Controversy over the role of nuclear power

Brussels, Paris Actually, the EU states and the European Parliament had already agreed on the new guideline for the expansion of renewable energies at the end of March. The adoption in May was only considered a formality – but now France, together with some allied states, blocked the text at the last minute. In the EU Renewable Energy Directive, RED III for short, Paris wants the role of nuclear power as “green energy” to be emphasized more.

The French government has not made any official statements. In circles, however, it was said that since the beginning of the negotiations, “technology neutrality” has been advocated for achieving the climate goals. Renewable energies and low-carbon nuclear power should not be played off against each other. The French are particularly interested in improving the conditions for industrial hydrogen produced from nuclear power.

After a vote in the Council of the EU was initially postponed due to resistance from Paris, the European Parliament also suspended a vote this week. These dates actually only serve to confirm the compromise that has long been found between the member states in the Council and the parties in Parliament.

It is unusual for the compromises to be questioned afterwards. Even more unusually, France first agreed at the working level, but then assembled a coalition to block the law in the final vote.

Such an approach has only happened once in the recent past: when Germany blocked the law banning new internal combustion engines in February under pressure from the FDP and its transport minister, Volker Wissing.

Surprise at the “Wissing-Move” of the French

The federal government has enforced that after 2035, vehicles with combustion engines that use climate-neutral fuels can continue to be registered. The critics who feared a change in the way EU decision-making is done have now been confirmed.

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While in Brussels there is talk of a “wissing move” by the French, the French government rejects the claim that they were inspired by the German behavior when phasing out combustion engines. The Swedish EU Council Presidency decided to postpone the renewable energy directive because several member states considered “additional work” on the text necessary.

“We are currently in discussions with the Presidency, our partners and the Commission to take into account these elements, which will benefit industry across Europe,” a French source familiar with the negotiations told Handelsblatt. The aim is to adopt the text “very quickly” and “with the appropriate changes” by the end of the Swedish presidency at the end of June.

The directive’s goal of increasing the share of renewable energies in the EU to 42.5 percent of consumption by 2030 is not called into question in Paris. France recently passed a law to speed up the expansion of solar and wind power.

Government circles point out that the country has already increased the share of renewables in its energy mix by 46 percent since 2012. In 2021, 19.3 percent of France’s gross final energy consumption was covered by renewables – a level comparable to Germany.

However, the French do not want to rely on solar and wind energy alone and continue to invest in nuclear power as a second pillar. In the EU, on the other hand, Germany in particular opposed the French desire to classify largely decarbonised nuclear power as “green energy”.

In the original negotiations on the renewable energy directive, Paris was only able to get its way by allowing nuclear energy to count towards the green hydrogen targets under certain conditions.

Paris worries about Europe’s industry

France, which has brought together around a dozen like-minded EU states in a “nuclear alliance” in recent months, now wants to extend these conditions and enable more nuclear power to achieve the EU climate goals. Paris fears that the hurdles for European hydrogen production from nuclear power are too high and could ultimately even lead to industrial companies leaving the EU.

“The green transformation must be an opportunity for the reindustrialization of Europe,” the French source told Handelsblatt. “It must not lead to a shift to countries with higher emissions and lower environmental standards.”

However, adapting the wording of the directive would require a new procedure in Parliament, which MEPs would object to. “We will not get involved in renegotiating the text of the law,” said reporter Markus Pieper (CDU).

More: Surrounded by nuclear friends? This is what the nuclear plans of Germany’s neighbors look like

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