By Hans-Josef Fell, President of Energy Watch Group.
The British vote to leave the European Union deeply shocked both sides of the English Channel. Crashing financial markets, prospects of economic depression and calls from right-wing anti-Europeans to further split the EU, the biggest peace project on the continent since the World War II, are making headlines.
It is beyond doubt that Brexit will have disastrous consequences for the European community and especially the UK itself. The country might be facing a break-up, as a largely pro-European Northern Ireland considers joining the Republic of Ireland and Scotland is calling for a new independence referendum. All too long London has been blocking Scotland’s political ambitions, among others the country’s effort to switch to a 100% renewable energy supply.
Yet, in the media outcry one good piece of news went unnoticed. If implemented, Brexit would de facto mean the UK’s withdrawal from all European treaties, including the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) treaty. Signed in 1957, EURATOM together with the European Economic Community and the already expired European Coal and Steel Community was one of the treaties establishing the EU.
This means the British government would not be able to count on EURATOM financial and research support anymore. That’s the first bit of good news: it implies that Brexit might be the final nail in the coffin of the UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project. Although EURATOM did not officially provide for a feed-in compensation for Hinkley Point C, DG Competition of the European Commission in 2014 did approve the UK government’s state aid for the project, based in part on DG Energy’s approval of the project in 2012 under the Euratom treaty.
Most importantly, as a result of Brexit the UK government will not be able to count on favourable EURATOM loans anymore, nor on the research programmes and disposal documents that EURATOM member states profit significantly from.
Note that other nuclear power projects in the UK are also affected. Thus, for example, the future of the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion reactor, operated on behalf of Euratom by the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Oxford, is now in doubt.
Excuse for Germany
But that is not all. The British unilateral exit also proves wrong the German government’s claim that a unilateral withdrawal from EURATOM is impossible.
As a member of the German Parliament with the Green parliamentary group I have repeatedly called for Germany to leave the treaty, to no avail. So the other good news is that Brexit removes any excuse for Germany and other EU member states not to withdraw from the EURATOM treaty.
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