The Commission has raised doubts on almost every aspect of this project. Photo: Getty
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Hinkley nuclear power plant bombshell for out-going European Commission

Outgoing college members face a decision with far-reaching consequences on the Hinkley C power plant.

The 28-strong outgoing European Commission might have been hoping for a gentle exit. But en route to the exit door, former EU President Barroso and his sidekick, competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, have dropped a radioactive bombshell. In the next few days the outgoing college members face a decision with far-reaching consequences, both for the integrity of decision making in Europe and for European energy policy for anything up to the next 50 years.

This Wednesday EU Commissioners are due to vote on whether to give the green light to the financial deal that would see Hinkley C nuclear power plant being built in Somerset, and subsequently open the door for further nuclear expansion across Europe. The deal would see EDF, the company planning to build Hinkley C, offered a strike price for its electricity of £92.50 per MWh – roughly twice the current wholesale price of power – as well as a state credit guarantee of £10bn.

In December 2013, the Commission raised doubts on almost all aspects of the project, stating that the “aid would in principle be incompatible under EU state aid rules.” At that stage it raised a number of serious concerns about the level of government money that was being provided and the nature of the contract. Given this clear legal ruling, Commissioners will need to ask themselves what has changed since then.

The Commission itself valued the state aid for EDF from the UK government at £17.6bn: at what point is state aid no longer state aid? The Commission raised concerns about the failure of Hinkley to meet energy security criteria, given that it would not produce any electricity until at least 2023. So when does lack of energy security suddenly become energy security? The Commission also concluded that the nuclear industry was a mature industry that did not warrant state aid: at what point does a mature industry suddenly become an immature one?

In the corridors of Brussels it is whispered that the German federal government has been involved in a back-room deal. Angela Merkel has previously achieved exemptions from EU subsidy rules for the German government’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). The legislation behind this, which provides feed-in incentives for renewable energy technologies, is helping transform energy generation away from fossil fuels and nuclear towards renewables, which now accounts for around 30 per cent of Germany's electricity.

However, in return for the European Commission granting exemptions from EU subsidy rules, Merkel is rumoured to have agreed to support British nuclear subsidies. So, while the Berlin government is de-commissioning its own nuclear power plants and turning to renewables, it is at the same time undermining nuclear phase-out across the rest of Europe.

The case of Hinkley Point C shows clearly that nuclear power is neither economic nor competitive; if it were it would not need the inflated strike price to make it profitable. Wind power is already cheaper than nuclear on land and by 2023, the earliest date a new reactor in England would become operational, a whole range of other technologies will be able to provide electricity at much lower cost.

In some European countries – such as Sweden and the Czech Republic – new plants are not being pursued precisely because they are not economically viable. If Commissioners agree the Hinkley deal, UK taxpayers would be left paying for one of the most expensive power-stations in the world – and for the consequences when things go wrong – while EDF rakes in subsidies. Such a move would also lock in support for nuclear for decades, just as major banks are telling investors the smart money is in renewable energy. For example, giant multinational investment bank, UBS, has concluded Hinkley could be obsolete within 10 to 20 years. They say large power stations will soon become extinct because they are inflexible, and are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. The bank urges investors to “join the [solar] revolution”.

Nuclear power-stations cannot be part of our future. They are simply too expensive and too dangerous and there is still no solution for the radioactive waste. The European Commission must avoid making a false case on the economic viability of nuclear and instead make clear its preference for Member States to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This is the best way of ensuring our energy security and independence from gas and oil imports from Russia and other countries. Nuclear is a red herring; it takes at least a decade before a plant such as Hinkley can come on-stream. Renewables on the other hand offer greater flexibility and are quicker to install.

As Green MEPs our appeal is to the 27 other Commissioners: Do you agree with the proposal from Joaquín Almunia? Or will you dare to replace his backward-looking deal with a future-oriented, secure energy policy for the Union? It is vital that the out-going commission dispel the suspicions of citizens by making the right choice over Hinkley.

We believe a new pact for energy efficiency and security provided by a variety of clean renewable sources is what is needed. We urge departing Commissioners to walk through the exit door with their heads held high, in the knowledge they showed principled opposition and set Europe on a course for an energy policy for the common good.

Molly Scott Cato is the Green MEP for the southwest of England and Gibraltar, elected as the first Green MEP for the region in May 2014. She was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. She is Green Party parliamentary candidate for Bristol West.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.