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EU state aid victory

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The European Commission (EC) has ruled out creating specific State Aid guidelines for nuclear power; guidelines which would facilitate increased public funding of nuclear power programs. A draft of new guidelines by the EC specifically addressed the possibility of allowing public support for nuclear power. However, that proposal has been withdrawn after protest from some European governments − e.g. Austria and Germany − and a strong civil society campaign.

A spokesperson for EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the decision not to proceed with guidelines for nuclear power did not make it illegal to use public money to help finance nuclear power: "This simply means that state aid notifications by member states will continue to be assessed directly under (EU) treaty rules and the standard in this field will be determined by the Commission's case practice.".[1]

European Commission spokesperson Antoine Colombani said on July 23: "State aid for nuclear power is currently not prohibited by EU rules: member states' plans in that respect are notified to the commission and assessed directly under the Treaty rules, in the absence of specific commission guidelines in this sector. The purpose of this assessment is to check that such subsidies do not unduly distort competition in the EU single market, as member states are of course free to make their own choices when it comes to nuclear power."[2]

Colombani noted that the EC is planning to adopt guidelines on state aid for energy and environmental protection next year. While the establishment of guidelines facilitating increased state aid for nuclear power has been excluded for now, the pro-nuclear forces will likely continue lobbying.

The inclusion of guidelines for state aid for nuclear power may have made it easier for the UK to secure EC approval under competition laws for the subsidies it is offering to EDF and other partners in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project. However there are many variables and unknowns, and Hinkley will be a test case for the EC. A spokesperson for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "The Commission's draft guidelines have not been published yet. It is already possible to seek approval for aid for new nuclear, whether this is explicitly provided for in the new guidelines or not."[3]

State aid to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency is covered by an exemption in current guidelines for environmental state aid dating back to 2008.[4]

A draft report by the European Union Energy Director-General indicated that in 2011, 35 billion euros were spent on public subsidies for nuclear power, compared to 26 billion for fossil fuels and 30 billion for all types of renewable energy sources combined. The figures were not included in a subsequent draft.[5]

Several countries in central and eastern Europe are planning to expand or introduce nuclear power.[6] Speaking on behalf of the governments of four of these countries − Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia − Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban made a stridently pro-nuclear speech in mid-October. The statement cautioned against over-regulation of nuclear power and called for the EU's stance on state aid for energy projects to be reconsidered "because in our view, nuclear energy is being discriminated against." He said the four nations "expect the European Union to facilitate the increase of Central Europe's nuclear capacity, rather than impede it."[7]

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