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Austria draws red line on nuclear plants

Austria is not happy that the EU's planned €315 billion growth scheme could be used to fund the construction of nuclear power plants.

Austria draws red line on nuclear plants
Hinkley Point nuclear power station in the UK. Photo: Richard Baker/Wikimedia
“It surely cannot be seriously the case that we invest in a Stone Age technology,” Austrian environment minister Andrä Rupprechter told the Austrian Press Agency (APA).

Rupprechter called on the Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann to “make [Austria's] massive reservations very clear” during a summit of EU leaders at the end of the week.

He said that Austrian money shouldn't be used to fund the construction of new nuclear power plants, although he said that projects that increase the safety of existing plants are "useful".

Rupprechter’s comments come as some member states have already called for money to be put towards nuclear projects.

The UK has requested a €57.8 billion loan for “three potential projects with a total of 12.2GW capacity”, including the controversial Hinkley Point C.

Poland hopes to launch nuclear power as a “new sector of the Polish economy” and aims to attract funding for the construction of a nuclear plant with a capacity of about three gigawatts.

The EU's member states have presented around 2,000 projects that could be funded by the European Commission's proposed investment plan. 

The commission has said the projects should be chosen according to their quality, and will be assessed by technical experts rather than being chosen using political criteria.

“There will be no sector-specific or country-specific quotas. It will be a non-political, technical assessment”, spokesperson Annika Breidthardt said on Tuesday.

However she did not give a clear answer when asked if Austria could veto a project it did not agree with. “Deciding the energy mix is solely the responsibility of the member states”, she said. 

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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