The Brief – Energy disunion

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

One quarter of MEPs surprisingly voted against the European Commission’s list of gas and electricity projects on Wednesday. The latest show of disunity once again suggests that the dream of a carbon-free Europe might remain just that: a flight of fantasy.

For the first time since the projects of common interest (PCI) list was compiled by the Commission, MEPs objected to the infrastructure included on it and the fact that gas pipelines and terminals would be eligible for EU funding.

Eyebrows were first raised late last year, when green lawmakers and NGOs claimed that the number of gas projects had actually increased since the last iteration of the list and that the EU executive was guilty of cooking the books to try and hide it. The official EU policy is to prioritise electricity links.

The Commission insisted that the number had indeed decreased and that its calculation method had not changed from the last time the PCIs were assessed.

So a group of MEPs, led by GUE/NGL’s Xabier Benito and the Greens’ Michèle Rivasi, tabled a motion in the energy committee to reject the list. That effort failed but enough noise was made for it to be resurrected at the Strasbourg plenary session this week.

The fact that a quarter of MEPs voted in favour of sending the entire list back to the drawing board (EU law says that individual projects cannot be rejected) just shows how divided we remain over energy policy.

EPP lawmaker and lead MEP on market reform Krisjanis Kariņs denounced “the populist Greens and their followers” for an act of “madness”. In a press release, the MEP cited two electricity links that could’ve been cancelled if the list had been voted down (but none of the gas projects).

We can forget about the Energy Union and meeting the Paris Agreement goals unless we start agreeing on one fundamental point: how do we transition from dirty energy to clean energy?

Everyone seems to agree that coal is on its last legs but there is no agreement on whether we should switch straight to renewable energy, bypassing gas, or use it as a bridging fuel while we build more wind farms, install more solar panels and embrace the power of the seas.

Gas, after all, is a fossil fuel. It is less dirty than coal admittedly but still releases carbon when burned. But our energy market and storage solutions are not at a stage where wind, solar et al can be fully exploited. The EU’s inability to agree on a robust renewable target for 2030 isn’t helping either.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Money makes the world go round, remember, so the fact that clean energy is becoming cheaper and cheaper may soon convince enough people in power that fossil fuels are a relic of the previous century.

Energy is the rest of the EU’s own version of Brexit: we don’t know what kind of transition we want, it’s taking far too long and the decisions we’re making could be destructive in the long and even short term. Hopefully, when the money men are convinced, we’ll get our act together.

The Roundup

Shortly before MEPs boarded their trains and planes out of Strasbourg, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt announced her candidacy for the leadership of the Socialist group here with Daniela Vincenti, urging her colleagues to ‘Dare to Change’.

It has been a bad day for EU prime ministers. Slovakia’s Robert Fico fell on his sword on Thursday over his handling of a scandal following the killing of a journalist investigating political corruption, less than 24 hours after government disagreements about a €1 billion railway project prompted Slovenia’s Miro Cerar to tender his resignation.

‘Sweetheart’ tax deals continuing to rise in number, despite a plethora of recent scandals. EU countries signed a total of 2,053 tax pacts with companies in 2016 a 64% over the previous year.

Meanwhile, European telecoms regulators are investigating whether app stores are breaking the EU’s net neutrality rules by limiting their users’ choice of content, according to Johannes Gungl, head of the BEREC group. Catherine Stupp has the story.

Elsewhere, the Commission insists that financial support to farmers does not distort trade, European regions back a bigger EU budget funded by new own resources and an increase in national contributions.

Smart energy bosses told Fred Simon that demand-response electricity services are part of Europe’s future, and Georges Ugeux warns the EU’s Brexit negotiators not to shut out financial services from an EU-UK trade pact.

Views are the author’s

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