France fails to adopt clear position on future gas funding

"We need to raise the level of ambition by providing a better framework for the eligibility of projects to modernise existing gas infrastructures, with the aim of being able to mix hydrogen with natural gas only temporarily,” declared Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili. [Oil and Gas Photographer/Shutterstock]

As EU energy ministers agreed last week to phase out gas-hydrogen blending projects, France did not adopt a clear position on the matter even if this means prolonging the bloc’s reliance on fossil fuels. EURACTIV France reports.

At the start of June, a coalition of 11 EU countries, including Germany and Spain, took a public position in favour of excluding gas from trans-European energy infrastructure projects.

But France chose not to join that coalition and remained silent on the issue during a meeting of EU energy ministers on 11 June, despite European Commission estimates that gas consumption would have to decline 25% to reach the EU’s 2030 climate goals.

The divide was palpable at last week’s Energy Council, where EU ministers had to decide on the future of gas as part of discussions on the EU’s new regulation on trans-European energy networks (TEN-E).

The ministers agreed – following a stormy debate – that existing natural gas pipeline projects in Cyprus and Malta could be maintained in order to connect the two islands to the European gas grid.

The EU-27 also decided that the future TEN-E regulation will end financial support for gas-hydrogen blending projects in 2027 rather than 2029.

This was a sticking point for France, which did not support this position without truly explaining why.

“We need to raise the level of ambition by providing a better framework for the eligibility of projects to modernise existing gas infrastructures, with the aim of being able to mix hydrogen with natural gas only temporarily,” declared Barbara Pompili, France’s Ecological Transition Minister.

“It is essential that new gas infrastructure projects are no longer eligible for the status of Project of Common Interest or for European funding,” the minister added, noting that she is “pleased the regulation will support future technologies, in particular, the offshore wind sector and hydrogen production and transport projects.”

Eleven EU countries hold firm in rejecting prolonged funding for gas projects

Eleven countries, including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, were set to reject a plan to prolong EU support for cross-border natural gas projects, and instead push for rules to exclude fossil fuels, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Alliance of interests with gas countries

According to Friends of the Earth, a green NGO, France’s failure to adopt a clear position on gas is due to “its alliance of interests with pro-gas countries on the nuclear issue”.

“This alliance makes it difficult for France to position itself against fossil gas, even if it means increasing the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement.

“By supporting the inclusion of blending and the opening up of transitional technologies, Ms Pompili has adopted an extremely short-sighted position. There is no room for temporary solutions, especially not for temporary solutions that require and divert public subsidies,” commented Elisa Giannelli, policy advisor at E3G, a climate think tank.

At Friday’s meeting of EU energy ministers, “France favoured speed over quality” in the agreement on the TEN-E regulation, she added.

“Such projects not only threaten the climate but also reinforce Europe’s dependence on producer countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan, which are far from being reliable and exemplary partners in terms of human rights,” stressed Neil Makaroff, European manager at the Climate Action Network.

Contacted by EURACTIV on the subject, France’s ecological transition ministry did not comment further.

EU countries agree to prolong funding for selected gas projects, with caveats

European Union energy ministers on Friday (11 June) agreed to prolong EU support for some cross-border natural gas projects, despite a push from 11 countries and the European Commission who said such funding should end to comply with climate change goals.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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