Diplomatic row with Austria over EDF nuclear power station escalates

Austria is staunchly anti-nuclear

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The Independent Online

The UK will take “every opportunity to sue or damage Austria” if Vienna does not drop a legal challenge to the construction of a £24.5bn nuclear power station in Somerset, according to a leaked memo.

Austria is staunchly anti-nuclear and will soon formalise an appeal against the EU’s decision to allow the UK government to pay subsidies to the French energy giant EDF to build Hinkley Point C, the first in a new generation of civil reactors.

According to the memo, written by the deputy Austrian ambassador in London, Christoph Weidinger, this has sparked a diplomatic row that could “escalate” when Vienna submits its appeal.

The memo says that a senior Foreign Office official, Vijay Rangarajan, threatened three legal counter-challenges to Austria’s energy practices, a move environmental campaigners at Greenpeace blasted as “bullying”.

Details of the exchange, which occurred last month, come as David Cameron is due to meet the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, at a summit  in Brussels today.

Warning that the Austrian challenge will have “negative effects on bilateral relations, because there would be strength of feeling, up to the PM”, the UK is said to have demanded a meeting to explain the damage that Austria could face.

Mr Weidinger said that the UK will complain that Austria’s decision to make electricity distributors mark the source of electricity on bills, allowing householders to snub any energy originating from nuclear stations, violated internal market rules.

Mr Rangarajan is alleged to have warned that the UK will also investigate whether Austria’s challenge to the EDF deal violates an existing treaty, and will try to force Austria to take a larger share of electricity from sustainable sources than its European neighbours.

The subisdy deal, which EDF wanted before it risked billions building the plant, involves the UK guaranteeing the French a minimum price for every unit of electricity generated from Hinkley. 

The memo states: “The UK has obviously started, including the use of the UK Embassy in Vienna… with systematic preparation of counter measures to damage Austria.”

David Lowry, an environmental consultant, said: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office has gone to this level of diplomatic incident in order to protect the unsustainable.” 

A Whitehall source said the UK there was no “bullying” involved. A government spokeswoman said: “We have no reason to believe that Austria, or any other party, is preparing a case which has any merit.”