The Austrian government is considering withdrawal from the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), a controversial energy investment protection treaty, after a reform spearheaded by the European Commission failed on Friday.
The ECT came into force in the late 1990s and was designed to boost investments in post-soviet countries. It has since come under fire by activists, as companies have relied on it to sue governments for phasing out fossil fuels.
On Friday, EU countries were supposed to agree to the reform proposal negotiated by the European Commission – which would have loosened the ECT. After Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands abstained, the reform could not be passed ahead of the 53-party ECT conference on Tuesday (22 November).
“There are many fundamental criticisms of the Energy Charter Treaty, all the more so after the failure of modernisation,” Austria’s Green Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler, whose party has long been in favour of exiting the treaty, said on Saturday.
“The modernised treaty would have created better protection for investments in renewable energy sources and accelerated the energy transition,” said Economy Minister Martin Kocher, whose conservative ÖVP party, currently in a ruling coalition with the Greens, has long been reluctant to withdraw from the ECT, instead betting on reform.
Given the failure of reform, “we too will now reassess the situation and subject Austrian [ECT] membership to a review,” he added.
Vienna’s decision may depend on the outcome of Tuesday’s conference, during which it was initially hoped, as the ECT demands, that unanimous agreement on the reform championed by the ÖVP was reached.
The largest opposition party, the SPÖ, and trade unions have called for Austria to withdraw.
(Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)