Vital summit to discuss climate, treaty and the presidency
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European Union leaders are faced with the daunting task of overcoming stalemate on key environmental and economic policy issues, while competing to influence the biggest appointment in Brussels’ history: the first full-time European president.
If the 27 EU leaders ever needed a moment of unity, this would be it. Brought together at a summit in Brussels, 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.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a celebratory mood following an eve-of-summit dinner with Angela Merkel just hours after she was sworn in for a second term, said the Franco-German ‘couple’, long considered drivers of European policy, were in “almost total” agreement on the key issues.
This is hardly the case with all their European counterparts, however. Czech President Vaclav Claus, who, after much kicking and screaming, agreed on Wednesday to sign the Lisbon Treaty on EU reform if his country is guaranteed an opt-out clause, will miss the summit. 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
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figure in obtaining any consensus on the main question on everyone’s minds, namely who will become Europe’s first “George Washington”.
A fledgling power struggle
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 candidates.
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.
The suggestion, and Juncker’s candidacy itself, has been dismissed out-of-hand by British officials. "If your measurements were how much a member state contributes to the EU budget or how willing they are to put their soldiers' lives at risk... then the picture would be rather different," a senior British diplomat told reporters.
“There will be intense speculation on the sidelines of the Brussels summit on who will be Europe’s top candidate”, said FRANCE 24 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.
An ever elusive climate deal
This fledgling power struggle has diverted our leader’s energy and attention from what was supposed to be the summit’s most pressing issue: reaching a consensus on how to battle climate change ahead of the Copenhagen global environmental summit.
“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.”
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, which 2 and 15 billion euros a year being mooted currently.
“The EU’s new eastern members have specific environmental needs themselves, because they have inherited from a very polluting soviet economic model”, explained Rebelle, so whatever consensus is reached at this Brussels summit will be a surface one only, and not nearly enough to satisfy developing nations and climate specialists. “It’s a problem, because it means the EU may stop taking the leading role it has so far in global climate change talks. Right now nobody wants to put money down on the table”.
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