Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Whitewash Summit

Lots of talk, little action, climate change back

The European Summit of 27 leaders of member states last week, under Slovenia’s rotating presidency, hardly raised any expectations, nor any eyebrows, as leaders came, attended and left. The subject of Climate Change, to which Spring Council 2007 was entirely devoted, was once again on top of the agenda for 2008, with leaders trying to balance industrial lobby demands with greenhouse gas emission cuts.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who, according to the EU grapevine is lobbying for a second term, was all smiles as he stressed his words to please both the industrial sector and European citizens.

Barroso spoke “in favour of keeping jobs and industry in Europe,” and promised to not only provide an EU-wide breathing space for industries but also get “an international agreement” on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But an argument to use environmental concessions to keep EU-wide industries on the Continent seemed less convincing as environmental pundits and industry gurus confided on the sidelines of the Spring EU Summit.

Claudia Delpero of WWF told New Europe, “A global agreement will help make industries happier, because rules will be applied to everyone. But a strong global agreement will not be possible without strong European legislation.”

Explaining the underlying reasons for industries to shift locations, Delpero said, “The real question is: would weak environmental laws really keep businesses in Europe? History has shown that major factors for relocation are proximity to markets and labour costs, while environmental laws play only a small role in the relocation factor.

“European businesses should rather take this opportunity to become global leaders in clean technologies. The American car industry provides a very good example: after refusing the idea of fuel standards, the market is now overtaken by cleaner product from Asia. Europe should learn from history and avoid mistakes already seen in the past.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the doubts about an international agreement saying, “If there is no international deal, we should already have a (law) ready on how to deal with energy-intensive industries, rather than only starting to think about it if nobody else joins us.”

The European Commission on January 23 had proposed an auction system for CO2 for industries, who immediately protested, arguing this would make it impossible for them to compete with firms in countries with less stringent environmental rules.

The Commission responded by promising to study the problem with an eye to proposing solutions by 2011 in the belief that to do so earlier would damage the EU’s position in global talks on climate change, which are set to culminate in Copenhagen in December 2009.

But at the Summit the conclusions insisted that the issue be “analysed and addressed urgently in the new (law), so that if international negotiations fail, appropriate measures can be taken.”

Moreover, the 27 leaders also diluted ambitious proposals from Nicolas Sarkozy on the creation of a so-called “Union for the Mediterranean” to promote cooperation in the area.

The first public salvo was fired by the European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering, insisting on a parliamentary dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean. Calling for an explicit reference to the Barcelona Process (launched in 1995 for Mediterranean region) said, “I am convinced that the European Commission will fully take into account the parliamentary dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean in its proposal and that the European Parliament will be fully involved in the debate which will lead to the final decisions on this project.”

According to sources familiar with closed-door talks, there were reservations from member states from Central and Eastern Europe that a Union for the Mediterranean would divert precious EU funds away from the region.

Turkey also immediately was in the news as Ankara got the notion that by being invited to join Union for the Mediterranean, its EU membership application will be left on the back burner forever.

Answering a question from a Turkish journalist, Slovenian Premier Janez Jansa said, “Turkey was not mentioned at the talks.” Saving the situation, he said, “The project for a Union for the Mediterranean was presented as an upgrade of the Barcelona process.” “And sometimes, changes get a new name,” he concluded.

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