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The Climate in Brussels: Europe Turns Up the Heat on the US

By in Brussels

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed on funds to help the developing world address climate change and demanded the same from the US. German Chancellor Merkel also says that Washington's emissions reduction pledge doesn't go far enough.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that it is time for the world to get serious about an agreement in Copenhagen. Zoom
REUTERS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that it is time for the world to get serious about an agreement in Copenhagen.

There is a rule of thumb for European Union summits in Brussels: the shorter they are, the better the participants get along with each other. And the summit on Thursday and Friday of this week was an unusually quick one. By the middle of the day on Friday, the heads of government and state from the 27 EU member states were able to present their strategy as the Copenhagen climate talks enter their decisive phase.

Leaders from all 27 EU countries are to head to the Danish capital next week in an effort to convince those who are dragging their feet, particularly the United States and China, to make concessions on a climate deal. "I can tell you now, it will be a turbulent week," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "It will be extremely complicated. And it will not be a tension-free process."

Europe is convinced that it has done its part in setting the stage for an agreement. EU leaders agreed in Brussels to provide poor countries with annual assistance of €2.4 billion ($3.5 billion) from 2010 to 2012. The money is to go toward immediate measures to help them both deal with the effects of climate change and to combat global warming. Germany has pledged €420 million per year to the fund. The EU also reinforced its offer to provide developing countries €30 billion annually starting in 2020 to address climate change.

Time for More Emissions Reduction Pledges

It is a "clear signal to Copenhagen," Merkel proclaimed. Now, she said, it is time for others to come up with pledges of their own. The German chancellor pointed out that the US has yet to take a position on long-term financial assistance, an issue that is decisive if Copenhagen is going to result in an agreement. She also said that neither the US nor the larger developing nations have made satisfactory pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

The US has offered to lower its emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005. That works out to just a 4 percent reduction relative to the baseline of 1990 used by the European Union. The EU has pledged to lower its emissions by 20 percent by 2020 -- and the Europeans have offered to reduce emissions by 30 percent should other countries join them. The bloc can't do more, Merkel said.

Nevertheless, Merkel seemed to lower the bar for the Copenhagen summit. She said that the meeting could be considered a success if all 192 nations participating to accept the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The target refers to an increase of average global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 relative to the pre-industrial era. A number of developing countries have voiced their opposition to such a target while some Pacific island nations and other low-lying countries would like to see the target lowered to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Bitter War of Words

The summit in Brussels also saw a reconciliation of sorts between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Last week saw the two engage in a bitter war of words after Sarkozy said the British were the "big losers" in the allocation of seats in the new European Commission. After the Frenchman Michel Barnier was installed as the new European Internal Market Commissioner, a post which includes oversight of financial markets, Sarkozy crowed that it represented a "victory of the European model" over that of the Anglo-Saxon world. London's response was petulant, prompting Sarkozy to cancel a planned visit to London at the last minute.

But in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the two leaders appeared to have left the spat behind. Together, they went before the gathered press to announce the billions in EU assistance to developing countries. And on the eve of the summit, they published a joint editorial in the Wall Street Journal demanding that a 50 percent tax imposed by Britain on excessive banker bonuses be introduced across Europe. Sarkozy said he was interested in introducing a similar measure in France.

An Impossibility

It is an idea that seems unlikely to take hold elsewhere. Merkel commented dryly that "because of the events in recent days, the two had to show that they could get along with each other." While expressing her "political sympathy" for a tax on bonuses, she said that the idea would run into "considerable constitutional difficulties" in Germany. "I find the idea charming, but I can't ignore the constitution," she said.

The bonus tax did not find a place in the summit's concluding document. Instead, the bloc once again voiced its support for the introduction of an international tax on financial transactions under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund. The idea is not a new one, but both Brown and Merkel insisted that an increasing number of countries support the idea.

Still, the concept has so far made little headway against opposition from the US. Washington once again voiced doubts in November at a meeting of G-20 ministers in Scotland. And without support from the US, such a tax remains an impossibility.

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