A diplomatic cable indicating repercussions for Austria if it doesn’t drop its opposition to the UK’s nuclear power project at Hinkley Point has been leaked to the mainstream media.
UK ministers are warning their Austrian counterparts retaliatory messages will be instigated if Vienna goes ahead with plans to challenge an EU state aid decision approving subsidies for new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
David Cameron’s government is applying pressure in the knowledge that an Austrian legal objection could prove very damaging for the country’s energy plan. Lawyers say that an appeal by Austria could take between three and four years, almost certainly delaying plans for the nuclear plant to produce 7 per cent of the nation’s electricity by 2023.
The cable sent from the Austrian embassy in London to Vienna, seen by the Guardian, says that the Foreign Office’s Europe director, Vijay Rangarajan, conveyed a message that “the UK will take in the future every opportunity to sue or damage Austria in areas that have strong internal political effects,” unless the lawsuit was dropped.
Initial measures would include: a complaint to the European Court about Austrian electricity labelling rules, pressure for Austria to contribute more to EU effort – sharing funds when it does not accept nuclear power as a “sustainable energy source”, and an investigation into whether Austria’s suit violated the Euratom treaty.
“Further steps and escalation cannot be excluded after the complaint has been submitted,” the cable says.
Austria’s chancellor Werner Faymann is seeking a meeting with David Cameron at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, after the foreign minister, Philip Hammond, called his Austrian opposite number, Sebastian Kurz, to protest Austria’s planned court action.
“Austria will not act under pressure, and will of course make use of all legal means at her disposal,” a spokesman for chancellor Faymann told the Guardian. “Issuing threats is a kind of behaviour we don’t want to see among partners in the EU.”
Government sources in Vienna said that they did not expect the latest British gambit to change their plans to appeal the EU state aid decision imminently.
“This is not the first intervention from the UK,” one source said. “We get a cable from our embassy every two or three weeks on that subject. They are stepping up the pressure a little bit but I cannot see very much substance to those threats.”
Stefan Pehringer, a foreign policy advisor to the government said that the suit was being launched because Vienna “does not consider nuclear power to be a sustainable form of technology – neither in environmental nor in economic terms”.
According to the cable, Austrian diplomats told Rangarajan that the country was not challenging the UK’s right to choose its energy mix, merely the compatibility of the UK’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme with EU rules on state aid.
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