Analysis. The energy market reform is stalled by Poland, which insists on being allowed to keep burning coal. Nuclear emerges as a ‘technical’ solution.

Decarbonization: Nuclear takes a step forward in Europe

There is once again a deadlock on the EU Red III directive on new rules for renewable energy, which had just been revised after a deal had been reached. There will once again be a meeting of the ambassador group (Coreper) to find a solution. On Monday, in Luxembourg, the Energy Council confirmed the goal of reaching 42.5 percent renewables in the EU by 2030 (double the 2019 percentage); however, forms of energy “other than renewable” in the strict sense of the word may also be taken into account in the calculation for meeting the 2050 CO2 neutrality target. For France, which led the “blocking minority” in favor of nuclear power, it wasn’t quite the hoped-for victory: even though this was the first time the Commission had agreed to recognize the contribution of nuclear power to decarbonization, Brussels was still too embarrassed to mention this type of energy explicitly in a letter it issued.

Red III is one of the pillars of the Commission’s Fit for 55 program to move away from fossil energy dependence, a climate goal made all the more urgent by the war in Ukraine, which has revealed Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Monday’s redraft of Red III was at odds with the outcome of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament in March, and is likely to run into obstacles in Strasbourg during the new discussions.

However, the idea that is gaining ground is that CO2 “neutrality” can also be “technical,” including nuclear power. For France (with strong support by Slovenia), this victory is more about ammonia (which is used for fertilizers, so the argument about ensuring the security of the food supply came up): the amendment that extends “understanding” towards the difficulties in abolishing fossil fuel-produced hydrogen used in ammonia production plants was passed, which calls for a “case-by-case” assessment to be made on whether to exclude this use of fossil fuels from the calculation, which will take into account a country’s ongoing “efforts.”

On Friday, the EU ambassadors had reached a compromise in a preparatory meeting, but Monday’s Energy Council had another hurdle to overcome: Poland keeps asking to be allowed to continue subsidizing coal beyond the maximum cap, stressing its current energy mix and the impossibility of changing too quickly. This demand is holding back decisions on the necessary reform of the European energy market. There are questions about timing, the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, how to maintain prices without spikes, how to secure supply – and about the competitiveness of European industry.

On Monday, in Luxembourg, there was also a meeting of the 14 “Friends of Renewables” countries, with Germany but without France, which was not invited (Italy wasn’t present either). The only somewhat optimistic news from the latest report from Copernicus, the EU earth observation program, is that in 2022, the EU produced 22.3 percent of its energy from solar and wind (with large disparities between countries), a percentage that now exceeds that of fossil fuels (20 percent). However, there is still the 16% that depends on coal.

The idea that there is a “technical” solution – always meant to go hand in hand with a dose of “sober realism” – is very attractive for the business world. A case in point: on Monday, at the 54th International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, the star project was the “green plane” (to be flying by 2050): Airbus and Boeing were jubilant over the prospect of a doubling of air traffic in 2050 compared to 2020, with more than 45,000 planes in the air (which need to be sold quickly, however, before competition from China can get a foothold). Aviation fuel will be discussed by the European Parliament in a few days, for the adoption of the ReFuelEu program, which has already passed the Council.

Meanwhile, at Le Bourget in Paris, and then at the Invalides, a number of EU defense ministers also met to discuss the European air defense strategy.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!