McGuinness angers European Parliament with energy classification

Commissioner supports calling nuclear and gas projects ‘green’ for investment purposes

Ireland's European commissioner Mairead McGuinness faces anger in her old stomping ground of the European Parliament over proposals to classify nuclear and gas energy projects as "green" for investment purposes.

The EU’s so-called taxonomy classifies which economic activities help mitigate climate change, and is aimed at funnelling investment towards activities that would help cut carbon emissions.

On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed including nuclear and gas energy on the list if they meet certain criteria as transitional fuels, opening them up to receive funds as green investments.

It's a move that was lobbied for by some EU member states reliant on the energy sources, but which is hugely controversial with other member states, with green groups, and within the European Parliament. Four member states accused the European Commission of departing from scientific evidence in its proposal, and Austria and Luxembourg threatened to bring a lawsuit against the commission.


Deep divisions

A vice-president of the European Parliament until she became a commissioner in 2020, Ms McGuinness acknowledged the deep divisions on the issue as she unveiled the proposal, which falls under her brief as financial services chief.

“I think it’s fair to say that overall the feedback we received showed that positions are widely divided in all of our institutions. There are different views,” she told journalists. “However, I believe that we have found a balance between fundamentally different opinions and supporting the road to decarbonisation.”

She insisted the proposal would still be useful as a guide for investors. “There’s no greenwashing,” she said. “If the taxonomy did not exist, the investor community would not have guidance, if you like. So there could be a scattergun approach to investments.”

The proposal is set for a messy fight in the European Parliament, with climate action NGOs rallying lawmakers against it in the hope of gathering the 353 MEPs required to reject it.

‘Wrong labelling’

The Republic’s Green MEP, Ciarán Cuffe, said that including gas in the taxonomy would make it more difficult for the EU to meet its climate targets.

“Labelling gas as ‘green’ is wrong. It will divert funding away from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar,” he told The Irish Times.

“It will make it exceedingly difficult for the EU to reach our goals for climate action . . . it will lock in fossil fuels as an energy source for decades to come.”

Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus has also expressed opposition to the proposal, and last week called on the Government to join the group of EU countries openly opposing it.

The chair of the parliament's environment committee, the French liberal-centrist MEP Pascal Canfin, on Wednesday accused Germany's Green Party of hypocrisy for being part of a coalition that backed the proposal.

“The German Greens are part of the coalition in power in Berlin which has pushed to weaken the conditions to include gas in the taxonomy. I have no better word than hypocrisy to describe it,” Mr Canfin wrote.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times