EU gives up on ‘clean coal’ myth as Commission agrees to end funding

The European Commission has admitted that its Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS) is “hardly compatible” with the Paris Agreement and must be changed. 

The €40 million-a-year RFCS has been heavily criticised since it was exposed by an article in Unearthed in January last year. A subsequent META investigation revealed the fund was being used to pay coal industry lobbyists to promote their business.

The Commission’s comments came in an answer to MEP Rasmus Andresen, who had submitted a written question to the Commission about the fund
Andresen had to wait five months for a response to his question, despite a requirement for the Commission to reply within six weeks.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “It’s good that [the Commission] wants to change the fund. It’s stupid that there is no clear timeline”.

The question referenced the META investigation and asked the Commission about the compatibility of funding coal projects with the Paris Agreement and the EU’s own Green Deal. With its answer the Commission has now admitted that the fund is not compatible and will need to be changed.

In an interview with META, Andresen said:

“Are the Commission and member states ready to fulfil the promises they made on the climate goals? We need full transparency about climate-harming projects currently funded by the EU budget, and we must stop fuelling them.”

“If the Commission fails at fixing a relatively small fund, how will they manage to fix the EU budget in line with the EU’s climate ambitions?” he added.

Andresen also asked about a Monitoring and Assessment report currently being prepared by the Commission into the function of the RFCS, and the potential for conflicts of interest in a key advisory group. In their reply to Andresen’s question, the Commision said the report would be published in 2020.

Euracoal – the European Coal industry’s lobbying organisation, which has been granted fund from the RFCS – is a member of the Coal Advisory Group (CAG), which has a role in setting the priorities for the fund and advises the Commission on how the money should be spent.

The same is true for German energy giant RWE, the most toxic of coal polluters according to a report by Europe Beyond Coal. Last summer, META revealed how RWE was granted money from the fund to buy sulphur dioxide (SO2), the same gas they emit by burning coal in their power plants. The gas would be used as a raw material to develop fossil liquid fuels from lignite, the dirtiest kind of coal, and municipal solid waste.

The Commission’s answer makes it clear that CAG members are not allowed to attend discussions “relating to the rules concerning the evaluation of proposals [for funding]”, they are able to “advise on the procedures followed in the evaluation [of the RFCS]”.  

Riccardo Nigro, Campaign Coordinator on Coal Combustion and Mines at the EEB, told META: “This is still very problematic. Beneficiaries of public money cannot be the ones setting the rules to assess how that money is spent – especially considering the coal industry’s record. A serious evaluation should be open to public participation by all concerned groups.”

“People and nature have paid enough for the greed of the coal industry. There is no future for coal financing in a Europe that is moving beyond coal,” said Nigro.