The EU’s 27 energy ministers on Friday (11 June) came to an uneasy compromise on the revision of EU rules covering investments in cross-border energy infrastructure, the so-called TEN-E regulation. The fraught debate sets an unwelcome precedent for future debates over gas.
The final compromise text, agreed by EU countries on Friday, left some capitals unhappy with the bloc’s restrictive approach to gas while others refused to support it because it allows too much fossil gas into Europe’s future pipeline network.
What the Dutch delegation called an “even distribution of unhappiness” over the issue also casts a long shadow over any future debate around gas.
“It clearly shows how controversial the gas issue is, even within the institutions,” said Elisa Giannelli, policy advisor at E3G, a climate think tank.
“It’s a controversial issue that will keep splitting the majorities in every institution,” she added. “I think that what we saw on Friday doesn’t really set the best type of precedent for the upcoming legislation.”
The revision of the regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure (TEN-E) saw an even split between 11 mostly western European countries and nine mostly central and eastern European countries over natural gas.
Both sides had a blocking majority, making a compromise extremely difficult to find.
The hard-fought agreement left the door open for some natural gas projects, including grandfathering – or rolling over – for current projects in Cyprus and Malta aimed at connecting the two Mediterranean islands to the European gas grid.
Another hotly contested issue was whether the EU should provide financial support for blending hydrogen into fossil gas. Up to 20% hydrogen can be safely added to existing gas pipelines without requiring retrofitting, a move supporters say can be a first and easy step to decarbonise Europe’s gas grid. Above that threshold, pipelines require an expensive retrofitting or refurbishing to carry greater quantities of hydrogen.
On Friday, EU energy ministers agreed to end financial support for blending gas projects in 2027 rather than 2029. They also agreed to stop financing for “retrofitting” pipelines, but left in the possibility for “conversion”.
But according to Giannelli, this is more a play on words rather than a significant increase in ambition.
“I think that a better compromise could have been found. When you look at the original Commission proposal, yes, you have low-carbon references, but you don’t have any grandfathering, you don’t have any blending,” she told EURACTIV.