Controversial EU green energy decision reveals political divide in Belgium

The European Parliament does not oppose the European Commission's controversial proposal to label investments in natural gas and nuclear energy as green and sustainable under certain conditions. In a vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday, opponents fell 75 votes short of the required majority of 353 votes. Belgian MP's voted along party lines, which revealed national divisions about green energy. 

A resolution failed to secure the absolute majority of 353 votes needed to overturn the controversial decision in the divided hemisphere. Only 278 MPs supported the objection, 328 backed the European Commission (33 abstentions). Belgian PM's voted along party lines. Left-wing parties are generally against recognizing natural gas and nuclear energy as green energy, liberal parties were worried about importing Russian gas. Every Walloon party voted against the proposal of the Commission. On the Flemish side, the Christian Democrats of CD&V, the Flemish nationalist N-VA and the far-right Vlaams Belang voted in favour of the Commission.

Kathleen Van Brempt of the socialist party Vooruit spoke of "a historic mistake". "You cannot spend a euro twice. To consider investments in gas and nuclear as sustainable will make it even more difficult to move away from fossil fuels, because investments in sustainable and renewable energy will be hampered", she reacted. "The Commission is making a mockery of science and bowing to the nuclear lobby in France and the fossil lobby in Eastern Europe," echoed Green party member Sara Matthieu, who spoke of "pure greenwashing". 

Ecolo, PVDA, PS, Les Engagés, the German-speaking CSZ, MR and Open VLD also voted for the resolution. Flemish Liberals Hilde Vautmans and Guy Verhofstadt point among other things to the completely changed geopolitical and economic context. "As far as we are concerned, the delegated act should at least have been amended after the Russian invasion of Ukraine so that it does not constitute a licence to invest in Russian gas, for example by including a provision that the subsidies will be claimed back if the installation processes Russian gas", they argued.

"In these turbulent times, it is of great importance that energy prices remain somewhat under control, that the purchasing power of the citizens is protected to the maximum extent and that we secure our supply, with the lowest possible CO2 emissions. It is only logical that nuclear energy deserves a place in this as a sustainable energy source," said Johan Van Overtveldt (N-VA). "To help Member States in their transition to climate neutrality, gas and nuclear energy will be part of the taxonomy as a transition to renewable energy sources. The conditions are strict and limited in time, it is for all intents and purposes not a wildcard for gas and nuclear energy", added Tom Vandenkendelaere (CD&V).

The controversy echoes recent discussions about energy in Belgian politics. The decision to eventually close all nuclear power plants in Belgium was ratified in 2003, but problems with alternative sources of energy have delayed the closure several times. Belgian parties are divided in how these nuclear reactors should be replaced, and if they should be closed at all. Due to the war in Ukraine, the Belgian government decided to extend the life of two reactors until 2035.



The Doel nuclear power plant in Belgium. - © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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