The EU’s landmark €672.5bn (£579bn) Covid fund for a “green recovery” could finance construction of electricity pylons by a protected natural habitat, the purchase of diesel-fuelled tractors and new furnaces at a controversial steel plant, under member states’ national plans.
An assessment by MEPs of the funding proposals from 23 member states so far submitted to the European Commission found a legion of examples of projects that it is claimed risk undermining the green credentials of the recovery and resilience facility (RRF).
Under the RRF, the EU will provide grants worth a total of €312.5bn plus €360bn in loans to the 27 member states, which are currently submitting their national plans to the commission for approval.
Among the cases picked out as being of concern is the potential for funding for a line of 34 electricity towers alongside the Riera de Santa Coloma, designated as a protected natural area under the EU’s Natura 2000 initiative, which is an important point for migrating birds in north-east Spain. The project is an overground offshoot of the construction of an ultra-high-voltage underground power line connecting France and Spain.
“The Spanish plan includes as a part of the cross-border electrical connections between Spain and France the ‘Mediterranean interconnection’, which runs 200 metres next to a Natura 2000 area,” MEPs said in a letter to the commission. “The environmental impact assessment is insufficient and out of date. It does not present the basic information necessary in its substantial impact on endangered species.”
The Italian government, meanwhile, has suggested in its national plan that a steel plant in Taranto, which was at the centre of an environmental scandal in 2012 that led to the imprisonment of its then owners, could receive financing.
The plant is seeking to build less polluting furnaces but this would happen alongside maintenance of the two current coal blastfurnaces, local campaigners have been informed. “To date, the steel plant lacks an environmental impact assessment and a health impact assessment,” MEPs wrote.
They said that under the objective of “innovation and modernisation” in the agricultural sector, the Italian government was offering incentives for replacement of older machinery which allows for the purchase of diesel tractors. The MEPs said this was in effect “incentivising the use of fossil fuels”.
Concerns were raised that initiatives with little positive environmental impact were being misdescribed in some national plans in order to meet a target of 37% of spending being on green investment.
One such proposal from the Czech Republic is support for entrepreneurship, 40% of the funding of which is said to be of benefit in tackling the climate emergency. The replacement of coal-based boilers by gas-based heating systems is also categorised as being a green investment by some member states.
In a letter to the commission, the co-leaders of the Greens in the European parliament, Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, said the principle of “do no significant harm” and a requirement to correctly categorise environmentally friendly investments had been “circumvented, ignored or simply not addressed – leading to greenwashing and in some cases to a potential breach of the 37% spending requirement for green investment”.
Lamberts said he was concerned that the recovery fund would become “just another greenwashing exercise”. The commission did not respond to a request for comment.