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26th May 2019

Luxembourg backs Austria against Hungarian nuclear plant

Luxembourg is supporting Austria in its legal challenge against the European Commission over a controversial planned nuclear power plant expansion in Hungary, the environment ministers of both countries announced on Monday (5 March).

The two anti-nuclear member states also said they want to build a larger European alliance against what they see as the EU executive's blanket approval of state subsidies to nuclear plant projects.

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  • Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourgish minister for environment, wants to end the "renaissance of nuclear energy". (Photo: Council of the European Union)

"I am very pleased that Luxembourg is joining the complainants with regards to the extension of the Paks nuclear plant and is joining us in court proceedings. This strengthens our position. Further action will be taken at European level," Austria's minister for sustainability, agriculture and tourism Elisabeth Koestinger said, arriving to a Brussels council meeting.

Standing beside her, Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourgish environment minister said they want to put an end to the "renaissance of nuclear energy".

"It is important that no one invests public money into nuclear energy, because it is certainly the wrong way if they want to achieve climate protection goals," she told reporters.

Austria decided in January to sue the commission at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for allowing an expansion of Hungary's Paks nuclear plant, to be built and financed by Russia.

The project is viewed by critics as an example of Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, cosying up to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Last March the EU executive gave its final approval for the project, and said that Hungary's state aid is not illegal after commitments by Budapest to limit distortions in competition.

The commission decision – based on the Euratom treaty – to give the green light to the construction is founded on the decades-old notion that new nuclear power plants are of common interest in the EU.

However, Austria and its anti-nuclear allies dispute that, arguing that several member states are against nuclear power and supporting it does not serve the bloc's common interest.

"We will defend our decision in court," a commission spokesman said on Monday in relation to Luxembourg's move.

Anti-nuclear countries worry that if the commission keeps allowing subsidies to nuclear energy, it could threaten the common market.

The two ministers at Monday's council made the point that investments in nuclear energy are not sustainable.

Alliance

Koestinger and Dieschbourg also said they are seeking a Europe-wide anti-nuclear alliance.

"We have great hopes for the new German coalition. In the coalition agreement, they also say that no state aid should be granted to build nuclear power plants. On Wednesday, I'll meet Frau [Barbara] Hendricks [German minister for environment and nuclear safety] in Berlin and we will talk about this topic," Austrian minister Koestinger said.

Dieschbourg said German-speaking environmental ministers will meet in Luxembourg this summer on the topic.

"We'll see who's joining. As a first step, we need to see whether there is a willingness in the German-speaking countries. Last year we [also] discussed this with Portugal, for example," Dieschbourg said.

Her spokesman, Olaf Muenichsdorfer, told EUobserver the aim is to adopt a document at the summer meeting.

"We want to have a broader alliance and reach out to other member states," he said, adding "it is important to have Germany on board, it has to be a proactive European player".

The new German government would push for a change to the Euratom treaty and end to EU support for new nuclear power plants, the coalition agreement said.

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker last year said the EU executive would publish a "communication" on the future of the Euratom treaty by the March EU summit, but that has been postponed until early summer.

Ongoing Hinkley

It is not the first time that Austria and Luxembourg joined forces to challenge the commission over a nuclear project.

In 2015 Austria filed a legal challenge at the ECJ against the commission's decision to allow state subsidies for a new nuclear power plant in Britain, the Hinkley Point C project.

Luxembourg supported Austria in that case as well, in which the verdict is expected before the summer.

The commission's position in the Hinkley case was supported by Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, France and the UK.

In this case too, among other points, Austria challenged the commission's view that the construction of the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C would be an objective for common interest.

Austria sues Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant

Anti-nuclear Austria takes the EU Commission to court over Hungary's controversial Paks II nuclear plant, financed and built by Russia. But it is the Euratom treaty itself that could be on trial.

Investigation

Commission still silent on Hungarian nuclear contract

The EU executive has still not explained why it accepted that a contract with Russia to extend the Paks plant could be awarded without a public tender, and why commissioner Oettinger travelled with a lobbyist working for the Hungarian government.

Analysis

EU purchase of US gas serves dual purpose

The EU wants to diversify the sources where it gets its natural gas from - while importing more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US could also slightly appease Donald Trump.

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