The European Investment Bank (EIB) ought to ‘support the EU’s key public policies,’ and so must finance nuclear energy, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told journalists on Wednesday, effectively siding with the French approach.
Nuclear is at the heart of many European debates. It is relevant to setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reforming the EU’s electricity market, the EU’s green taxonomy, and, more generally, developing a low-carbon European industry.
“Nuclear energy is on the march [in Europe]. Of course, it needs to be financed, and of course, I think the EIB should do it,” Breton said, adding that “the EIB’s goal is to support the Green Deal”, a flagship EU legislative package to combat climate change.
However, its development requires substantial financing, which the EIB could be set to provide: In July, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said he too was in favour of EIB financing of nuclear energy.
Nothing in the EIB’s statutes prevents it from financing nuclear technology and infrastructure, should member states – the bank’s effective shareholders – reach a consensus.
But, while France is a historically staunch supporter of nuclear, Germany, whose last plants have just been shut off in favour of an all-renewable energy policy, is openly opposed.
So, Breton is effectively siding with the French, adding: “I think that [the EIB] should finance the energy mix of all member states. Energy is an exclusive national competence: if [member states] want to develop their energy mix, they have to finance it,” and the EIB should do just that.
The same goes for defence, which has become a key issue in European policy since the war in Ukraine in February 2022: “It is normal for the EIB to adapt to support the Union’s policies, particularly in defence,” the Commissioner said.
EIB presidency fight-off
Breton’s claims come as the race for the nomination of a new EIB President is picking up pace.
Two candidates seem to be leading: European Commission’s Vice-President in charge of Competition Margrethe Vestager and Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calviño.
The EIB has become an EU institution of paramount importance ever since the Commission, in its multiannual financial framework (MFF) review introduced in June, ruled out any new round of common EU debt.
In Paris, Vestager’s scepticism over nuclear is not welcome, however, and Bruno Le Maire made clear France would only support a pro-nuke candidate.
Both Emmanuel Macron and Vestager were also at loggerheads in July over the tentative appointment of Fiona Scott Morton as Competition DG chief economist. Macron actively rejected the nomination.
Nuclear is ultimately “extremely sensitive” among EU member states, an issue on which Bank’s board is “very divided,” according to EIB Vice President Ambroisse Fayolle, speaking at a press conference last February.
To date, the EIB has only financed two nuclear-related projects in relation to the safety of existing plants.
[Aurélie Pugnet contributed to reporting]
(Theo Bourgery-Gonse | EURACTIV.fr)
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