclear exit, decided in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The three parties engaged in coalition talks – the social democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberals (FDP) – are still bogged down in negotiations and are not expected to conclude before early December at the earliest.

Sven Giegold, one of the lead negotiators for the Greens, told EURACTIV that the “French-Eastern European initiative” to include nuclear in the taxonomy “would destroy the sustainable finance efforts of the European Union” and act as the “gravedigger of the taxonomy.” 

In parallel, Austria is mounting a legal challenge against the inclusion of nuclear energy in the taxonomy. 

“An interpretation of the Taxonomy Regulation in the light of EU primary law confirms that nuclear energy cannot be included in the European taxonomy,” according to a legal assessment commissioned by the Austrian government and published in September.

Any delegated act adopted on the basis of the Taxonomy Regulation that somehow includes nuclear energy in the European taxonomy would be challengeable before the EU courts, stated the international solicitor’s office Redeker-Sellner-Dahs.

Green MEP: Germany 'may need some additional gas turbines' to stabilise renewables

Sven Giegold, a Green MEP who is one of the key negotiators in the German government coalition talks, told EURACTIV that Germany will need “small volumes” of additional gas capacity in order to “stabilise” renewable power on the electricity grid. However, he is opposed to the inclusion of gas in the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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