At the end of May 2020, eight EU countries (Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece) started lobbying to retain EU funds for natural gas projects. They say that without natural gas, coal can't be phased out in time to meet short and middle term climate targets.
From this, environmental groups are worried that Europe's Green deal is being watered down.
In earlier communications on the proposal, the European Commission called to phase out support for fossil fuels completely. Now the official line is: natural gas continues to play a key role in replacing coal.
Climate activists like Marcus Trilling from Climate Action Network want a block on any funding for natural gas from EU coronavirus recovery funds.
"We see the lobbying of the fossil fuel industry as well on the highest level in the commission, which still until today was not able to clearly say we don't provide fossil fuel subsidies from the EU sources anymore," says Trilling.
These are "investment decisions which are shaping the infrastructure, the economy of the decades to come. If I am now investing in fossil gas, then I am locking in emissions in those decades to come," he went on.
Romanian Liberal Member of the European Parliament Dragoș Tudorache says investing in natural gas infrastructure is not a waste of money.
"Moving straight away from coal to something that is completely fossil fuel independent is impossible if you don't transit through something. And that transition, unless other technology becomes available, is natural gas. Of course, this in time also has to be made sustainable in terms of our green goals. And there are technologies right now where hydrogen is expected to replace gradually natural gas and of course that has to be part of the projects that we are developing," the MEP said.
But Green MEPs like Belgian leader Philippe Lamberts says the EU should keep recovery money completely green. According to him, "we should not kill the airline industry, or the automotive industry but we have to force them into transforming. So we do not want that these companies go bankrupt, but if they need public support, the condition should be a deep transformation of their business model. And in the case of the airlines industry, it means also shrinking."
The central and eastern European countries who are lobbying for natural gas may end up accepting green conditionality in exchange for retaining their place as countries that take more money out of the EU budget then they put in.
EU leaders are continuing discussions on the coronavirus recovery fund they call 'Next Generation EU' and the EU Budget on June 19th.