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4th Dec 2021

EU Commission readies to back €13bn gas mega-projects

  • Environmental lawyers believe that subsidising more cross-border gas projects is not aligned with the EU's legal obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement and the treaties (Photo: Nord Stream)
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The European Commission on Thursday (11 November) is expected to present to MEPs in the energy committee a new draft list of cross-border energy infrastructure projects, containing 30 major gas developments worth some €13bn.

The so-called Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list is updated every two years, and rules governing the selection criteria of these projects are currently being reformed. Under the PCI list, all selected projects are eligible for public funds and fast-tracked permits.

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The draft list, seen by EUobserver, includes the controversial EastMed pipeline between Israel and Greece, the Baltic Pipe carrying Norwegian gas to Denmark and Poland, and the Cyprus2EU liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.

However, it still needs to be adopted by the commission, which is expected to come forward with an official proposal before the end of the year. Once adopted, EU countries and MEPs have two months to accept it or reject it.

Many of the projects included under the fifth PCI list were also part of the previous list, which was slammed by the EU Ombudsman because climate risks were "not sufficiently taken into account".

Following the recommendations of the ombudsman, the commission now claims that it has improved the PCI assessment methodology for gas projects included in the current list.

However, according to green groups and MEPs, these criteria fall short of measuring the potential impact of other environmental aspects such as leakages of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Frida Kieninger, a campaigner from NGO Food & Water Watch, said that the new sustainability assessment is just "a fig leaf for a highly-biased process full of fossil gas lobby vested interests".

She also argued that the process is not transparent, since enforcement agencies such as the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) cannot verify how and in which way the sustainability criteria has been applied to the current list.

The Greens, for their part, have called for the rejection of the current list – while putting forward a proposal to replace all gas projects with alternative green developments.

"The commission's proposal to make gas projects eligible for funding is a dangerous double standard," said Green MEP Bas Eickhout, who called on the commission and member states to show global leadership and end fossil-fuel finance.

Eickhout has been also vocal against the possibility of labelling gas as 'green' investment – which has been the subject of an intense debate at EU level.

'Stranded assets'

The fifth PCI list has been leaked amid ongoing negotiations at the UN climate summit in Glasgow, where the EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said last week that it would "spare no effort to become the first climate-neutral continent".

However, environmental lawyers believe that a PCI which includes gas projects is not aligned with the EU's legal obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement and the treaties.

"These new gas projects are stranded assets in the making and supporting them is a waste of taxpayers' money to be borne by citizens," said Guillermo Ramo, lawyer at ClientEarth.

Gas prices in Europe have surged to record levels during the past few, triggering skyrocketing electricity prices in many EU countries.

Earlier this year, over 100 civil society organisations called on the commission to remove all gas projects from the PCI list.

London-based watchdog Global Witness has estimated that six of these projects could emit more than the annual emission of Denmark and Austria combined - over 87 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Under the new rules still under negotiation, the commission has proposed to exclude all gas and oil project from that the next PCI list – although MEPs and EU countries have created some loopholes.

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