The European Parliament has cleared the way for investments in natural gas and nuclear power to be classified as sustainable under certain conditions. The so-called taxonomy rules for the financial market should therefore take effect from 2023. Only a veto by 20 of the 27 EU member states could still prevent this, which is considered very unlikely.

Of the 639 MEPs present at the plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday, 278 voted to block the project. 328 did not want this, 33 abstained. A veto by Parliament would have required a majority of 353 votes out of a total of 705 MPs.

The unrest among the MEPs was unusually large. Because they had it in their hands to thwart the EU Commission’s plans to classify investments in nuclear power and gas as climate-friendly. For months, the opponents of this so-called taxonomy had collected votes for their project. Most recently, the environmental and economic committees of the EU Parliament narrowly rejected the taxonomy in its present form. But now the opponents of the plans have failed.

The bitter argument about the taxonomy broke out last New Year’s Eve. The EU Commission published the highly controversial paper just a few hours before midnight. The taxonomy is intended to give investors and banks a guide as to which technology is to be classified as sustainable in terms of climate. It is therefore of great importance for the financial sector, but also for Germany as a whole, since more and more investors only want to invest in green technologies. Mainly at the urging of France, nuclear power was included in the taxonomy, Germany campaigned for gas.

The parliamentarians were annoyed by what they saw as an almost autocratic approach by the Commission. Many MPs then made their own position clear. It turned out that the boundaries on this topic cut across factions and country groups. Even many of the conservative MPs, who are considered very pro-business, reject the proposed guidelines.

“There is simply no appetite on the market for a taxonomy with nuclear energy and gas,” explained Markus Ferber (CSU) after the vote in the Economic Committee. The CSU MEP is economic policy spokesman for the EPP group in the European Parliament. “A taxonomy that is not accepted by the market is not worth the paper it is written on,” was his scathing conclusion.

The Greens, who were the only group in the European Parliament to reject the proposal unanimously, were given a new security argument after Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Europe’s quick farewell to gas is not only better for the climate, but also ends the fatal dependence on Russian energy imports.

However, the EU Commission did not only fuel the rebellion of the MPs with the provocative timing of the publication. The taxonomy was created as a so-called delegated act. This means that Parliament and the Member States do not have to approve the legal act. You can only block him by objecting. But that has also outraged many of the deputies, because they simply felt ignored. “The EU Commission must learn that it cannot bypass Parliament and must take our proposals seriously,” said SPD MP Joachim Schuster.

In Berlin, at the turn of the year, within the traffic light coalition, the Greens in particular reacted with incomprehension to the Commission’s taxonomy proposal. At the time, the chairman of the Bundestag’s Europe Committee, Anton Hofreiter (Greens), considered it important that there was a majority in Strasbourg against the Commission’s proposal. “To equate nuclear energy and natural gas with wind and solar power is madness in terms of climate and security policy,” he told the Tagesspiegel.

The planned awarding of the eco-label to nuclear power and natural gas contradicts the green transformation that Europe now urgently needs, said the Green politician at the time. The EU must not only preserve its livelihoods, but also make itself independent of “autocrats like Putin”. If large quantities of gas and uranium continue to be imported into Europe for the nuclear industry, there will be no energy security in the EU. “Financing Putin’s war with our gas bill and selling it as a sustainable interim solution is a political mistake,” said Hofreiter.

The European policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, Christian Petry, had told the Tagesspiegel that he would welcome it if the EU Parliament contradicted the decision of the EU Commission. “Even if this classification does not mean financial support, but is intended to offer financial investors non-binding orientation, it could direct capital into projects that have no permanent future,” he said in justification.

But he also has to acknowledge that opinions on the taxonomy vary widely among EU countries, Petry said. Therefore, despite Germany’s negative attitude in the Council of Ministers, where all 27 EU states are represented, there was not a sufficient majority against the Commission’s decision.

Even if the classification of natural gas and nuclear as “green” energy carriers were to remain in place after the vote by the EU Parliament, “that is not satisfactory, but not the final word,” added Petry. Austria wants to take legal action before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against the inclusion of nuclear power and gas in the taxonomy regulation.