Members of the European Parliament have written to the European Commission voicing concern that EU spending on LNG and other gas projects “may not be in line with the Union’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement”.
The letter, signed by MEPs from the centrist Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament, was sent on Monday evening to EU energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and her colleague in charge of overseeing the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans.
The full Parliament will vote Wednesday (12 February) on the Commission’s proposed list of priority energy projects that will be eligible to receive EU funding under the multi-billion Connecting Europe Facility.
The so-called fourth EU list of Projects of Common Interests (PCI) was presented on 31 October under the previous Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker. It contains 151 energy infrastructure projects, 70% of which are related to electricity and smart grids.
But the proposed list came under criticism because it also contains 32 gas infrastructure projects – including LNG terminals – which critics warn contradicts Europe’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050.
“We hereby ask you to screen the fourth Union PCI list in light of the ambitious climate and environmental commitments under the European Green Deal” and make sure EU money is “not spent on projects which are incompatible with these goals,” the letter says, referring to the 32 gas projects in the list.
While welcoming the proposed focus on electricity infrastructure, centrist MEPs urged the Commission to prioritise renewable energy and smart grid projects even more, saying those “are the key” to energy decarbonisation and security of supply.
“The current PCI list is, in my opinion, too much biased in favour of fossil projects rather than electricity,” said Morten Petersen, a Danish MEP from the Renew group who is vice-chair of the Parliament’s industry committee.
“We have to get that balance right,” he told EURACTIV in a recent interview.
“The Commission must analyse the compatibility of each of the gas projects on this 4th PCI list with the Union’s new climate commitments resulting from the Green Deal and draw the consequences,” said Pascal Canfin, a French lawmaker from the Renew Europe group who chairs the Parliament’s powerful environment committee.
Defenders of gas projects say they are necessary for security of supply reasons. The fourth PCI list was drawn up based on supply and demand forecasts by energy operators, and “should be considered as a necessary part of the EU’s energy infrastructure,” said James Watson, secretary-general of Eurogas, an industry association.
“The projects in question aim at completing the missing links in the regional infrastructure of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe,” Watson said in a statement. In the future, he said, “gas infrastructure will carry hydrogen, biogas and biomethane, which we cannot do without to achieve carbon neutrality.”
But the centrist MEPs who signed the letter say the opposite, warning new gas infrastructure risks becoming stranded as Europe moves to a net-zero emission economy by 2050, the main objective of the Green Deal championed by the European Commission.
In their letter, they draw attention to a study by consulting firm Artelys, published in January, which warned Europe risked wasting €29 billion on mostly “unnecessary” gas projects if the current list was approved.
“Existing EU gas infrastructure is sufficiently capable of meeting a variety of future gas demand scenarios in the EU28, even in the event of extreme supply disruption cases,” said the study, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, a non-profit group.
In Parliament, there is no majority to reject the Commission’s proposed list.
- The Greens and the leftist GUE/NGL are currently the only political groups backing a legislative motion that would formally reject the proposal and force the Commission back to the drawing board.
- In the opposite camp are the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) groups which together form a blocking minority against attempts to reject the list.
- In the middle are MEPs in the centrist Renew Europe group, who suggested a compromise by tabling a motion requesting the Commission to review the list in light of the climate objectives outlined in the European Green Deal.
Although the centrist motion was supported by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), it was rejected by the Greens and leftists who denounced the “total hypocrisy” of the compromise proposal and called for the PCI list to be formally rejected instead.
At the Renew Europe group, advisors defended the party’s middle line. “Since we have a blocking minority on one side and only the Greens and GUE in favour” of rejecting the list on the other, “we must elevate the debate to the Commission level and take the high ground on this subject,” one parliamentary source told EURACTIV.
That argument seems to resonate with the European Commission. Speaking to lawmakers on Monday evening, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said: “I heard different views but there was one common call for climate action and increased ambition” to reaching Europe’s climate neutrality objective for 2050.
“We will clearly have the Green deal in mind when allocating funding to the projects,” she told MEPs, stressing that “this list is no guarantee” that funding will be actually disbursed.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]