The Brief: EU goes Jekyll and Hyde on climate and energy

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The EU’s climate and energy stock took a tumble this month, after failing to impress at COP23, publishing a ‘wishlist’ of gas projects and supporting what many consider to be disappointing renewable energy targets. We can only hope that this is a side-effect of kicking our fossil fuels habit and not the EU’s true colours.

Last week, the European Commission updated its list of Projects of Common Interest, a collection of energy proposals that are meant to boost the Energy Union, improve the EU’s energy security and, demonstrably, meet the targets of the legally-binding Paris accord.

But some clever book-keeping by the Commission has seen the number of gas projects increase from 77 to 90+, after energy officials decided to cluster individual projects together.

The Commission claims this is because those projects are mutually dependent or competing with each other but it doesn’t get away from the fact that EU law says electricity projects should get the majority of funding and gas projects should be limited to just 50.

This addiction to gas is perfectly illustrated by a joint letter sent by Commissioners Sefcovic and Canete to the president of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in July, released this week under freedom of information laws.

In it, the two officials emphasise the importance of two “vital and irreplaceable” pipelines that will form a part of the Southern Gas Corridor, a large-scale piece of infrastructure intended to link Europe to the fossil fuel reserves of Azerbaijan.

A decision to grant a loan of €2 billion is still pending and NGOs have called the Commission’s intervention “disturbing”, particularly given the significant human rights concerns in two of the countries along the pipeline’s route, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

If built, the pipeline will also lock the EU into using natural gas for some time. This is another chapter in the EU’s quest to try and please everybody and tick every box, with the result being a confused mix of policies.

Yesterday, the task of meeting the Paris Agreement targets was arguably made more difficult after MEPs decided to back a 35% goal for renewable energy.

A recent collapse in the price of solar, wind et al, making it effectively  cheaper than atomic power, has led many to suggest that a much higher target is preferable from both an environmental and economic standpoint.

So the EU has to pick a direction and stick to it. If that means a transition away from the dirtiest fossil fuels by using less dirty fuels then, regretfully, so be it. The risky climate situation we find ourselves in cannot afford Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde policymaking.

How can the Commission call on the EIB to grant €2bn to a mega gas pipeline and then release a report urging the member states and the same bank to do more to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels?

The UK has (rightfully) been accused of trying to ‘have its cake and eat it too’ when it comes to Brexit. The EU is attempting to do the very same on energy and climate. Neither will have a particularly happy ending.

The Roundup

MEPs yesterday also tackled biofuels and sustainable energy. It doesn’t happen often but the lead rapporteur on the energy efficiency file voted against his own report, opposing the 40% target that was eventually adopted and abstaining from the final vote.

Who watches the watchmen? The EU’s anti-fraud office raided the Court of Auditors’ premises today. Both OLAF and the ECA refused to comment on the incident.

British and European negotiators have reportedly settled on a final Brexit bill, as the clock ticks down to the December EU Council summit. Progress at last but that hasn’t stopped Brits from flocking to foreign embassies and applying for alternative citizenship.

One of the final defendants to be processed by a UN court drank poison moments after seeing his appeal thrown out, dying later in hospital. Slobodan Praljak insisted he was not guilty of war crimes, including the destruction of the symbolic Mostar Bridge, during the Croat-Bosniak war.

Italy wrote another chapter in its ongoing food labelling saga and Spain is now being investigated by the Commission for allegedly granting state aid to coal power plants.

EU Competition Commissioner / potential Juncker successor / this author’s favourite Dane, Margrethe Vestager, says she has detoxed from reading Donald Trump’s tweets to focus on her day job. Just as well, the US president is now sharing anti-Muslim videos on his feed.

Look out for…

The 5th Africa-EU summit kicked off today and continues tomorrow. Follow our coverage here for the latest developments from the Côte d’Ivoire meeting. And happy liberation day to our Albanian readers! November 29 was the day the country was freed from Nazi rule.

Views are the author’s

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