Posted onJul 23 2013
Contrary to media reports, the European Commission has no plans to encourage state aid for nuclear power or to make it easier for Member States to grant such aid. There are currently no specific guidelines on state aid in the energy sector, only guidelines on state aid for environmental protection. The fact that there are no specific guidelines in the energy sector does not mean that any state aid to the energy sector which is not covered by the provisions of the environmental guidelines is currently prohibited in the EU. Rather it means that this aid is assessed by the Commission under the general Treaty rules on state aid.
This applies to state aid for nuclear power : it is not currently prohibited per se ; rather, Member States' plans in that respect are notified to the European Commission and assessed directly under the Treaty rules. Member States are free whether (or not) to include nuclear in their fuel mix. The role of the Commission is to carry out an assessment under state aid rules to check that any subsidies do not unduly distort competition in the EU Single Market.
When the Commission receives a state aid notification by a Member State, the Commission must assess it. To carry out such an assessment, it must take into account applicable provisions in EU law when Member States claim that the state aid they intend to grant fulfils a common interest. In particular the EURATOM Treaty exists and is still in force; therefore the Commission is obliged to take it into account when Member States notify any aid that they wish to give in the nuclear sector. The possible adoption of specific provisions on nuclear power in Commission state aid guidelines would not change the situation in this respect.
What the Commission is planning to do is adopt guidelines on state aid for energy and environmental protection in 2014. In that context and given that it appears that several Member States wish to subsidise nuclear power, the Commission is considering whether or not to include in those guidelines specific provisions on state aid for nuclear energy. The guidelines would only set out clear and transparent principles, discussed ex ante with stakeholders, for the assessment of such notifications.
The Commission has in any case not yet taken a position on whether or not such specific rules are needed and will launch a public consultation in the Autumn to gather the views of Member States and stakeholders. If, eventually, no specific provisions are introduced in the guidelines the Commission would simply keep assessing notifications under the general Treaty rules on state aid, building specific criteria through its case practice.
In any event it should be clear that the adoption of such provisions in the guidelines would not make the granting of state aid to nuclear energy easier for Member States compared to the present situation. Each notification by a Member State would of course still be subject to a case-by-case analysis by the European Commission. The Commission would still very carefully check that the aid is necessary, proportional, addresses a real market failure and that it does not lead to undue distortions in the Single Market, in line with the objective of state aid control which is to preserve competition.
Finally, the existence of specific provisions on nuclear in these guidelines, alongside other provisions such as provisions on state aid for renewable energy sources (RES), would also not imply that RES and nuclear energy would be given the same status. The EU has adopted objectives on renewable energy sources (RES) and has a policy of promoting RES as part of its Europe 2020 strategy. Nuclear power does not have such a status in EU policy. Again, the inclusion of provisions on nuclear energy in the guidelines would only mean that the aid granted by those Member States who want to grant such aid would be assessed by the Commission on the basis of the conditions set out in the guidelines, rather than directly under the Treaty rules.
Needless to say, the inclusion of such provisions in the guidelines would have no implications whatsoever concerning Germany's nuclear phaseout. Each Member State is free to define the role it intends to give (or not to give) to nuclear power in its energy mix.