Green call for reallocation of EU’s energy R&D funds

The Parliament’s Greens/EFA group says that the current FP7 is biased towards the promotion of forms of energy that have no future and is calling for common sense and democratic debate on the allocation of the EU’s energy research funds.

The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament has published a report called ‘Stimulating a democratic debate about the EU’s research priorities’. It strongly criticises the Commission’s current FP7 proposal, in which the “lion’s share is allocated to nuclear energy research at the expense of renewables R&D”.

The group argues that the current bias towards nuclear R&D does not match the EU’s Lisbon objectives, especially as regards the massive ITER (nuclear fusion) project which has been earmarked a majority of the 4.8 billion euro foreseen for the Euratom programme of the FP7. The ITER project in general has provoked some mixed reactions (see EURACTIV 29 June 2005). On the one hand, its proponents claim that if it succeeds, ITER will result in a cost effective and potentially inexhaustible supply of energy that will eventually replace oil and gas altogether. On the other hand, its opponents argue that the project is purely experimental and that it will take at least 50 years before a commercially viable reactor is even built.

The group thus highlights the need to allocate EU’s energy R&D funding according to technologies’ ability to help the EU to meet its energy objectives. In addition, the funds should be “prioritised towards technologies that rank highest against scientific objective criteria” such as rapid reduction of C02 emissions, reduction of the EU’s oil dependency, the EU’s overall industrial competitiveness and job creation in the short term.

The EU’s energy R&D budget consists of two sets of legislation – the Euratom framework programme for nuclear technology and the general framework programme for other technologies. The Euratom budget does not require the approval of the European Parliament, unlike the rest of the framework programme. According to the Greens/EFA group this creates “an artificial split between the energy research and development budgets and stops the Parliament from influencing the strategic development of the overall energy sector”. 

In his hearing before the Parliament in November 2004, the Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs emphasised the need to create a better link between energy, environmental and research policies. "Energy policy is not only a question of security of supply. Environmental objectives have to be integrated in EU energy policy," he said. In his view, "energy and research policies should be directly linked, with the aim to support technological development and more efficient energy use. In order to achieve the objectives of the Kyoto protocol we need to develop new competitive technologies". According to Piebalgs, the EU should develop a long-term strategy for renewables and to reinforce efforts to reach the goal of producing 22 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. 

The Greens/EFA strongly criticise the priorities indicated in the Commission's proposal for the FP7 and call for "the EU’s scarce energy funding to be carefully targeted towards technologies that can deliver the key sector objectives, namely: the rapid decrease in CO2 emissions; the reduction of dependency on imported and expensive fossil fuels; and the creation of jobs before 2020. The Greens believe that the bulk of research money must go to improve energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and cars, and further development of the 21 different renewable energy technologies". 

A recent Eurobarometer survey on the level of support for nuclear energy among EU citizens. The survey shows that 37% of interviewees are in favour of energy produced by nuclear power stations, 7% totally in favour and 30% 'fairly in favour'. The results show 55% per cent are against nuclear energy, 31% 'fairly opposed' and 24% 'totally opposed'. Eight per cent expressed no opinion. 

According to the survey, the most in favour of nuclear energy are Hungarians (65%), Swedes (64%), Czechs (61%) and Lithuanians (60%). Opponents represent a very large majority of the population in Austria (88%), in Greece (86%), Cyprus (81%), Spain (71%), Ireland (70%), Poland (66%), Denmark (66%), Italy (66%) and Luxembourg (65%). 

There is a renewed interest in nuclear energy in several countries. Finland has decided to build a new nuclear plant and the UK government is starting a debate on the issue of nuclear in it energy mix.

EURACTIV will cover the renewed interest in nuclear more in depth in the coming weeks.

The Commission presented its official proposal on FP7 on 6 April 2005 and the proposals for specific programmes in September 2005. 

The stated objective of the specific programme on energy is "to transform the current fossil-fuel based energy system into a more sustainable one based on a diverse portfolio of energy sources and carriers combined with enhanced energy efficiency, to address the pressing challenges of security of supply and climate change, whilst increasing the competitiveness of Europe’s energy industries". 

The FP7 is set to follow the current FP6 starting from 2007.

  • The Greens/EFA Group will present its report to all European Greens and will this way aim to promote discussion on the issue in national parliaments. 

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