Turning Pledges into Law EU Commits to Year-End Climate Deadline

The EU summit ended on Friday with leaders setting an end-of-year deadline to agree on new legislation to combat climate change. However, many member states also voiced concerns about the impact the EU's climate measures will have on energy-intense industry.


Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, flanked by EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and European Commission President Jose Barroso.
AFP

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, flanked by EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and European Commission President Jose Barroso.

The European Union set itself a deadline for giving a legal substance to its commitment to combat climate change on Friday. However, some EU nations have also voiced their concerns that their economies should not be allowed to suffer because of Brussels attempts to meet its climate policy objectives.

At the end of the EU's two-day spring summit, the 27 leaders committed themselves to adopting ambitious legislation within one year to fight climate change. "We adopted the timeframe and the principles for the climate change and energy package," Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who chaired the summit, told a news conference on Friday. "We commit ourselves to finish negotiations on this process by the end of the year ... so the EU can maintain a lead role on climate change."

Officials and diplomats have just started drafting the necessary laws to ensure the implementation of plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2020 and increase reliance on renewable forms of energy.

However, as the EU moves towards concrete measures to live up to its pledges, there are increasing concerns about how Europe can ensure that energy-intensive sectors are not driven out of Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolnek said that EU nations were worried about losing jobs. "There is already an exodus of energy-intensive industry which has a negative impact on employment rates."

European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen said in advance of the summit that measures would have to be taken to ensure that European industries were protected against competition from countries with lower investment standards. He told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio that Brussels was not ruling out "some sort of compensation for our industries."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pressing for a commitment to give special treatment to heavy industry as early as 2009, saying companies needed security before making investments. Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands on the other hand oppose special conditions for big energy users, saying it would weaken the EU's hand ahead of UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

A push from French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the idea of a "green tariff" on imports by countries that don’t sign up to anti-pollution rules found little support at the Brussels gathering. Sarkozy told reporters on Friday: "The main concern is implementing a mechanism that will hit imports from those countries that don’t play by the rules of the game on environmental protection."

Although Sarkozy did not mention any countries by name, Slovenia's Prime Minister Jansa said it was essential to reach a global agreement that included China and the United States, neither of which have signed up to the current Kyoto Protocol.

The EU leaders also moved to reassure investors and businesses that Europe's economy and currency are strong enough to weather the current financial storm. Nevertheless, the summit expressed concern about the turmoil in the markets and the global economic downturn. The 27 leaders urged greater transparency from the financial industry to prevent sudden shocks like that caused by the recent US subprime crisis.

smd/ap/reuters

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