EU summiteers under pressure to reach climate deal
Calls for special dispensations have been loud and long, particularly as economic crisis bites.BRUSSELS - EU leaders face a tall order at a two-day summit starting Thursday, seeking to secure elusive agreements to help save the warming planet and the cooling economy.
The toughest talking among the 27 European heads of state and government meeting in Brussels is likely to be over the EU's ambitious climate change package.
All member states have backed the overall goals; 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, increased use of renewable energy sources and overall energy savings.
However as the climate cake is cut up, with specific obligations for nations and sectors of industry, the cries for special dispensations have been loud and long, particularly as economic crisis bites.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who campaigned to make world industrial powers cut greenhouse gas emissions, vowed Monday to fight any EU climate deal that jeopardises German jobs as recession tightens its grip.
The European Commission has argued that the climate package makes economic sense, not least as it will help wean Europe off its dependence on imported oil and gas, a large proportion of which comes from Russia.
However Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has threatened to veto the whole package unless Italy's industry is satisfied.
Poland, and its fellow former eastern bloc nations, have also been seeking special treatment as their economies are heavily reliant on very un-Green coal.
The French EU presidency said last week that agreement was sealed on 90 percent of the climate package, which Europe hopes will give it the moral authority to cajole others at international talks in a year's time in Copenhagen.
However "the hardest points" are being left for the summit, said French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, whose country is eager to secure a deal before it hands over the EU's helm to the Czech Republic at the end of the year.
The French are promising to come up with yet another tweaked text on Wednesday, the eve of the summit.
"It is fair to say that there remains some talking to be done," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said wryly during a meeting with his EU counterparts in Belgium on Monday.
Agreement was more or less sealed Monday on boosting the use of renewable energy sources -- wind, solar, wave, geothermal etc. -- to 20 percent of total energy used by 2020.
The thorniest subject remaining is the plan to require industry to buy its polluting rights via auction.
This emissions trading system has led industrialists from Dublin to Dusseldorf to warn of the dangers of "carbon leakage" whereby industry jobs would move from a highly regulated to a lower regulated region.
The EU hopes to encourage a strong global deal in Copenhagen, where world leaders will be seeking a successor to the 1997 Kyoto protocol, and is willing to increase its emissions cuts to 30 percent if there is one.
European leaders are bolstered by the prospect of a more eco-friendly US president in Barack Obama.
But Green groups are already warning that the whole package is being watered down beyond recognition.
"It is a disgrace that just at a time when the rest of the world, including the US and China, is waking up and starting to act against climate change the EU's leadership is melting away," Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace and WWF said in a joint statement last week.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hopes to tick a lot of other boxes at the Brussels summit, his last in the EU presidency seat.
As well as the energy deal he is also seeking agreement on a 200 billion euro (258 billion dollar) package to help Europe pull its way out of the economic crisis which has plunged the eurozone into recession for the first time.
Germany has been cool on handing over more money on top of its already large national package.
Berlin's mood was not improved on Monday when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hosted a mini-summit with Sarkozy and EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, but not Merkel, to discuss the economic crisis.
Also at the summit Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will deliver his much-awaited plan on how to get the EU out of the institutional impasse caused when Irish voters rejected the reforming Lisbon Treaty in June.