The EU Commission's proposal to classify nuclear power and natural gas plants as "green" investments has become a sticking point between Germany and France.
An EU proposal to classify new nuclear power and natural gas investments as "green" has provoked a clash between Paris and Berlin.
The proposal aims to support the 27-nation bloc's shift towards a carbon-neutral future and build its credentials as a global standard-setter for fighting climate change.
The plans would have a huge impact on nuclear-powered economies like France and on Germany's gas-fueled power plants since they might have to fundamentally change their strategies.
What does the EU Commission want?
The EU Commission wants to label natural gas and nuclear power as climate-friendly under certain conditions, and include investments into both on its long-awaited taxonomy list.
The taxonomy list is a classification system that determines whether economic activities in an energy sector are environmentally sustainable or not.
According to the draft proposal by the EU Commission, investment in new nuclear plants can be considered "sustainable" if the disposal for high-level radioactive waste is guaranteed to be carried out safely under the specified technology standards.
To be deemed green, new nuclear plants must receive construction permits before 2045.
France and Germany at loggerheads
France, Europe’s biggest producer of nuclear power, has supported the plans to consider nuclear energy "climate friendly" and asked for nuclear power to be included in the“taxonomy” by the end of the year.
French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said the proposal is good on a technical level and insisted that the bloc "cannot become carbon neutral by 2050 without nuclear energy.”
However, Germany is heading the other way.
The German government welcomes the plans to make natural gas energy sustainable, but strongly rejects the proposal for nuclear energy.
The country shut down half of the six nuclear plants it still had in operation last week, even as Europe faced one of its worst-ever energy crises, following Angela Merkel's timetable for phasing out atomic energy.
"We consider nuclear technology to be dangerous," government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, noting that the question of what to do with radioactive waste that will last for thousands of generations remains unresolved.
Hebestreit added that Germany "expressly rejects" the EU's assessment of atomic energy and has repeatedly stated this position toward the commission.
Germany's Environment Minister Steffi Lemke told German media group Funke that including gas and nuclear would be "a mistake", arguing that atomic power "can lead to devastating environmental catastrophes".
Positive responses to the inclusion of natural gas power plants has also stirred debate in Germany.
Hebestreit said the German government's goal is to use natural gas only as a "bridge technology" and replace it with non-polluting alternatives such as hydrogen produced with renewable energy by 2045, the deadline the country has set to become climate neutral.
Environmentalists have criticised Germany's emphasis on natural gas, which is less polluting than coal but still produces carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas - when it is burned.
How did others react?
The Czech Republic, along with Poland, say nuclear power has a big role to play given its lack of CO2 emissions.
The Czech government and Czech industry officials also initially welcomed gas and nuclear inclusion in the draft rules, but criticism emerged after some looked closer at the details.
"Our main task now is to reach out to like-minded EU member states and try to negotiate better conditions that will more reflect our interests," Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said on Twitter.
Austria, alongside Luxembourg, opposed nuclear power and sharply rejected the proposed regulation.
Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler said "the EU Commission took a step towards greenwashing nuclear power and fossil gas in a night and fog action.”
"They are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children,” Gewessler added.
The environmental NGO Greenpeace called the Commission draft proposals “a licence to greenwash.”
"Polluting companies will be delighted to have the EU’s seal of approval to attract cash and keep wrecking the planet by burning fossil gas and producing radioactive waste,” said Greenpeace's Magda Stoczkiewicz.
Member states and experts consulted by the commission have two weeks to demand revisions to the proposal before a final draft is published in mid-January.
The 27 EU member states now have until January 12 to comment on the Commission's draft, and the Commission hopes to adopt a final text by the end of the month.
After that, the text can be discussed with EU governments and parliament for up to six months.
The plans will not be implemented if at least 20 EU countries representing at least 65 percent of the EU population, or at least 353 members of parliament, vote against it.
It does not seem possible to obtain a majority on the objection of the proposal as so far only Germany, Austria, Denmark, Portugal and Luxembourg have strongly voiced their opposition.