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Brexit Offers a Chance to Finally Put an End to the EURATOM Treaty

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Euratom protest in Germany, 2015 (photo Uwe Hiksch)

EURATOM protest in Germany, 2015 (Photo: Uwe Hiksch)

All EU Member States are automatically obliged to be part of the EURATOM treaty, which promotes the development of nuclear power throughout the EU. It is high time to put an end to this situation,  writes Hans-Josef Fell, president of the Energy Watch Group and a former member of the German parliament for the Greens. According to Fell, Brexit will offer a unique chance to dissolve EURATOM: since the UK will have to leave EURATOM as a result of Brexit, it will finally become clear that it is possible for countries like Germany to unilaterally leave the Treaty.

The British vote to leave the European Union deeply shocked both sides of the English Channel. Crashing financial markets, prospects of economic depression and calls from right-wing anti-Europeans to further split the EU, the biggest peace project on the continent since the World War II, are making headlines.

It is beyond doubt that Brexit will have disastrous consequences for the European community and especially the UK itself. The country might be facing a break-up, as a largely pro-European Northern Ireland considers joining the Republic of Ireland and Scotland is calling for a new independence referendum. All too long London has been blocking Scotland’s political ambitions, among others the country’s effort to switch to a 100% renewable energy supply.

Every new EU member state becomes a EURATOM member by default. Brexit means the reverse case must apply – the UK would have to withdraw from the EURATOM Treaty too

Yet, in the media outcry one good piece of news went unnoticed. If implemented, Brexit would de facto mean the UK’s withdrawal from all European treaties, including the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) treaty. Signed in 1957, EURATOM together with the European Economic Community and the already expired European Coal and Steel Community was one of the treaties establishing the EU.

Nuclear phase-out

EURATOM became the foundation of the nuclear industry in the European Union and due to numerous association agreements affects regions far beyond its borders. Just recently, on 28 June, Ukraine joined the EURATOM Research and Training Programme.

EURATOM is valid indefinitely and unlike the Lisbon Treaty does not include a withdrawal clause. For this reason, to this day the German Federal Government has rejected continuous calls to leave the treaty and in this way has officially been supporting nuclear energy despite its own nuclear phase-out by 2022.

Every new EU member state becomes a EURATOM member by default. Brexit means the reverse case must apply – the UK would have to withdraw from the EURATOM Treaty too.

It is high time for a EURATOM Conference, which hasn’t taken place for decades

This means the British government would not be able to count on EURATOM financial and research support anymore. That’s the first bit of good news: it implies that Brexit might be the final nail in the coffin of the UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project. Although EURATOM did not officially provide for a feed-in compensation for Hinkley Point C, DG Competition of the European Commission in 2014 did approve the UK government’s state aid for the project, based in part on DG Energy’s approval of the project in 2012 under the Euratom treaty.

Most importantly, as a result of Brexit the UK government will not be able to count on favourable EURATOM loans anymore, nor on the research programmes and disposal documents that EURATOM member states profit significantly from.

Note that other nuclear power projects in the UK are also affected. Thus, for example, the future of the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion reactor, operated on behalf of Euratom by the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Oxford, is now in doubt.

Excuse for Germany

But that is not all. The British unilateral exit also proves wrong the German government’s claim that a unilateral withdrawal from EURATOM is impossible.

As a member of the German Parliament with the Green parliamentary group I have repeatedly called for Germany to leave the treaty, to no avail. So the other good news is that Brexit removes any excuse for Germany and other EU member states not to withdraw from the EURATOM treaty.

The signatory nations need to discuss the Brexit consequences. It is a high time for a EURATOM Conference, which hasn’t taken place for decades. It is also a high time for Germany — the energy transition pioneer worldwide — to terminate financial support for EURATOM and to integrate the essential clauses on safety standards, nuclear waste disposal and population protection into an improved EU directive.

As the unity of the European Union is put under test, its foundations cannot be based on the EURATOM Treaty anymore

Needless to say the huge damage done by Brexit to European integration cannot be compensated. Yet, Brexit does offer a unique opportunity for the European community to put an end to the support of nuclear power. Therefore, the termination of the EURATOM Treaty needs to be put on the EU agenda now.

As the unity of the European Union is put under test, its foundations cannot be based on the EURATOM Treaty anymore. A core task of EURATOM was support of the nuclear industry. The treaty says it aims at creating “the conditions necessary for the development of a powerful nuclear industry”. It is long overdue to put an end to this support following the Chernobyl and the Fukushima disasters and a skyrocketing development of renewable energy worldwide.

Hans-Josef Fell was member of the German parliament from 1998 to 2013 in the Alliance 90/the Greens group. He is the co-author of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act 2000, and president of the Energy Watch Group.

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