[Interview] K-taxonomy’s inclusion of nuclear power only partially draws on EU model, says ambassador

Posted on : 2022-10-06 16:28 KST Modified on : 2022-10-06 16:28 KST
The EU’s ambassador to South Korea said that renewables need to make up a much larger part of the equation in Korea’s plans for green energy
Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)
Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)

Ambassador Maria Castillo-Fernandez, 59, has spent more than 12 years working on EU-South Korea relations. Her first time working with the country came during the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. At the time, Castillo-Fernandez was working at the European Commission, managing overall relations with the Korean Peninsula. Between 2005 and 2008, she took over as the EU Delegation’s deputy head of mission in Seoul, in charge of the EU’s political relations and economic cooperation with both South and North Korea.

Speaking to the Hankyoreh on Sept. 29, Castillo underscored the EU’s willingness to play an active role in Korean Peninsula affairs, but was firm about the North needing to live up to its obligations. The following is the Hankyoreh’s interview with Castillo-Fernandez, which took place at the offices of the EU Delegation to South Korea in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29.

Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)
Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)
Hankyoreh: North Korea has continued to launch ballistic missiles in recent days. What are the EU’s thoughts on resuming dialogue with the North?

Castillo: We’re in challenging times, not only for Europe, but also for the Korean Peninsula. The EU has always been ready to help all diplomatic efforts [by South Korea aimed at North Korea]. We need to find channels of communication. We need to find ways to bring the DPRK [that is, North Korea] to the negotiation table. [On account of the COVID-19 pandemic,] the EU countries’ diplomats have all left Pyongyang. We need to bring them back, to have that presence on the ground. The DPRK is a United Nations member, and as such it should abide by international law. Otherwise, coexistence between countries is not possible.

Hani: Russia has finally forcibly annexed four occupied states in Ukraine.

Castillo: These referendums [held Sept. 23-27] are fake and illegal. Not one EU member country will recognize them. You cannot annex territories [of another country] by force. Our response will certainly come with more sanctions. The EU announced new sanctions on Sept. 28. (The new sanctions were adopted on Oct. 5.)

Hani: The EU slapped sanctions on Russia for its forcible annexation of Crimea in 2014, but this did not stop Russia from invading Ukraine.

Castillo: That was the first package of sanctions, but it was not robust enough. It was much lighter than the current package. Russia was an important partner, we wanted to leave the possibility [of a peaceful resolution]. The Minsk agreements were signed, but ultimately were thrown into the bin. How can we coexist with a country when our agreements are invalidated? Now we have come up with an unprecedented package of massive sanctions, including those on the Russian central bank, in a speedy way.

Hani: So you expect a different outcome from 2014?

Castillo: Of course. If we had done this then, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Hani: After President Vladimir Putin issued a military mobilization order, Russians have been attempting to escape into neighboring countries. Will the EU accept these Russians?

Castillo: Russian tourism cannot be accepted in a situation of war. We have ended the visa facilitation agreement we had with Russia for this reason. But the possibility for asylum is always there. It’s important also for Russians to realize that there is a war, after all, under the campaign of disinformation and fake news that the Kremlin has continuously put on.

Hani: Ukraine has recently seen some military success, such as by reclaiming some of its territory.

Castillo: That is important. But the situation is still very challenging. We have to continue with our sanctions on Russia and our support to Ukraine, economically, militarily and humanitarian. The sanctions matter, and sanctions work. If Putin backs out from the illegal annexation of territories, then the war may stop. But the Ukrainian people will continue to fight for their own territory.

Hani: The EU is strongly condemning Russia. Some point out that maintaining hostile relations with Russia could have long-term negative consequences for the EU. What’s your take on this?

Castillo: Russia has been an important partner for Europe. But today’s Russia of President Putin, with its political and military radicalization, is very difficult to accept. So unless there is a change, it will not be possible to improve relations. We have had a big dependence on Russia, in terms of energy. Not anymore. We have diversified our energy supply and are overcoming the crisis. Russia can find other markets, but they will not be as big of a market as it had with Europe. So in the medium term, it hasn’t produced any benefit for Russia either.

Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)
Maria Castillo-Fernandez, the ambassador of the EU to South Korea, speaks to the Hankyoreh from her office in downtown Seoul on Sept. 29. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)

Hani: In March, the EU agreed to establish “Rapid Deployment Capacity” troops to respond to crisis situations. Are there any plans to create a European army?

Castillo: One of the impacts of the war has been we have realized that Europe needs to take responsibility for its own defense and security. But at the same time, the war has united us in the cooperation we've had with NATO. That alliance is much more robust because two more members, Finland and Sweden, have joined NATO. That increases not only NATO security, but also EU security. To strengthen European security, you have to do it with NATO, this is a big part. But NATO has a limited geographical zone, and we can do more in defense.

Hani: Some view Sweden and Finland’s ascension to NATO as removing a buffer zone that once was.

Castillo: I think what we’ve seen is that buffer zones don’t seem to work nowadays. Russia invaded Ukraine anyway. When you speak about a European army, yes, that is the ideal, perhaps one day. But we have moved very quickly on security defense because of the war in Ukraine already. Before, we never used European funds to finance arms. Now we are using European funds for Ukraine. So, you know, this is a big, big change. We don't have an army. But what we have are missions: military and civil missions around the world to preserve peace in many countries to mediate to avoid conflicts. We’ve had missions in Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, many countries in Africa, and Bosnia where military personnel of the different armies of different countries are there under the EU flag. We have been trying to do many more military projects to increase our development and military capabilities. For example, we have 27 budgets. Why don’t we pool them together to develop military technology together? We do it together, we save money, and we are more efficient.

Hani: So does that mean a European army is in the works?

Castillo: You could think of it as joint forces. We have a lot to gain by putting together our capabilities and analysis through what they call the Strategic Compass for Security and Defense, a joint assessment of the threats we face. That is where we are now.

Hani: Winter is coming, and energy prices are soaring in Europe.

Castillo: Russia is weaponizing energy. And now there’s been the sabotage of the pipelines near Denmark and Sweden. So yes, we will have a difficult winter. But I think we have already been taking measures to increase our stocks to try to ask people to consume less. There is a big series of different measures that we proposed in September to resolve difficulties faced by ordinary citizens and businesses due to rising energy prices. Member states will decide what type of measures they will take. Some of them are cutting the VAT of the energy prices, some of them are capping energy prices. We have been trying to diversify our supply of energy. So yes, it's going to be difficult in the short term. Ukrainians are fighting this war for us. I think [EU] citizens will contribute to this world [by enduring the tough winter.] This is a war for European security.

Hani: What is the EU’s position on phasing out nuclear power? Nuclear energy was included in the EU’s green taxonomy, and the administration of Yoon Suk-yeol in South Korea has used this as a basis for including nuclear power in the “K-taxonomy.” What is your take on that?

Castillo: He took only part of our decision. [Laughs.] Because what is important here is our climate neutrality goals. The EU has agreed that it wants to be climate neutral by 2050. There is even a law, the European Green Deal. Now, to get to that, the main focus will be renewables for us. We plan to reach 45% renewables in our energy mix by 2030. For that, you need a lot of investment. You cannot do it with public money alone, you need to have private investment. So that’s what the taxonomy is about: putting out the necessary incentives that will attract the private investment we need to push our carbon neutrality goals. And even in the taxonomy, the bulk is about renewables. A small part is about nuclear and gas, with a timeframe and with a series of conditions. That’s the confusion. Because the Korean government wants to push nuclear power as the main source. But nuclear has its limits. Korea will need to increase its renewable target, which is currently very low at 4%.

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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