Leaders at odds over funding climate change scheme

European Union leaders meeting for a crucial two-day summit in Brussels are at odds over how to fund efforts to tackle climate change, with Eastern European nations claiming they cannot afford to pay the lion's share.


If the 27 EU leaders ever needed a moment of unity, this would be it. Brought together at a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday, they are faced with the daunting task of overcoming stalemate on key environmental and economic policy issues, all while competing to influence the biggest appointment in Brussels’ history: the first full-time European president. 

A rift between countries from eastern and western Europe emerged at the start of the summit as the Swedish EU presidency urged leaders of the 27 member states to agree on how to fund aid to developing countries to tackle global warming. 

While leaders have already agreed on broad objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, vowing to cut them by 20 percent by 2020, they are split on how to share the costs, both within and outside Europe. 

“Negotiations on climate change are now reaching the hard issue: money”, former Greenpeace France director Bruno Rebelle told FRANCE 24. “Eastern European countries simply cannot afford the level of commitment [to reduce CO² emissions and aid developing nations] the EU is promising.” 

A major problem is finding a balance between charging the richest nations and charging those with the greatest pollution. 

Eastern countries, led by Poland and its coal-fuelled power stations, say they will be overly penalised if too much emphasis is put on emissions, arguing that the more developed western European nations should pay more, given their past pollution. 

The European Commission estimates that a total of 100 billion euros a year is needed to help developing nations convert to green economic models, but so far EU nations have not even managed to agree on a figure for this. 

A fledgling power struggle 

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, beset by sex, corruption and media intimidation scandals at home, has called in sick. 

His absence may prove problematic, as the Italian premier is considered a pivotal figure in obtaining any consensus on the main question on everyone’s minds, namely who will become Europe’s first “George Washington”. 

British Prime Minister and current G20 chair Gordon Brown, setting aside his previous bitter rivalry, is pushing for his predecessor Tony Blair to get Europe’s top job. The latter has not formally made his intentions clear, however, and is under growing pressure to do so as two leaders of smaller European nations have put forward their candidacies. 

But opinions on the subject remain divided, and leaders from Belgium, Hungary, Luxembourg and Spain suggested they would not back Blair, whose country is neither in the euro currency group nor the Schengen no-borders zone.

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the top job should go to "a convinced European, with a European vocation to strengthen the Union and all that is common about it." 

Latvia, backed by its Baltic neighbour Lithuania, will push the candidacy of former Latvian head of state Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who is dubbed “the iron lady of the east”. But Blair’s strongest opponent yet is Luxemburg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. In a preview of the unavoidable mud-slinging that will likely precede any consensus, Juncker has suggested that London should be barred from submitting a candidate because it has not joined the single European currency. 

“There will be intense speculation on the sidelines of the Brussels summit over who will be Europe’s top candidate”, said FRANCE 24's Brussels correspondent, Frederic Simon. “But no final decision is expected yet, because the 27 are still waiting for the Czech Republic’s constitutional court to rule on the conformity of the EU Lisbon treaty with the Czech constitution”, he added.

Progress on reform treaty

European Union leaders cleared a major obstacle holding up the massive Lisbon reform treaty

On Wednesday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus agreed to sign the Lisbon Treaty if his country is guaranteed a clause allowing it to opt out of the EU's rights charter, similar to the one given to Britain and Poland. EU leaders agreed Thursday to grant the Czech demands.


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