Támogasd Te is küzdelmünket a zöld és igazságos jövőért!

Alternatives to Nuclear Power – Workshop

On the 6th of June, the Greens-EFA group in collaboration with Greenpeace Energy hosted a workshop to discuss a recent study by Energy Brainpool titled  Controllable Renewable Energies: An Alternative to Nuclear Power, Cost Comparisons for Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary. During the workshop participants had the opportunity to follow a diverse discussion including several different opinions on the topic, as the Commission and Greenpeace Energy reflected on the findings of the study.

The study is available here: 2018-04_25_ENERGY BRAINPOOL_Visegrad Study_2018 April

The presentation of Energy Brainpool is available here: 2018-06-06_GPE_Study-Presentaion-V4-Brussels_FaH

The presentation of Greenpeace Energy is available here: 180606_EP_Studie_Visesgrad-Atom_Brüssel

Energy efficiency – Europe is taking a step in the right direction

The Greens/EFA group has welcomed the increase in energy efficiency targets in the EU, but warned that they still fall short of delivering on the Paris climate agreement.

After particularly difficult negotiations, an agreement was reached last night on the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council.

Benedek Jávor, energy efficiency spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group, comments:

“We’ve worked hard to push for the highest overall ambition possible. Despite the lack of ambition of national governments, we have managed to deliver a headline target of 32.5 % and annual savings of 0.8% for consumers. We have made sure that over the next decade there will be greater  savings, delivered at a faster pace. This will deliver tangible benefits for Europeans, not least in tackling the problem of energy poverty. It also opens up an opportunity to create thousands of jobs in the green economy, opportunities that are desperately needed in many parts of Europe.

 “Nonetheless, the measures are not enough for the EU to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement. They will need to be strengthened in time if we are to meet our climate obligations and deliver the full health and financial benefits of energy efficiency to the people of Europe.”

European Parliament push for clean energy package faces resistance

MEPs agree to increase EU’s renewable and energy efficiency goals but that’s not going to sit well with national governments.

The European Parliament’s evident self-satisfaction over Wednesday’s vote to boost the EU’s green energy ambitions is likely to be punctured in the coming brawl with national governments.

MEPs’ push to speed up the bloc’s transition to clean energy puts it on a collision course with the Council of the EU, where several countries are angry at the possibility of being forced to shoulder an extra, and expensive, burden.

“We are expecting long and tough negotiations,” a Central European diplomat said, adding that the Parliament’s position “is more ambitious and challenging than what we agreed in the Council.”

MEPs said the EU should get 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, as well as achieving a minimum 35 percent gain in energy efficiency over the same period. They also agreed on strong rules for ensuring countries are on track to meet their goals.

The votes shape the Parliament’s position on the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Governance Regulation. These are all key files from the European Commission’s Clean Energy Package, which aims to encourage the EU’s uptake of renewable energy and reform of its power market.

But Parliament’s higher targets are a lot more than many EU countries are prepared to accept.

“I expect the negotiations on all files from the Clean Energy Package to be tough,” said Martina Werner, a German MEP from the Socialists and Democrats. “The risk is to end up with the lowest common denominator.”

When EU energy ministers adopted their position in December, they left in place the current 27 percent renewable energy target. In May, when the Commission suggested increasing the target for energy efficiency from 27 percent to 30 percent, the idea ended up getting Council support but several Central and Eastern European countries fought an unsuccessful rearguard action to keep the old level.

Green resistance

National opposition is not too surprising considering the bitter talks over setting the 2030 energy and climate goals in the first place back in 2014. There was strong resistance from several Central and Eastern European countries who felt things were going too far, too fast; many still rely on coal, and were worried about the financial and economic costs of shifting to other power sources in a short period of time.

In the end, EU leaders committed to 27 percent targets for both energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Those promises have to be translated into laws, and now Central Europeans are outraged that Brussels and the Parliament are trying to push beyond the leaders’ 2014 deal by pressing for higher targets in the process.

“The targets are way beyond what is feasible. We cannot come up with commitments like that out of thin air,” said an Eastern European diplomat.

Green energy advocates argue that Central European concerns are outdated.

Renewable energy costs have dropped much faster in recent years than most anticipated, and recent Commission calculations found boosting the bloc’s renewable energy target to 30 percent would cost the EU roughly the same as implementing its current 27 percent goal.

The Commission and especially the Parliament are keen on greater energy ambition amid growing public alarm over global warming, as well as pressure to meet the bloc’s commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete gave Parliament a pat on the back after Wednesday’s votes, calling it a “great day.” The Parliament “shows it means business with Europe’s clean energy transition and our #ParisAgreement commitments,” he tweeted.

His sentiment was largely echoed by NGOs and renewable energy lobby groups.

Matching rhetoric

The differences between national positions and the Parliament will be hashed out in upcoming negotiations.

“We are ready to face member states,” said Michèle Rivasi, a French Green MEP who co-led work on the Governance Regulation. “They will have to be more ambitious and they will have to start seeing things as we see them.”

A compromise could see talks settle on a target in between the positions of the Parliament and the Council. With a strong push from the Parliament, more ambitious governments from Nordic and Western European countries could help sway the general consensus toward a middle ground of just over 30 percent — despite Central European grumbling.

“European governments will now be under pressure to match their rhetoric on climate change with action by supporting the Parliament’s position,” Roland Joebstl, policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau.

Inter-institutional talks are expected to start within the next weeks under the leadership of the Bulgarian Council presidency.

This article is part of POLITICO’s new Sustainability coverage, tracking issues including the circular economy, air and water pollution, nature protection and chemicals, and including the Sustainability Insights newsletter every Monday afternoon. Email pro@politico.eu for more information.

Binding targets will help cut bills and combat energy poverty

The European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee has today backed a report on the energy efficiency directive.With two alternative compromise deals on the table, the Greens backed a 40% binding target on energy efficiency by 2030 (1).

 Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur Benedek Jávor comments:

 “An ambitious energy efficiency policy is needed to bring down energy bills for European citizens and businesses. It can also help to combat energy poverty and is key to our health, well-being, as well as achieving our climate policy targets and the commitments made under the Paris Agreement.

 “We are pleased to have helped secure agreement on an overall 40% target for energy efficiency for 2030 across the EU, which would be underpinned by national binding targets to ensure it really delivers. We have also fought to close loopholes and make sure the transport sector is included in the targets.

 “The ambition on targets needs to be matched with concrete measures, especially on lifting people out of energy poverty. The transition towards energy efficiency must deliver real benefits for the poorest, most vulnerable ones in our communities.”

Political yet illegal decision on Paks non-tendering infringement

Here below, you can find the documents I received following an access to documents request regarding the documents of the infringement procedure point towards the fact that the European Commission took a political decision in closing the infringement procedure. And this political decision is against EU law.

The infringement that had been initiated following my complaint, was closed on 17th November 2016. The documents clearly show that the initial arguments of the Hungarian party on international agreements and the financial package that would accompany the Russian offer were dismissed by the Commission. Consequently, in the Commission’s view also there should have been an open call for the project.

In the spring of 2016, after the official reply to the letter of formal notice, Hungary made for the first time counter-arguments of technical exclusivity which had also been dismissed on service level initially by the EC and 4 scenarios were envisaged at this stage of which the closure of the case is clearly stated to be a political solution. This option was taken and the Minister for the Prime Minister’s Office personally thanks the Commissioner for their smooth cooperation.

The letter of Alexander Italianer, Secretary-General of the European Commission


1 Note for the launch of the interservice consultation on the letter of formal notice (LFN) in infringement procedure NIF 2015/4231-4232 concerning the PAKS NPP project, with Annex (draft LFN), dated 10/11/2015, Ref No Ares(2015)4966089  and also this letter

2 Interservice consultation – the comments of the Legal Service to draft LFN, dated 10/11/2015, Ref No Ares(2015)4975167

3 Interservice consultation – DG ENER opinion, dated 11/11/2015
The first part of this document

4 Interservice consultation – DG COMP opinion, dated 11/11/2015
The second part of this document

5 Interservice consultation – DG TRADE opinion (with comments to draft LFN in Annex), dated 13/11/2015
The third part of this document and its annex

6 Letter of formal notice sent to Hungarian authorities (Hungarian language version), dated 20/11/2015, Ref No SG-Greffe(2015)D/13441

7 Reply of the Hungarian authorities to the letter of formal notice (with Annexes A and B), dated 21/01/2016, Ref No Ares(2016)358726

First part

Second part

Annex A

Annex B

8 Note on the assessment of the Hungarian reply to the letter of formal notice, dated 10/02/2016, Ref No Ares(2016)710709

9 Report on the meeting with Hungarian representatives on 12 February 2016, dated 15/02/2016, Ref no Ares(2017)495511

10 Report on the meeting between Commissioner Bienkowska and Hungarian authorities on 12 January 2016, dated 19/02/2016, Ref No Ares(2016)882647

11 Flash report on the meeting with Hungarian authorities, dated 02/03/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)495771

12 Follow-up to the Note on the assessment of the Hungarian reply to the letter of formal notice (Ares(2016)710709), dated 04/03/2016, Ref No Ares(2016)1129955

13 Report on the meeting with Hungarian authorities on PAKS case, dated 09/03/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)495909

14 Flash report on the meeting of 22 April 2016 with Hungarian authorities on PAKS, dated 25/04/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)496490

15 PAKS – Flash report on the technical meeting of 28 April 2016 with Hungarian authorities, dated 29/04/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)496571

16 Flash report on the meeting with Hungarian authorities on PAKS – 3 June 2016, dated 06/06/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)496889

17 Flash report on the meeting of Cabinet of Commissioner Bienkowska with Hungarian authorities, dated 09/06/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)496962

18 Flash report on the meeting between DG GROW and Hungarian authorities on 14 June 2016, dated 15/06/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)497022

19 Flash report on the phone call between Hungarian authorities and DG GROW, dated 21/06/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)497110

20 Flash report on the meeting of DG GROW with Hungarian authorities on 24 June 2016, dated 24/06/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)497322

21 Flash report on the meeting of DG GROW with Hungarian authorities in Budapest on 5 July 2016, dated 07/07/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)497409

22 Flash report on the meeting of DG GROW with Hungarian authorities on 12 July 2016, dated 12/07/2016, Ref No Ares(2017)497467

23 Commitment letter from Hungarian authorities to Commissioner Bienkowska, dated 4 August 2016, Ref No Ares(2016)4123594

24 Note for the launch of the interservice consultation on the closure of infringement procedure NIF 2015/4231-4232 concerning the PAKS NPP project (with Annexes 1 and 2), dated 24/08/2016, Ref No Ares(2016)4766008 and its annex

25 Interservice consultation – DG TRADE comments, dated 26/08/2016
The first part of this document

26 Interservice consultation – DG ENER opinion, dated 30/08/2016
The second part of this document

27 Interservice consultation – DG COMP and DG TRADE opinion, dated 02/09/2016
The third part of this document

28 Day Note of 17 November 2016 (SEC(2016)469/4) concerning the Commission decision closing infringement procedure 2015/4231-32 (with Annex (SEC(2016)475/2)), Ref No Ares(2017)162348 and its annex

Polish MEP Under Pressure on Crucial EU Energy Saving Law

An update of the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive risks coming undone as a result of political infighting between the Polish lawmaker charged with helming the European Parliament’s revision of the legislation and much of his own political group, EURACTIV.com has learned.

Unlike its sister piece of legislation, the Energy Performance of Building Directive (EPBD), the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) update has been far from smooth sailing.

Adam Gierek, the Polish MEP in charge of steering the draft law through the European Parliament, has been accused of negotiating key aspects of the directive against the line of his own political group, the Socialist and Democrats (S&D).

His stance on the EED is indeed much closer to the centre-right European People’s party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) groups, sources familiar with the file told EURACTIV.com.

Adam Gierek’s initial draft report on the European Commission’s proposal was widely criticised for focusing too heavily on primary energy consumption and for ditching the S&D’s 40% energy saving target for 2030, which is the centrepiece of the legislation.  

Instead of a 40% target, Gierek first opted for a far lower 28% objective before raising the bar to 35%, under pressure from MEPs in his S&D group.

The European Parliament has twice backed a 40% energy saving target, an objective again confirmed when the assembly’s environment committee voted on the EED in September. So Gierek’s insistence on diluting the target is now putting him in an awkward position with the European Parliament as a whole.

Political infighting

Relations with “shadow” rapporteurs from other political groups in the European Parliament have also been fractious. Sources familiar with the situation claim that Gierek no longer takes bilateral meetings with his colleagues and that he mistakenly identified two of the shadow MEPs as assistants during one meeting.

Gierek’s latest position actually backs the 40% energy savings goal, suggesting that he is now toeing the S&D group’s long-held energy efficiency target.

But Green lawmaker Benedek Jávor, who is shadow rapporteur on the EED, branded Gierek’s 40% offering as mere “window dressing” and told EURACTIV that a proposed change to final energy consumption would actually decrease the target to just 30-31%.

Jávor explained that under Gierek’s current proposal the EU would fail to reach primary energy targets in 2030, adding that the latest compromise from the Polish MEP is “unacceptable” and nothing short of a “trick”.

As things stand, the S&D vote together with the Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups would on paper be enough to form a majority and pass a report that supports the 40% target, as happened recently with the opinion adopted by the Parliament’s environment committee.

But Jávor suggested that Gierek may in fact be trying to split the vote of the S&D group in order to deliver a majority to the EPP and ECR, who support a much less ambitious energy efficiency directive.

Gierek is said to be securing the support of Socialist MEPs from Eastern Europe, making it uncertain which way the vote would swing as support is so finely balanced. 

Markus Pieper, the shadow rapporteur for the centre-right EPP, has reportedly been trying to convince his group to back the Gierek proposal. Pieper declined to comment when given the opportunity to do so.

Gierek out?

A final vote in the Parliament’s industry committee is scheduled for 28 November. Calls for Gierek to be stripped of his duties as lead rapporteur have been made before and this fresh pressure could force the S&D group to consider its options again.

Socialist MEPs meet on Tuesday (17 October) for a regular horizontal working group meeting, where the EED will almost certainly be on the agenda.

When asked if he believes Gierek’s time in charge is over, MEP Jávor insisted that it is an “internal problem” which the S&D group will have to address themselves.

When contacted on Friday (13 October), Gierek was unreachable for questions.

Removing a lead rapporteur from a file is very much a last-resort option for a political group. It has happened before in Parliament but has mostly been due to technical reasons and very rarely this late in the game.

Files are awarded to political groups after intense negotiations and it is up to the relevant group to decide who in its ranks becomes rapporteur. It is then also up to the same group to decide if an MEP should be removed from their role if they are not pushing the right political agenda.

The EED is a crucial part of the Clean Energy Package and the draft report adopted by the Parliament’s industry committee at the end of November will eventually form the basis of the assembly’s position during trilateral talks with the Commission and EU Council.

The environment committee’s opinion was widely praised for being ambitious and reflecting Parliament’s position on energy efficiency, as well as a number of resolutions passed by the institution so far.

Whoever is dispatched to negotiate in trialogue for the Parliament will also be expected to mirror this position as closely as possible, especially given the Council’s insistence on a non-binding 30% target, adopted back in June.

Quote by Benedek Jávor on today’s Commission decision in the Paks II state aid case

The European Commission has today concluded that Hungary’s support for the Paks II nuclear project constitutes State Aid. The Commission has nonetheless approved the support on the basis of commitments made by the Hungarian government, which they say will limit market distortion.

Commenting on the decision, Hungarian MEP and Greens/EFA transparency spokesperson Benedek Jávor said:

“Despite the Hungarian government’s repeated denials, the European Commission has confirmed that the Paks II project will benefit from State Aid. By doing so, the Commission effectively concedes the underlying economic weakness of the project. We remain of the view that Hungary has not demonstrated that this project will avoid undue distortions of the Hungarian and regional energy markets and we will be strongly supportive of any appeal, as is apparently being considered by the Austrian government.

“With the Hungarian state to be the owner, financer, operator and regulator of the new nuclear power plant, there is a clear problem of concentration of power. Competition and public procurement rules must be applied evenly across the entire energy market, and the nuclear industry must be no exception. With nuclear representing more than a quarter of the EU’s current energy production, this decision will severely undermine confidence that the Energy Union and the internal electricity market represent a level playing field.”

Interview with Benedek Jávor: Hungarian argument for Paks II nuclear project is invalid

Below is Euractive’s original interview with MEP, Benedek Jávor in its entirety:

There are players in the game who are ready to take the Pak II case to the European Court of Justice – and I am one of them, Benedek Jávor told EurActiv Czech Republic.

Benedek Jávor is a Hungarian Green and one of the complainants against the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant project.

Jávor spoke to EurActiv.cz’s Adéla Denková.

The European Commission has recently closed the infringement procedure launched against Hungary over compliance with public procurement laws in the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant project. This means that Hungary was not obliged to announce a public tender for the power plant’s construction and that the agreement with Russia does not violate European law. You are one of the critics of Paks II. What do you think about the decision?

According to European rules, there might be certain exceptions to EU public procurement law in the event of existing technical requirements that make it impossible to announce a public tender. The Hungarian government argued that there was no need for a tender in the case of Paks II, because Hungarian regulations and technical standards make it impossible for anyone other than Rosatom to construct the plant. The European Commission accepted this so-called “technical exclusivity” explanation, but I believe it is not a valid argument for several reasons.

Why do you think the explanation provided by Budapest is invalid?

A nuclear power plant is not a bicycle that you buy in one piece. It’s always a tailor-made project constructed in compliance with local regulations. Initially, none of the designs provided by nuclear technology companies meet the requirements of any state, but the winner of a tender will then modify its design according to the country’s individual specifications.

Okay, but the decision suggests that Rosatom is somehow more eligible for the project.

We don’t know whether the other possible suppliers of nuclear technology could have met the criteria, as this has never been established, but according to a recent article in Politico at least Westinghouse was interested in submitting a bid. One thing is for sure, though: not even Rosatom had been able to meet Hungary’s requirements initially. The Hungarian government’s special envoy for the Paks II project, Attila Aszódi, personally stated that several hundred modifications to the original Russian design have been required in order to comply with Hungarian regulations.

Flawed regulation

You said there are other arguments supporting your criticisms of the agreement. What are they?

If we are to accept the government’s technical exclusivity argument, meaning that Hungary’s strict regulations made a public tender unnecessary for the Paks II project because only one supplier could meet them, this means that the regulation itself violates European law. There have been a series of cases at the European Court of Justice which clearly demonstrate that any regulation restricting the market without a compelling reason should be phased out.

The implication for Paks II is as follows: if EU public procurement law permits non-tendering under technical exclusivity, then there is a strong case for launching an infringement procedure against those national regulations which gave rise to a non-competitive technical exclusivity scenario.

Are you going to pursue this argument?

There are players in the game who are ready to take the case to the European Court of Justice, and I am one of them. The question of the tendering or non-tendering of a project may be brought to the Court only by market competitors. But if a case concerns a discrepancy between European and national law, then as an MEP I am entitled to bring it myself. And the Commission must know that if the case is taken to the Court, they can easily lose it.

You were the complainant against the agreement between Budapest and Moscow. What is the history of this case?

The investigation into a possible violation of EU public procurement law was based on a complaint I submitted in 2014, and in November 2015 the Commission announced an infringement procedure over the project’s non-tendering. In the opening letter of the infringement procedure, they stated that Paks II fell under the EU’s public procurement regulation and that an international tender should have been conducted. Almost a year later – in August last year – I received a letter from the Commission outlining a compromise with Hungary which followed a completely different line of reasoning, based on the arguments made by Budapest.

Another strange aspect of the compromise is the fact that this argument apparently occurred to the Hungarian government only at the very end of the procedure. For years, they were not aware that no one else could meet the Hungarian standards and that this was the reason they didn’t conduct a public tender. They used completely different reasoning and never mentioned technical exclusivity until the Commission had rejected all the other arguments. It was only two years after granting the project to the Russians that they suddenly realised that only Rosatom could meet the Hungarian standards.

Expensive power

Another investigation has been launched against Paks II, this time concerning state aid. Do you think the project can survive without financial support from the government? 

Since the very beginning, I have pointed out that the new nuclear power plant at the Paks site would be problematic not only with respect to security, safety and environmental considerations, but also from a budgetary perspective. If current market prices for electricity persist, the project will never pay for itself and will clearly need substantial state aid in order to survive. In addition to the infringement procedure concerning public procurement rules, November 2015 – which was a black month for Paks II – also saw the Commission announce an in-depth investigation into possible state aid in the project.

The Hungarian government endeavoured to convince the Commission that there was no need for state aid. The government commissioned a study, carried out by Rothschild & Cie, which concluded that the project was able to generate fair profits and would pay for itself. This conclusion was broadly communicated by the government. The more interesting part is that according to the study – and this has not been publicised very extensively – Paks II would pay for itself only if electricity prices in the EU market were to double over the next couple of years. No one is actually anticipating this, however.

But aren’t experts expecting a certain increase in electricity prices during this period? 

Prices on the EU electricity market have been low for quite a long time, and the indicators we have do indeed lead us to expect a slight price rise in the next couple of years. But here we’re talking about 20 or 30%, which is very far from a doubling of the price. And following this increase we’ll likely see another decline in wholesale electricity prices because the costs of renewable energy sources keep falling. The above-mentioned study is therefore based on an unrealistic set of assumptions.

Do you have any information about the Commission’s view on the state aid case?

There has been no official communication in this regard, but according to the information we have the Commission may conclude that the project’s estimated costs and estimated incomes are out of balance, and that there will be a clear deficit during its operational life. If they insist on this point, then Budapest will have to accept it.

Still, the Commission could rule that Hungary may provide financial support to the power plant under certain conditions. 

Indeed, the European Commission may accept the need for state aid if special circumstances obtain on the Hungarian power market and the government is unable to resolve the situation in another way. In my view, however, such a deal could also be taken to the Court, and the Commission would be unable to defend it. There’s no proof that constructing a nuclear power plant is the only way to solve the ostensible problems on Hungary’s electricity market. Actually, no one has ever investigated alternative solutions, and the Hungarian government’s estimates of expected total electricity consumption in 2030 and other indicators are based on unrealistic data.

Do you have any estimates regarding the amount of money that could be provided to the project?

According to my calculations and independent assessments, the required state aid may be as much as HUF 100 billion (€300 million) per year. These are conservative numbers, and other estimates range as high as HUF 250 billion annually. Just for comparison, the incomes of the existing nuclear power plant in Paks do not exceed HUF 180 billion per year. And remember: these figures aren’t profits, but total incomes. This suggests that the Paks II project will need state aid in an amount close to the existing power plant’s total incomes and perhaps even exceeding them.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that in the last 15 or 20 years none of the nuclear power plant projects in the EU have been completed on time, and total construction costs have been double their initial budgets on average.

Future of the EU power market

On the other hand, investors are currently having a hard time on the European energy market. The general view is that it’s not profitable to invest one’s money into any kind of energy source without state aid. Why then is financial support for a nuclear power plant such a problem? 

The EU electricity market is currently undergoing a transition, and it’s very difficult to say exactly what it will look like in future. Nevertheless, it’s quite clear that the market is becoming much more flexible and will be based increasingly on local small-scale installations. The age of big utilities is over, and baseload generation will no longer play an important role.

You’re right that current electricity prices do not send the right signal to investors. As I have already mentioned, in the next couple of years we’ll most likely see a price increase that will facilitate new investments into energy infrastructure and generation capacities. But that’s not the question: you have to look at the levelized costs of different energy sources. In renewables, costs are declining very quickly. We can also mention natural gas power plants, the construction of which is much cheaper than that of nuclear power plants. This is why, once prices rise, it will still be much more profitable to invest in renewable sources or natural gas.

Do you believe the energy system will be based on renewables and gas in future? 

When you have a large proportion of renewables in your energy mix, you also need flexible energy sources to provide grid regulation. Natural gas power plants are a good fit here, but in the long run even natural gas could be phased out of the system, which will be based on renewables and a high degree of demand-side management, in other words smart technologies and energy efficiency. I cannot see any place for nuclear power plants in such an energy system.

In a nutshell, the trouble with nuclear investments is not a question of tendering or non-tendering. I wouldn’t be satisfied with Westinghouse, EDF, KHNP or any other company winning the tender, because their nuclear power plants would incur the same or even higher costs. With or without a public tender, there will be serious problems with profitability, because nuclear energy is no longer competitive.

Indeed, I don’t believe it ever was competitive; I think it only survived thanks to hidden subsidies. In Hungary, for example, we don’t actually know the real cost of the Paks I nuclear power plant built in the 1980s, because economic relations between the USSR and Hungary at that time were based on barters. With some exaggeration, one could say that we paid for the nuclear power plant with cans of green peas. Anyway, I think Hungary’s high level of indebtedness in the 1980s was closely linked to the construction of Paks I.

On the subject of natural gas, one always comes to the question of energy security. Europe depends on fuel imports, and nuclear power is generally considered more secure in this regard. 

In terms of energy security, building a new nuclear power plant would not be much better in this case. It will be the Russians who will construct it. It uses Russian technology and will be dependent on Russian fuel. Russia will provide a € 10 billion intergovernmental loan to Hungary, which creates a financial leash between the two countries. The Hungarian prime minister may be of a different opinion, but I’m convinced that it’s really dangerous to be dependent on Russia in several ways.

Couldn’t another fuel supplier be found?

The question of fuel dependency was raised by the European Commission, and the Euratom Supply Agency refused to counter-sign the first draft of the agreement on Paks II between Budapest and Moscow, as they considered the 20-year exclusivity provision for the Russians to supply the new power plant with fuel to be unacceptable. Ultimately, they agreed that this period would be shortened to 10 years, after which there would have to be an open tender for a new supplier.

This looks fine on paper, but in reality there’s no other supplier for this type of Russian nuclear power plant. The first third-generation VVER reactors only started operation in 2016 in Russia. It’s expensive for a nuclear technology company to develop a new type of nuclear fuel, and this will be a small market with most of the reactors operating in Russia or Belarus, which means that no market player will be willing to develop fuel of this type for just Paks in Hungary and Hanhikivi in Finland.

I have also been telling the Commission for two years now that they cannot approach the Paks case as an isolated Hungarian issue. Once they sign off on the agreement with Budapest, they will be flooded by demands from other member states to approve similar deals. This would completely destroy the EU energy market. If tens of thousands of megawatts of energy generation capacities in Europe are exempted from the common rules, then – I’m sorry to say – we can forget about a single market.

What the Hungarians think

Recently, you submitted another complaint against Paks II. Does this one concern market conditions? 

This is a question I raised in September at the European Nuclear Energy Forum in Bratislava, and the investigation by the European Commission is still in its early stages.

What is the essence of your complaint? 

The Hungarian government and certain people at the Commission argue that the Euratom Treaty creates a completely independent legal framework, and that nuclear investments are therefore exempt from EU competition and public procurement law. This is very dangerous. My complaint concerns Article 8 of the Electricity Market Directive, which states that there should be a capacity tender announced in each and every case where a government claims there is a risk of a capacity gap on the national market and therefore it seeks to actively intervene in order to solve the problem.

This is fine, but they have to open a public capacity tender that is technologically neutral, meaning that it does not require a particular technology. No such tender was ever announced in Hungary, and thus, in this case it is not the non-tendering of the project which violates EU law, but rather the non-tendering of the capacity. And with respect to this latter issue the Euratom Treaty has no bearing.

What do people in Hungary think about Paks II? Is it a major issue in the public debate? How is it perceived? 

I started my activities in the area of energy policy 15 years ago when I worked at an NGO. Just six or seven years ago when we were campaigning against nuclear energy, we were seen as crazy extremists. There was a consensus among 80% of society that nuclear energy was a good thing. In just a few years’ time, however, we managed to raise public awareness of the problem of profitability, and then the Fukushima accident focused attention on questions of security and safety.

Suddenly, the issue of nuclear energy became completely political. Government supporters became great friends of Russia. The same people who took to the streets in 2008 to protest against the then prime minister’s gas supply deals with Russia have now become best friends with Mr Putin. They consider any statement against Paks II to be a statement against the Hungarian nation.

More importantly, however, most of the public is now convinced that Paks II is an insane project that will create financial dependency on Russia, will never pay for itself, and will be harmful to the environment and future generations. Moreover, those journalists who were clearly pro-nuclear seven or eight years ago have changed their minds.

If one takes into consideration the government’s aggressive propaganda efforts, it’s a significant achievement that there is now a broad consensus among 50 or 60% of the population that we don’t need this project. The government is well aware of this, which is why they blocked a referendum on the issue. They may not be paying attention to it now, but in the long run, they will have to come to terms with the fact that most Hungarians no longer believe in the project.

MEP Benedek Jávor’s written statement on the plenary debate of the Energy Winter Package

The Energy Winter Package would have been a unique opportunity to fill with content many of the promises on making the EU number one for renewables and world leader in tackling climate change. I must say: the Commission missed this opportunity. I see a general lack of ambition and the biggest market distortions being left unaddressed in the package.

First, it disregards the Paris agreement and slows down the EU’s efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 C.

It doesn’t address the problems of overcapacity. It doesn’t address the loopholes in the Energy Efficiency Directive. It doesn’t stop backdoor subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear. Instead, it allows financial flows to fossil fuel and protects the privileges of nuclear via capacity markets and the lack of a credible liability regime.

A mere 27% renewable target and the removal of priority access to new RES projects simply puts the brakes on the European energy transition. Governance and transparency about future support schemes are also weakened.

The new biofuels targets leave much room for bioenergy without effective measures to ensure it is sustainable.

This proposal is clearly insufficient and fails to take us to the needed transition in Europe’s energy systems.

Paks II: Questionable decision; further legislative debates to be expected

According to MEP Benedek Jávor, today’s decision by the European Commission on closing the infringement procedure on the lack of tendering in the case of the construction of Paks II did not come as a surprise but is bad news for Hungarian tax-payers and it projects further legislative debates.
During summer Mr. Jávor was already talking about a soon-concluding agreement between the European Commission and the Hungarian government. At the same time, based on a letter sent by the EC in August to Mr. Jávor as a complainant, he believes that the decision is based on false information and flawed legal interpretation and it will result in more legal debates. This means that the debate on Paks II is far from being closed, all the more so because the procedure on illegal state aid in the project is still ongoing.
“For a more thorough analysis on the closing of the infringement procedure, we need to see its details. I am looking forward to the decision’s detailed reasoning, which the European Commission will send to me as the complainant, and which should be made public”, said the representative MEP for Dialogue for Hungary. At the same time, he believes that if the Commission’s reasoning was that evading the rules of procurement was possible because apart from the Russians nobody was able to comply with the Hungarian technical and security requirements, then the EC’s decision will probably mean even more challenges for the Paks project, the Hungarian government and the European Commission itself as well. Because, if the reasoning of the decision is based on the above, then the Hungarian regulation may be contravening to the principles of the internal market that are considered the basis of the EU. And this could also have severe consequences.
According to Benedek Jávor, Paks II is severely harmful for Hungary not only financially, but in terms of energy policy and external affairs as well, and so he will keep doing everything it takes in order to defend the country from such threats. In response to János Lázár’s comments, Mr. Jávor thanked the minister’s advice and said he would take it into consideration, however he expressed bad news for Mr. Lázár, as he would keep working with the same determination and effort. He knows that this would cause problems for the minister – as it did hitherto – but he expressed a genuine hope that the minister would cope with the difficulties.