The Brief: Radioactive Ga Ga

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Brexit means leaving the EU’s nuclear treaty. But as massive protests in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands showed yesterday, the UK is playing with an emotional and high-risk issue it may not truly understand.

Atomic power is still an emotionally-charged subject. The Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters live on in the memory and the UK’s Hinkley Point expansion plan continues to provoke controversy (even if it is financial outrage).

There’s no better illustration of Europe’s strange relationship with nuclear power than the 90-km-long human chain that stretched through three countries this weekend.

A reported 50,000 Belgians, Germans and Dutch people turned out to show their anger at the continued operation of two of Belgium’s elderly nuclear reactors.

Westminster’s Brexit White Paper and the Queen’s Speech confirmed that the UK intends to leave the Euratom treaty as part of its withdrawal from the EU.

As with every aspect of the Brexit negotiations, there is a potent feeling that the UK government does not know what it is wading into and that expert opinion means nothing.

Euratom regulates all aspects of nuclear power, particularly safety. It is even working on a project that could provide abundant clean energy.

It is legally distinct from the EU but is still governed by the institutions. And that is where the problem apparently lies.

In another case of ECJ-ophobia, the Conservative Party wants out of Euratom altogether so that the UK will be supposedly free of the Luxembourg court’s reach.

But the ECJ rarely intervenes in Euratom matters. The nuclear organisation has ties in place with third countries like Japan, Australia and South Africa and they seem to be managing fine under the yoke of the EU’s judges.

The Times spoke to UK government officials who warned that it will take seven years to replace the set of agreements currently in place and that an associate agreement, à la Switzerland’s arrangement, is not on the cards.

There are also serious concerns that Theresa May’s team have completely underestimated the scale of quitting Euratom and that the chance of a transitional agreement on this issue is highly unlikely.

This all despite the risks posed to jobs and energy prices, as well as safety if the withdrawal is not handled well.

Unfortunately for all involved, cracking atoms has the potential to be a whole lot more messy than trade tariffs and blue passports.

The Roundup

Two beleaguered Italian banks will be liquidated and their good assets absorbed by another money-house, in a Commission-sanctioned operation that will cost taxpayers around €17bn.

Italy’s centre-right parties won big in mayoral elections, Albanians turned out in low numbers and Cyprus peace talks resume this week.

Commissioner Pierre Moscovici reiterated that cohesion and convergence “must go hand in hand” with a eurozone budget, finance minister and parliament. A Commission trade report warned that 36 more trade barriers were created in 2016.

The new Electrification Alliance wants to promote electricity as the best way to decarbonise Europe’s economy. The Western Balkans will be holding its breath until that happens, as deadly air pollution is rapidly turning into a full-blown crisis.

Global coal production fell 6.2% last year, the biggest annual decline in recorded history. The Energy Council adopted a new energy efficiency label: coming soon to a washing machine near you.

French President Emmanuel Macron met the Terminator. The EU’s human rights chief is confident civil society will push back extremist parties.

British PM Theresa May finally secured a £1bn agreement between her Conservative Party and the Northern Irish DUP. Her policy paper today revealed EU citizens in the UK will have to carry an ID card after Brexit.

UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, much like Radiohead warming up, can seemingly do no wrong. Speaking in front of tens of thousands of festival-goers, he urged Donald Trump to build “bridges not walls”. The US president now wants to put “minors” back to work.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to watch “Theresa May and the Holy Grail”. It is a work of art.

Views are the author’s.

Follow: @SamJamesMorgan

Subscribe to our newsletters