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12th Apr 2021

MEPs threaten veto on fossil fuel projects

  • The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline is one of the projects given preferential treatment under an EU programme called the Projects of Common Interest (Photo: © Trans Adriatic Pipeline)

MEPs have started a procedure to reject a list of energy infrastructure projects which would give fast-track status and potential access to EU funding - because too many projects relate to natural gas, a fossil fuel.

"No more support should be given today to fossil fuel projects," said campaigner Antoine Simon of the Friends of the Earth Europe group, which welcomed the move.

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  • While natural gas emits less CO2 per energy unit than coal, it is still a fossil fuel that causes emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere (Photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org)

If the list does receive a veto from the European Parliament, the European Commission will have to come up with a replacement, which in turn could delay key energy projects across to the bloc.

The list in question is the so-called 'Projects of Common Interest' (PCI) list, which was adopted in 2013, amended in 2015, and now again is proposed to change.

EU governments are required to give projects that receive the PCI status preferential treatment, for example when processing a permit request.

One such project that has been put on the PCI list - and remained on there since - is the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project, which aims at transporting gas from Greece via Albania to Italy.

"This means that it is recognised by the EU commission and by EU member states as enhancing energy supply and security in Europe and supporting diversification of supplies," said Lisa Givert, TAP head of communications.

Listed projects also are eligible for EU funding. On Thursday (25 January) the commission announced that member states approved investing some €873m in energy infrastructure.

However, some MEPs and environmental groups believe that the natural gas sector is benefiting too much from PCI status.

While natural gas emits less CO2 than dirtier energy sources like coal or oil, it is still a fossil fuel.

According to Friends of the Earth's Simon, continuing to invest in gas infrastructure is incompatible with promises made in Paris in 2015.

The Paris climate agreement contained a promise to limit the level of global warming since pre-industrial times to 2C, and if possible to 1.5C – which is only 0.4C more than the current temperature rise.

"It is the first post-Paris list of key energy infrastructure that Europe is supposed to have to face the energy challenges of the future, nonetheless it continues to include an extravagant number of gas projects," said Simon.

He also questioned the demand for gas compared to the capabilities envisaged in the approved projects.

Climate impact however is not the only factor at play here, so is geopolitics.

Several of the gas projects are aimed at strengthening the internal EU energy market and making sure EU countries are not mainly dependent on a single source of energy.

On Thursday (25 January), a group of 13 MEPs from five different political groups sent an email to the secretariat of the parliament's industry committee, formally raising an objection to the proposed PCI list.

The email was seen by this website, and its content was confirmed by three parliament sources.

The parliament's industry committee now has to put a vote on the agenda.

The 13 MEPs who signed the objection are mostly members of left-wing and left-leaning groups, and are from France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain.

Even if they manage to get a majority of the industry committee on their side, the real challenge will be to have the plenary reject the list.

Because the list is established in a so-called delegated act, it can only be rejected by a real majority in plenary – 376 MEPs or more regardless of the total number of voting MEPs.

MEPs cannot amend the list, but can only adopt it or veto it - a fact for which it has itself to blame. A majority of MEPs approved the regulation laying down the procedure in 2013.

Vetoing the PCI list would also mean vetoing projects that give fast-track status to electricity grid projects that link up offshore windparks.

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