In the midst of COP26, the French President announced in his speech on 9 November his desire to relaunch “the creation of nuclear reactors to guarantee France’s electrical sovereignty” and “achieve the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050”. This national strategy is not that of the European Green Pact, but France seems ready to use its presidency of the Union, which begins on 1 January 2022, to integrate its nuclear priority into European arrangements.

Expected to talk about COVID and vaccination, Emmanuel Macron decided to include another theme in his half-hour of television: nuclear power. “To guarantee France’s energy independence, our country’s electricity supply and achieve our carbon neutrality goals in 2050, we will, for the first time in decades, relaunch the creation of nuclear reactors in our country.”

This vague announcement of the launch of new French EPRs, the name of which was not given, complements that of future small power stations presented as part of his France 2030 plan. It was neither detailed nor quantified and preceded an allusion to renewable energies, but it was clearly included by Emmanuel Macron in the context of COP26 and the French Presidency of the European Union, which begins for six months on 1 January.

However, the French battle to make nuclear power a green business is meeting with strong resistance from its European partners. In September, nuclear power was excluded from the €750 billion loan launched by the Commission to finance its Green Pact, which will feed the French recovery plan launched in September 2020. This refusal has intensified the tug of war over the taxonomy, which defines activities compatible with the EU’s environmental objectives. France wants to include nuclear power, while Eastern European countries want to include gas. As a result, the former has formed an alliance with the latter to ensure that these two energies are included in the next text on the taxonomy that the Commission is due to publish in December.

Concerns and disappointments

This has caused MEP Bas Eickhout, rapporteur for the taxonomy, to jump to his feet. In an interview with the EU Observer, the Dutchman summed up the situation as follows: “The pressure exerted at the last EU summit by Emmanuel Macron, who threatened to block the taxonomy if nuclear power was not included, creates uncertainty about the whole process of defining green activities. This can derail the Green Deal and jeopardise European climate leadership as if gas is included in the taxonomy, it will bring European subsidies to a fossil fuel.”

That the EU’s environmental strategy, which was clearly presented at the Commission’s summit on 7 October, is not new. However, the fact that it is being undermined by France and the President, who actively supported the action plan on sustainable finance when it was published in 2018, raises concerns and disappointment among supporters of the European Green Pact.