Nuclear energy united Europe. Now it is dividing the club – Charlemagne for the Economist – 30.10.21
France says it is green. Germany says it isn’t. France will win - Clean energy requires dirty deals
Nuclear policy is a reminder that fates in the EU are bound together, whether the topic is energy, the environment or the economy. As the EU’s energy market integrates, those countries that pride themselves on only using the cleanest energy will benefit from those that rely on more debatable sources. The EU is an increasingly homogenous beast, with fewer carve-outs for those who want to do things differently. Collective decisions have collective outcomes. “To approach our atomic future separately…would have been insane,” wrote Monnet. The EU will approach its atomic future together, whether some countries like it or not.
BEFORE THE euro, Schengen, “Ode to Joy”, butter mountains and the Maastricht treaty, there was the atom. “The peaceful atom”, wrote Jean Monnet, the cognac salesman turned founding father of the EU, was to be “the spearhead for the unification of Europe”. Europe was a nuclear project before it was much else. In 1957 the EU’s founding members signed the Treaty of Rome to form the European Economic Community, the club’s forebear. At the same time they put their names to a less well-known organisation: Euratom, which would oversee nuclear power on the continent. The idea of the common market was nebulous; the potential of nuclear energy was clear.
Where nuclear power was once a source of unity for Europe, today it is a source of discord. The common market morphed into the EU of today, while Euratom became a backwater. Of the EU’s 27 countries, only 13 produce nuclear power. Some ban it. France and Germany, the two countries that dominate EU policymaking, find themselves directly opposed. France generates over 70% of its power from nuclear reactors. Germany has pledged to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022. For France and its atomic allies, nuclear energy has a bright future. For Germany and its sceptic kin, the technology is an unhealthy past.
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