Analysis. The package contains 151 infrastructure projects, including 32 gas-related projects that clearly fail to abide by the Green New Deal commitment to promote a European energy sector based renewable sources.

EU Parliament caves to interest groups on natural gas projects

It will be a long uphill road for the European Green New Deal, one of the European Commission’s commitments under Ursula von der Leyen. The result of Wednesday’s vote in the European Parliament was a striking example of how difficult that promise will be — and of how much power is held by a web of tangled interests. 

The MEPs voted on a motion put forward by the Greens and the United Left to veto the list of common interest projects to be financed under the Connecting Europe Facility program, the fourth list put forward by the Commission (something it does every two years). The list was finalized on Oct. 31 by the previous executive, chaired by Jean-Claude Juncker.

The package contains 151 infrastructure projects, including 32 gas-related projects (actually 55, but the Commission merged a number of them) that clearly fail to abide by the Green New Deal commitment to promote a European energy sector based “on renewable sources, complemented by the rapid phasing out of coal and decarbonizing gas,” aimed at achieving the goal of making the European Union the world’s first CO2-neutral region by 2050. However, the MEPs rejected the veto motion by 394 votes to 241.

Some of these projects involve Italy as well: the Caspian Sea-Puglia Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the Cyprus-Salento EastMed, the Malta-Gela gas pipeline and several infrastructure projects in the north of the country.

At issue is a package worth €29 billion, which, according to the many detractors, will lead to a lot of money being wasted. However, energy sector operators and the countries that need to renew their infrastructure (especially in Eastern Europe) turned up the pressure against the veto proposal. A Romanian MEP explained that these projects were “a bridge to a clean energy future.” A member of the EPP stressed that it was urgent to allow the Baltic states to emancipate themselves from their dependence on Russia in the energy sector. 

According to the EPP, “common sense prevailed,” because if the veto against the fourth list had been passed, the third list, drawn up in 2017, would have remained in effect.

On the eve of the vote, there was an attempt by the centrist Renew Europe group to broker a compromise by asking the Commission to reexamine the 32 projects in the light of the Green New Deal commitment, in the form of a letter sent to Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and the Vice President in charge of climate issues, Frans Timmermans. The Greens and the Left accused Renew Europe of “hypocrisy,” but the Five Stars voted with their initiative. On Wednesday, Timmermans pledged to examine the compatibility of the projects, saying that in order to receive funding, the projects will have to respect the ambitions of the Green New Deal.

In particular, two projects have been the focus of the most indignation: one in Shannon, Ireland, and another in Krk, Croatia, which call for using EU funding to import gas from the US that was produced through fracking. The US is putting very strong pressure on European countries to get them to buy its gas, extracted using a technique that is environmentally damaging.

After clearing the hurdle of Wednesday’s vote, the Commission is now working towards a new directive on the decarbonization of gas. It will be a long road ahead. The Just Transition Mechanism has set out investments of €1 trillion over 10 years (not hard cash, but raised by taking advantage of the leverage effect) in order to not leave anyone behind. The EIB (European Investment Bank) is committed to refusing the granting of further loans for fossil fuels, and has begun drafting a new taxonomy. But the timeframe envisioned is a long one, starting with a 50% reduction by 2025.

Germany is taking a very cautious attitude, and France is falling behind as well. Thursday, Emmanuel Macron was on Mont Blanc and talked about setting up a protection program. However, all of this is nothing more than slow adaptation to climate change rather than a real breakthrough. We might at least hope for a positive surprise from the results of the Civic Climate Convention: 150 regular citizens drawn by lot to discuss the issue, who will present their conclusions on April 4.

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