19 April 2013

When is A Free Market Not a Free Market?

We have a joke in the South-West Green Party along the lines of the Monty Python sketch about the Romans but ours revolves around the question 'What has the EU ever done for us?' As someone who is critical of Europe, although not a Euro-sceptic, I am glad to be reminded that Europe has constrained the worst excesses of neoliberalism in Britain, and that much of this results from the actions of the powerful Green Group in the European Parliament. Now it looks as thought the EU is the last hope to stop the dangerous decision to build a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

An article in the Guardian last month suggested that the EU Commission looks set to set up a full-scale inquiry into the massive government subsidies that are needed to encourage EDF to build at Hinkley Point in Somerset following the disastrous planning decision gave the new station the go ahead last month. Ironically, it is the hugely destructive single market regulations that this time might delay or even scupper the project, since that mythical 'level playing-field' must be ensured for all energy generators and, although EDF is not a UK company, if the UK government offers it financial incentives to build at Hinkley Point that could still contravene what is considered to be free competition.

The comment from Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace, is most pertinent: 'The government wouldn't need state aid approval for nuclear if it wasn't trying to subsidise a risky technology that could wind up costing more than the renewable alternative'. The misguided policy to give life support to a dying and obsolete industry is also a dangerous diversion from the urgent investments we need to make in the energy generation of the future, the renewable forms of energy generation such as windpower, wavepower and solar that are clean and do not damage the health of current and future generations.

Meanwhile, South-West MEP Graham Watson has told the somewhat ironically titled Business Green that he supports subsidies for nuclear in the South-West. Following the change of direction of the party, led by Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Watson 'defended the UK government's right to offer hefty state aid support for new nuclear reactors'. He argued that the nuclear industry has a fair case for subsidies because fossil fuel suppliers also receive generous government support. To which we can only suggest that two wrongs do not make a right, and when the risks are as high as they are with nuclear any price is too high a price to pay.

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