25th Oct 2021

MEPs vote to support gas in cross-border projects rules

  • It is estimated that new EU gas projects could emit, annually, as much carbon dioxide as all Germany's coal plants (Photo:
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MEPs in the energy committee on Tuesday (28 September) reached a common position over the revision of the controversial TEN-E regulation, which governs funding for energy infrastructure - paving the way for negotiations with member states to agree on a final law.

The TEN-E rules define which cross-border energy infrastructure projects in the EU are eligible for public funds and fast-tracked permits - under the so-called Projects of Common Interest (PCI).

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MEPs agreed that all gas projects from the 4th or 5th list of PCIs should be eligible for a fast-track authorisation procedure, but excluded from receiving funding under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

Green and left-wing lawmakers voted against this compromise.

And British NGO Global Witness warned that MEP's position amounts to little more than "window dressing", as PCI projects have traditionally received more money from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Investment Bank than they have from the CEF.

"The key is that PCI projects are mandated to gain preferential treatment," Jonathan Gant, a campaigner from Global Witness, told EUobserver.

There are 32 gas projects under the 4th list. The 5th list, which is not yet approved, includes 74 gas projects. According to Global Witness analysis, the new gas projects under the 5th list could emit yearly as much carbon dioxide as all coal plants in Germany.

The European Parliament's position is at odds with the approach of the European Commission and national governments, which have already agreed to end subsidies for all, or almost all, fossil-fuel projects.

Last year, the European Commission proposed to exclude all dedicated support for oil and gas infrastructure under the TEN-E regulation - in a bid to align a key piece of energy policy with its Green Deal's objectives.

For their part, EU energy ministers agreed in June that all fossil-fuel support should be scrapped from the new rules, except for two major pipelines - namely the EastMed pipeline, designed to link Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and the Melita pipeline, connecting Libya to Malta and Italy.

MEPs, meanwhile, also proposed funding projects until at least 2027 in which existing gas infrastructure is modified to mix hydrogen with natural gas - a process known as 'blending'.

While this idea mirrors the approach of national energy ministers, EU lawmakers have set out stricter obligations on the infrastructure operator to force them to convert to fully hydrogen by the end of 2029.

The vote in the parliament comes amid a global surge of energy prices - with gas and electricity bills rising to historic levels across EU member states in the last few months.

Lead MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski (European Conservatives and Reformists), from coal-dependent Poland, argued that, apart from the general sustainability criteria, energy projects still have to be evaluated based on "their contribution to energy security, market integration and affordability for end-users".

However, green groups warned that the result of the vote fails to end EU support for fossil fuels, sending the wrong political signal ahead of the so-called "gas package" expected in December.

"The trilogue negotiations will give the co-legislators the last chance to fix the proposal and enable the EU to pivot to cleaner energy infrastructure, in line with the climate targets," said Elisa Giannelli, from NGO E3G.

If there is an objection from a political party in the parliament's October session, Krasnodębski's report will be then voted by the whole plenary later this year - postponing negotiations with the EU Commission and member states.

It is estimated that gas companies and trade associations have spent around €300m lobbying the EU since 2010.

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