Bargaining in Brussels: Climate and Energy to Dominate EU Summit

Euopean Union leaders are gathering in Brussels for a two-day summit, with climate change and energy expected to top the agenda. The EU is hoping to agree on concrete plans to tackle emissions ahead of next year's global meeting on climate change.

EU member state flags in Brussels. The 27 leaders are meeting on Thursday for their spring summit.
AFP

EU member state flags in Brussels. The 27 leaders are meeting on Thursday for their spring summit.

European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels Thursday for a two-day spring summit, where the issues of tackling climate change and energy policy reform are expected to top the agenda. The 27 leaders will also address the need to increase transparency in financial markets.

The meeting is expected to result in a pledge to agree on the liberalization of Europe's energy market by June and to agree on concrete steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions by December, according to a draft summit statement seen by Reuters.

Last year the EU leaders agreed to cut emissions by at least 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, as well as increase the use of renewable energy to 20 percent.

The draft statement drawn up by the EU's current Slovenian presidency urges the bloc to go beyond those measures: "Stepping up to the more ambitious 30 percent reduction target as part of a global and comprehensive agreement needs to be built in explicitly, and in a balanced, transparent and equitable way."

The statement, expected to be adopted on Friday, also raises a note of caution regarding the EU's target to have at least 10 percent of fuels used in transport to come from biofuels. "In meeting the ambitious target for the use of biofuels, it is essential to develop and fulfil effective sustainability criteria, which could in the future also be considered for the use of other forms of biomass for energy," the draft reads.

EU officials have warned that member states and the European Parliament must agree on the energy and climate change package by March 2009 so that Europe is in a strong position at global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in November 2009.

However, there are still some disputes about how to handle the needs of energy-intensive industries, with some EU countries concerned that the climate change measures could drive heavy industry out of Europe. Germany has also resisted moves to cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars, while both Germany and France have resisted splitting up their big energy companies.

However, ahead of the summit European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was adamant that the planned unbundling of the energy concerns into separate production and distribution companies would go ahead, saying the alternatives proposed by France and Germany were "insufficient."

In an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt, he said: "We will do everything in our power to implement this model." He also told the paper's Thursday edition that it would be a "big mistake" to agree to a proposal by Berlin to introduce protection for energy-intensive industries.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana will also present a report to the summit detailing the global security impact of climate change. The report, "Climate Change and International Security," drawn up by Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner argues that climate change has become a "threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability."

Among the threats listed are "reduction of arable land, widespread shortage of water, diminishing food and fish stocks, increased flooding and prolonged droughts." The report warns that by 2020 there will be millions of "environmental migrants," fleeing these problems.

The summit will also hear from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about plans to create a so-called "Union for the Mediterranean," which -- as Berlin and Paris recently agreed -- would replace Sarkozy's original plan for a France-dominated Mediterranean Union.

smd/reuters/afp/dpa

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