* Guidelines expected to be made public in November
* Cases such as Britain to be decided individually
* State aid rules could be agreed early next year
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Oct 8 Britain's plans to use public
money to subsidise a new generation of nuclear power suffered a
setback on Tuesday when EU policy-makers decided to exclude
atomic electricity from a list of funding guidelines.
An early draft raised expectations the Commission was
preparing to sanction public support for nuclear power and
whipped up a storm of protest, especially in the biggest EU
Germany is phasing out nuclear power and replacing it with
renewable sources, such as wind and solar, whereas Britain wants
to build new nuclear plants with the help of public funds.
Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani said EU Competition
Commissioner Joaquin Almunia proposed that guidelines, expected
to be published in November, should not include specific
criteria on nuclear power. The other commissioners agreed with
him at an internal meeting on Tuesday, he said.
Omitting nuclear energy from the guidelines does not
necessarily mean that using taxpayers' money to help finance
nuclear power would be illegal under EU law.
"This simply means that state aid notifications by member
states will continue to be assessed directly under (EU) treaty
rules and the standard in this field will be determined by the
Commission's case practice," Colombani said.
In reality, any decision on the legitimacy of Britain's
plans to use public money to help finance the Hinkley Point
nuclear plant in southwest England is likely to set a legal
precedent, EU sources said.
The level of public support for the new plant, to be built
by French firm EDF, is seen as vital to its success.
Environment campaigners and Green politicians welcomed
"It is a major setback for the legal certainty of nuclear
energy," said Claude Turmes, a member of the European Parliament
representing the Green party.
The issue of whether the general public should subsidise
nuclear as well as other forms of energy has been divisive
within the European Commission, the EU executive, as well as at
the level of national governments.
Internal documents seen by Reuters showed objections from
within the Commission to an earlier draft version of the
guidelines under review.
"The impression given in the draft is that the Commission
opens up aid to fossil fuel energy and nuclear while becoming
much stricter on aid to renewable energy," an internal document
from the Commission's climate service said.
It also questioned why nuclear should need state aid, given
that it is a mature technology. In principle, EU law says
subsidies should be reserved for new technology, such as solar.
A separate document from the energy service says a proposed
phase-out of renewable subsidies requires "a longer transition
EU sources said the Commission would continue to debate how
to tackle "the distorting effect" of overly generous renewable
State aid guidelines differ from other EU law in that they
do not have to be approved through lengthy consultation with
member states and parliament and the Commission has said they
will be finalised early next year.