Europarl Greens Challenge Re-Adopting the Euratom Treaty as Unfair

Publish date: June 17, 2003

Written by: Soizick Martin

BRUSSELS — Green Party members of the European Parliament, or EP, last week decried as unfair and outdated the re-adoption of a 45-year-old treaty on nuclear technology development in Europe, which is intended to be re-annexed—in virtually unchanged form—as part of the European Union’s new constitution.

The new draft constitution, completed last week by the Convention on the European Union’s Future, or CEUF, will be presented at the Heads of States and Governments meeting at the European Council gathering in Thessaloniki, Greece on June 20th and 21st. An inter-governmental conference will then take over the text to decide on its final form, and will obviously be under heavy political pressure from opponents of the treaty. Because there is no deadline by which the conference must complete its deliberation, environmental observers say hopefully that there will still be time to negotiate the treaty’s exclusion from the constitution before its adoption.

Among those parties that may support a lobbying campaign against the nuclear treaty are the 18-member Group for Europe of Democracies and Diversities, the 52-member Liberal Group, the 49-strong Communist Group, and the 175-member Socialist Party, which is second in number only to the Conservative Group.

The 1957 nuclear treaty, known as Euratom, was inked to guide support and development of nuclear energy at a time when the future of the then-new and barely tested energy source was unclear. But time and experience have shown the majority of European Union member states that nuclear energy is both dangerous and unprofitable, and many member countries have already unilaterally decided to phase out their own programmes out of concern for nuclear-related risks. Several more members of the 15-country European Union, or EU, have no nuclear programmes at all.

“To annex Euratom in the new constitution means to go on financing the nuclear industry from public money. This is not acceptable,” said one Member of European Parliament, or MEP, Neil McCormick, at a press conference held Thursday at the European Parliament.

“We have in Ireland a strong experience from the past of the dangers and risks related to the nuclear industry—all scientists recognise now the direct link between nuclear technology and endangered health, but the politicians don’t. We want Euratom to be replaced and dismantled in the future,” he said.

What is Euratom?
The issue of annexing the old Euratom Treaty—also known as the “European Atomic Energy Community”—has been a source of debate within the CEUF for the past 15 months while it was working out the new constitution. When the Euratom Treaty was penned, it was given no expiration date—unlike the 1952 Coal and Steel Treaty that expired last year. Nor has the Euratom Treaty been subject to any serious amendments in its history, because the amendment procedure requires full unanimity of the 15 current members of the EU, meaning a single negative vote can derail any progress toward modernising or abolishing Euratom.

McCormick, among others who spoke at the press conference, endorsed a gradual phase-out of the Euratom Treaty that would dismantle it by 2007, 50 years since its inception—the same time frame that had been allotted to the expired EU’s Coal and Steel Treaty in 1952.

The Euratom Debate at the Convention
What McCormick and other supporters of abolishing Euratom had demanded of the CEUF was the addition to the new constitution of article IV-1 that would have stated that the “Euratom Treaty will be repealed by 2007.”

But this protocol was deleted by the CEUF.

If adopted, this and other green proposals would have endorsed several initiatives that would have supported various non-proliferation and nuclear safeguard issues, as well as the incorporation of a radiation safety provision in the new constitution’s article III-125. The Green EP members also wanted the new constitution to include regulations on protection from hazardous materials, which would have been based on the present constitution’s article 174.

But the Greens and their sympathisers, who were present for the 15 months of debate that preceded the June 13th presentation of the draft constitution, say that any discussions of Euratom only scratched the surface of the more serious issues at hand and shunned the details.

“The Convention has not addressed this question seriously enough,” said Green Party MEP Johannes Voggenhuber.

"It ended up in a muddy situation where, on the other hand, the Convention addressed, de facto, external policy issues, whereas the nuclear issue was not adressed,” he told reporters on June 12th.

Marie Nagy, of Belgium’s Parliament, agreed, and added that the Euratom question had been raised many times from the very beginning of the CEUF meetings but had not, in her view, been sufficiently addressed. Many parliamentarians, she said, had urged that Euratom debates not “pollute” the Convention.

“The debate is already ‘polluted,’” Nagy said at last week’s press conference. “Only an approach of phasing out Euratom will make it possible for the Convention to achieve real success in its task of updating the EU’s Constitution.”

Euratom’s Unique Privilege in a Lagging Nuclear Market
According to environmentalists and other observers, Euratom enjoys a de facto special status among the EU’s other energy communities. As part of its work, Euratom subsidises credits for developing nuclear projects that far exceed credits extended to research in other energy spheres.The last three Euratom nuclear research budgets—which are granted for periods of five years—totalled €1 billion each, a sum larger than all those devoted to other energy research projects that are being studied by the EU combined. To add to this, the European Commission has recently proposed to extend these credit limits even further—to €6 billion. The current ceiling is €4 billion.

In addition to these enormous handouts, Europe’s nuclear industry also has access to €200m worth of “nuclear decommissioning funding.” This gives extra financial leverage to nuclear nations, who can draw on that funding to make capital investments and boost their credit ratings. Such funding does not exist for other utilities in Europe.

This market distortion has set the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers at loggerheads. The EP has long pressured the Council on this point, but the Council has so far resisted it, creating an uneven playing field for Europe’s energy utilities. In the view of Claude Turmès, an EU co-rapporteur—or specially appointed investigator—on the liberalisation of the EU’s electricity and gas markets, competition is massively skewed in favour of the flagging nuclear industry.

In a recent statement Turmès said: “We have seen Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio try—and fail—to wrestle competition competencies from Commerce Commissioner Mario Monti. Nuclear energy must fall under the same competition rules as any other type of energy, and the parliament will not allow de Palacio to create double standards. We are striving to create a single energy market and we must, therefore, have a single competition policy.”

Study: Despite Skewed Market, Nuke Energy Use is Falling
The Greens and their sympathisers say this is financially and ecologically unfair to the majority of European countries, which either have no nuclear programmes at all, or have begun slow phase-outs of nuclear energy. Among those who have no nuclear programmes are Austria, Greece, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal—almost half of the current members of the European Union. Of the remaining countries, four—Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden—have said they are phasing out their nuclear programmes in favour of other energy sources. Spain and the United Kingdom have said they have no plans for further nuclear power plant construction.

Only France and Finland—the latter of which is considering construction tenders from Russia’s Ministry of Nuclear Energy, or Minatom—have plans to build new reactors.

In his 2003 study ‘How Nuclear Energy Benefits from the Preferential Treatment Through the Euratom Treaty,’ Antony Froggatt, an independent London-based energy analyst, wrote that, in the last decade, the EU plugged in only six new reactors to its grid. Despite plans by France and Finland to expand their nuclear industry, Froggatt estimates that the current rate at which nuclear energy is being consumed in Europe suggests that only about four new reactors will be connected to the EU’s energy grid between now and 2013.

To underscore this point, Froggatt’s report notes that these reactors would only have a combined capacity of 10 gigawatts. The report also notes that reactor orders for European countries as a whole are dropping, pointing to an inevitable and gradual demise of nuclear power as part of Europe’s energy mix.

On the basis of this deformed energy strategy, Bellona has signed—along with 100 other NGOs—an appeal to abolish Euratom completely. The petition is available for readers at

Bellona’s Position on Euratom
There is no doubt that energy matters are strategically essential for the people and economy of Europe. It is, however, important to evaluate the impact of energy production systems on Europe’s environment. Europe cannot do without energy, but it must plan its energy strategy in a sensible and balanced way that avoids giving preferential treatment to the soon-to-be outmoded nuclear industry. The Euratom Treaty, which supports nuclear power in a biased way to the detriment of other energy sources and research programmes, should therefore be gradually abolished, and all energy matters—such as supply and demand, alternative technologies and fuel—should be addressed in a common framework and on equal levels. Bellona will continue to be a leading force in the European debate on this issue.