Dhe EU Financial Markets Commissioner Mairead McGuinness addressed MEPs personally on Tuesday morning to convince them of the Commission’s proposal to classify nuclear power and gas as sustainable financial investments. “The Commission is getting nervous,” exulted the opponents of the taxonomy proposal. At the end of the joint vote by the environmental and economic committees, the Irish woman could at least not change anything. 76 MEPs voted against the proposal, 62 in favor and 4 abstained. That doesn’t say much about the outcome of the decisive vote in the plenary session in the first week of July. But the result creates the momentum for gas and nuclear power, even as a transitional technology, not a green financial investment.
The joy at the result was correspondingly great. “An apple is not a pear and gas and nuclear power are not sustainable,” said Green MEP Michael Bloss. With the vote, the eco-seal of the financial sector will be protected from fraudulent labels, at least for the time being. “With a greenwashing of nuclear power and gas, billions more would be directed into the fossil-nuclear economy, which we urgently need for the energy transition,” warned Jutta Paulus (Greens). “In the end, the worm must taste good to the fish and not to the angler,” said CSU MEP Markus Ferber. There is simply no market appetite for a nuclear and gas taxonomy. It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
The Commission presented the controversial taxonomy proposal at the beginning of February after a long struggle. With the taxonomy, the EU wants to define which investments are to be classified as “green”. This is to prevent banks from declaring financial assets as “sustainable” that are not (“greenwashing”). Because the costs of investments also depend on this, France in particular had pushed for nuclear power to be classified as “green”. Others, like the old federal government, called for gas to be classified as a “transitional green technology.” “The compromise may not be perfect, but it brings us closer to our climate goals,” McGuinness emphasized at the time. A draft presented at the turn of the year, which anticipated the classification of nuclear power and gas as “green”, caused violent reactions among the German public.
Taxonomy proposal not a normal EU law
The German government then decided to reject the proposal. But because she is only supported by a handful of countries like Austria or the Netherlands, she cannot overturn it. The French Council Presidency has therefore not even scheduled a formal vote in the Council of Ministers. However, Austria wants to take legal action against the proposal because, in its view, the Commission is exceeding its powers with it.
This has to do with the special form of the proposal. The taxonomy proposal is not a normal EU law that has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, but a so-called delegated act. It is actually only intended to shape applicable law, but not for political decisions. That’s why the hurdles for rejection are higher than usual. In the European Parliament, an absolute majority must vote against it in order to overturn the proposal. That’s no less than 353 MEPs.
It is difficult to predict whether this majority will come about. Based on the signatures under various letters that took a critical stance on the EU proposal, the Greens expect that an alliance of 200 Social Democrats, Greens and Leftists, just a few Liberals and a few Christian Democrats will surely vote to reject the legal act. According to this calculation, more than 100 MPs are undecided. The voting behavior of another 100 MPs is unclear. “This narrow result offers a foretaste of the coming vote in the July plenary session in Strasbourg,” warned SPD MP Joachim Schuster after the vote on Tuesday. If fewer than 353 MPs vote against the proposal, the taxonomy rules will automatically come into effect in early 2023.
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