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Up-to-the-minute reports from the Brussels summit

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Catherine LE LOHÉ , Kattalin LANDABURU

Latest update : 2008-12-12

EU leaders in Brussels are discussing a climate package, an economic stimulus plan and the controversial Lisbon Treaty. Follow the events at the last European Council summit of the French presidency.

Read our piece on the issues of the summit: Sarkozy faces frosty partners at EU summit

Brussels, 1:55 am (GMT+1): No scoops, only a firm goodnight

Five minutes to go before the doors close. They will not reopen until 6 in the morning. No scoops for the last journalists desperately waiting for some signs from the ambassadors modifying the compromise draft agreement. A text of the draft climate agreement has obviously been translated and sent to the various delegations before the big debates, which will start around 10 am. On the Lisbon Treaty, even if the broad outlines have been approved, the diplomats will, as always, try a legal juggling act to reassure the Irish without subjecting the text to a new ratification. It is also imperative to avoid disputes with other states, such as the, “if it’s okay for them, why not me” argument. We will not know more tonight, the security officials here are gently nudging us home.

Brussels, Friday, Dec. 12, 12:05 am (GMT+1): Winding down for the day – but not quite ready to quit

The corridors of the Council are gradually emptying. Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the other heads of state are returning to their hotels. The bilateral Franco-Hungarian talks have finished. Only the ambassadors are working on the compromise draft climate agreement, which will be distributed to the delegations tomorrow morning. Agreement? No agreement? The Dutch, who held a mini press conference, welcomed the spirit of constructive discussions. However many of the points are still to be finalized. Even on the Lisbon Treaty, certain details were not finalized. The journalists are also starting to leave… but they are still a number of them swarming the corridors in the hope of extracting new pieces of information, a signal, and even, why not, a scoop.


Brussels, 11:20 pm (GMT+1): Reassuring news from Belgian and Italian leaders
On the economy at least, there seems to be an agreement "on the principles", "on the objective", Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Belgium's Yves Leterme say. They add that the text must be finalised tomorrow. Journalists dash from one room to the next, quizzing each other for information. Some have started to put away their cameras, microphones and notebooks.
Brussels, 11:10 pm (GMT+1): Hungarian blockade

"There probably won't be a press conference tonight," says the spokesperson for France's permanent representation to the European Union. Hungary is at fault, and climate is the reason. The French presidency has engaged in one-to-one discussions with the Hungarians to try to reach an agreement. Budapest is one of the worst-hit victims of the economic crisis and is hardly keen on making efforts for the environment at the moment.



Brussels, 10:22 pm (GMT+1): Third cup of coffee


We have been told for an hour that the final press conference is imminent. We hear that EU leaders are having their third cup of coffee and are now discussing the economic stimulus plan. They may well be going for a fourth one...



Brussels, 9:22 pm (GMT+1): Just in time


The rumour has it that the final press conference of the Council's first day will take place in the next few minutes, as announced in the official schedule. This is a good sign. When talks stall, European summits drag late into the night - until even the toughest negotiators drop out.



Brussels, 8:30 pm (GMT+1): Confirmation from Berlusconi

The expected storm might not break after all. An agreement on climate is at hand. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, one of the most vocal opponents of an EU-wide climate plan, has withdrawn his veto threat. "We are heading for a compromise. We have what we wanted", he told reporters. A 27-way agreement on climate change, thought to be impossible, looks more and more probable.



Brussels, 8:05 pm (GMT+1): Good news from the Czech side


Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra comes down for an improvised press conference as journalists have just had a quick bite for dinner. "The French presidency has proposed a very balanced proposal, there is a solid chance to find a win-win solution and not a winner-looser solution," he says. The Czech Republic was one of the ten or so anti-climate plans countries. Could European skies be clearing up?



Brussels, 6:40 pm (GMT+1): News from the Polish front

Polish Presidential Minister Michal Kaminski comes to the main press room for an improvised press conference. He has crucial news for the hundred or so journalists present: Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who has so far refused to sign the Lisbon Treaty into law even though Poland's parliament ratified it, said that "Poland will not be a problem". According to Kaminski, Sarkozy added straight away: "Nobody should hide behind someone else's back." The Polish president is suspected of following in the footsteps of his Czech counterpart, who has refused to sign the Lisbon Treaty until Ireland ratifies it by referendum.
Polish Presidential Minister Michal Kaminski.


Brussels, 5:09 pm (GMT+1): A deal for Ireland

Nothing is official, but the diplomats shuffling in the corridors of the Brussels summit are clear enough: on paper, the Irish problem is solved. EU leaders are ready to make concessions. Only a few details are left to sort out. This should be done tomorrow.



Brussels, 5:02 pm (GMT+1): Pöttering, at last

The president of the European Parliament show up for his press conference one hour late. The room is far from packed. "Who cares about Pöttering?", jokes a French journalist. Yet, the German MEP is determined to get his voice across. "Climate is a priority", he insists, while adding that "the Council will not have the last word" on the issue. If the 27 European leaders find common ground, their position will have to be "negotiated with the Parliament on Saturday. Then we can vote on the text Wednesday or Thursday".


European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering says MEPs will "lead the discussions" after the 27 European leaders end their summit.


Brussels, 3:17 pm (GMT+1): Curtain time

The Council is ready to start with all 27 European leaders now present. A Belgian journalist saw Sarkozy and Merkel exchange a friendly kiss.



Brussels, 2:18 pm (GMT+1): Here comes Angela

The German chancellor shows up, wearing a red jacket and a tired face. Reporters catch her. The focus of many criticisms in recent days, she stops for a minute and tells journalists that she has “good hopes that we reach an agreement on climate”. A reporter from Handelsblatt newspaper plays down Merkel’s optimism and points out that the climate plan has created tensions between Berlin and Warsaw: “With this plan, the German industry will no longer be competitive. It will have to compete with Polish electricity exports if Poland manages to negotiate free emission permits for its power stations.” While Germany and Poland were both believed to oppose the climate plan, they now appear to be divided on the issue.



Brussels, 2:08 pm (GMT+1): Sarkozy hits the red carpet running

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is presiding over the last European Council summit of the French EU presidency. He hit the red carpet running, telling journalists as he got out of his armoured car: "Europe has no other choice but to find an agreement on its plan for fighting climate change. We cannot allow ourselves to give in to divisions on the subject." That sounds like an answer to Silvio Berlusconi.

Accompanying the president was the French minister for European affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who has just been picked to head the French market-regulating authority, as well as Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister, and Jean-Louis Borloo, the environment minister.


Journalists are waiting for European leaders. More than 1,655 journalists are present in Brussels. They mostly come from EU countries, but also from other regions.


Brussels, 1:30 pm (GMT+1): Berlusconi rains on the parade

Moments before the opening of the summit, Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, again brandished a veto treat on the EU climate-change plan. He argues that the current phase of economic crisis is no time to make a decision on plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Brussels, 12:45 pm (GMT+1): Islamists crashing the summit?

The Belgian police have announced the arrest of 14 suspected al Qaeda members. The federal prosecutor, Johan Delmulle, said that one man arrested was planning to commit a suicide attack. "It could have been an operation in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but it can't be ruled out that Belgium or Europe could have been the target," said Delmulle. Journalists do not take the threat too seriously: there has never been a successful terror attack on the European institutions. Security is airtight. It is as if the Council was under siege, surrounded by a real army.

Brussels, 10:21 am (GMT+1): Dublin clarifies

According to a Reuters wire, the Irish foreign minister, Micheal Martin, has confirmed that his government is studying the possibility of a second vote on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty — provided guarantees for Ireland are made.

Brussels, 9:43 am (GMT+1): Drama at the Justus Lipsius

Even before the opening of the European Union summit, a rumour was circulating among journalists. It’s been decided: Ireland will organise a new referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon on EU reform. AFP reporters say they’ve obtained a copy of a text mentioning a second Irish vote, and supposedly a date has been set. The Irish should go back to the polls before the end of November 2009. Among the flags of the union’s 27 countries in the Justus Lipsius building, the EU Council headquarters, journalists are in a frenzy. But the news has not yet been confirmed by an official source.

In a phone conversation, David Grant, spokesman for Ireland’s European affairs ministry, denies the information, saying that “negotiations are under way”. So, nothing publishable yet.

“We need an agreement among the 27 before we can make concessions to the Irish,” says Grant. “Then we have to have the legal experts painstakingly write the text before can have the 27 sign it.”

This morning Caroline de Camarat, an EU specialist at FRANCE 24, interviewed Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister. He told her on the air: “If we make changes for the Irish, my people may ask for the same from me.” Ratification in the Czech Republic, set for spring 2009, is expected to be difficult.

The Irish question – the third difficult subject after climate change and the economic-recovery plan – promises to make waves.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

14.15 – 15.00 Arrival of members of the European Council and delegations at the
Justus Lipsius building, Brussels

15.00 – 15.30 Meeting with the President of the European Parliament
'Tour-de-table' (informal discussion) before the meeting

15.30 – 19.00 First working session of the European Council

15.45 Press conference by the President of the European Parliament

19.30 – 19.45 Family photo

20.00 – 22.00 Working dinner

Friday, 12 December 2008

09.15 – 10.00 Arrival of delegations at the Justus Lipsius building

10.00 – 13.00 Second working session of the European Council
Tour-de-table before the meeting

Presidency press conference


Date created : 2008-12-11