MEPs want guarantees EU funds for Malta gas pipeline do not go to Electrogas

EPP supports list of projects for EU funds, but say they will follow up on Malta-Sicily gas pipeline and Electrogas connection

EPP MEP Christian Ehler
EPP MEP Christian Ehler
MEPs want guarantees EU funds for Malta gas pipeline do not go to Electrogas

A gas pipeline between Malta and Sicily will form part of a list of energy projects eligible for EU funding, after MEPs in the industry committee voted down a resolution to keep out gas projects from the list.

Another vote is now expected in the plenary, with objecting MEPs expected to table a new resolution.

Notably, the European People’s Party group supported what it described as “a very important list of energy infrastructure projects to make the European energy system more resilient and future-proof”.

But in a statement taken before the vote, Christian Ehler, the EPP’s spokesman on the fifth list of the so-called Projects of Common Interest (PCIs), said the group would seek guarantees from the Maltese government and the European Commission that “no EU money will go directly or indirectly to criminals.”

Green NGOs tell MEPs that Malta pipeline funding should be refused

The reference is to the Melite pipeline’s connection to the power plant owned and operated by Electrogas, the company whose shareholders include Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, accused of having masterminded the Caruana Galizia assassination.

“The EPP Group has strong reservations about the Maltese gas pipeline project on the list. One of the shareholders of the project stands accused of conspiring to murder investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. We will support the list as a whole because the Parliament cannot object to an individual project. However, we demand that the EU Commission provides iron-clad guarantees that no funds will go to criminals,” Ehler told the committee of MEPs.

Pipeline plans: Malta studying ‘availability’ of hydrogen from Sicily

The committee as a whole voted down a resolution proposed by Green and Left MEPs not to accept the Commission’s PCI list, which will fast-track permitting for financing via the Connecting Europe Facility programme. The objecting MEPs said the EU should not fund the construction of any new fossil fuel infrastructure with potential lock-in consequences, given that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change.

The objection was rejected with 18 votes in favour and 57 against.

But Ehler told the committee that the EPP saw the PCIs as crucial to making Europe’s energy system future and climate proof.

“We see gas as a bridging technology. To reduce Europe’s CO2 emissions, Europe also needs gas. Not for ever and everywhere, but for a transitional period and in certain situations. Gas is the cleanest fossil energy source and gas infrastructure can be used in the future to transport clean hydrogen. By using gas, Europe can achieve CO2 reductions faster by moving away from, for example, coal without having to wait for fully carbon-free technologies to be widely available.”

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar, a member of ITRE, said the fifth PCI list was a step forward to achieve the ambitious targets of the Green Deal, while also taking into account the security of supply of Member States. “This 5th list represents an improvement in comparison to the 4th list.”

MEPs from the EPP’s Italian delegation had already submitted a request to the European Commission asking for clarification that EU funds will not be awarded to people linked to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder.

The Caruana Galizia family has argued that EU funds for a Malta-Sicily gas pipeline could benefit Yorgen Fenech as a shareholder in the Electrogas consortium.The Maltese gas pipeline was originally excluded from the Connecting Europe Facility funding in both 2020 and 2021.

But it was reinserted in a new list where it was rebranded as a ‘hydrogen ready’ pipeline, thanks to a derogation from the original rules as agreed by EU energy ministers. Instead the gas pipeline will be built so as to also transport hydrogen, with the European Commission agreeing to allow “blending projects” during a transitional period that ends in 2029.

The Council declared that entities connected to fraud, corruption or conduct related to criminal organisations will be excluded from such funding, a possible reference to the presence of Electrogas as owner of Malta’s gas plant.

During the negotiations with EU governments on the future on the Trans European Energy Infrastructure (TEN-E) guidelines, it was the EPP’s negotiator, Tom Berendsen MEP, who pushed successfully for a legal safeguard blocking EU money from going into criminals’ pockets, in particular in the Malta pipeline case.

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