Energy, climate and 'Club Med' top EU summit agenda

14th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

High on the official agenda is how to make the European economy more competitive in the midst of a global slowdown.

Brussels -- European Union leaders began talks on how to revive their economies, stop global warming and bring their Mediterranean neighbors closer together during a summit in Brussels.

The regular spring European Council, which was due to end on Friday, was being attended by heads of state, government leaders and cabinet ministers from the bloc's 27 member states.

High on the official agenda is how to make the European economy more competitive in the midst of a global slowdown.

But energy security and global warming were also expected to feature prominently.

Arriving at the summit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hoped governments would agree on a common European energy policy.

"I think it's very important also to fulfill the goals on climate change. One year ago we adopted (a proposal) unanimously, now we have to translate this commitment in concrete ways," he said.

The EU executive has recently put forward controversial proposals designed to make energy markets more competitive by splitting up companies, which both sell energy to consumers and manage power lines.

On climate change, leaders are being asked to cut the bloc's emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) to at least 20 percent below 1990 levels -- a legally binding goal that they set themselves a year ago.

While they were expected to broadly endorse a commission proposal presented in January, leaders were expected to steer clear of its most controversial aspect: how to share the burden of meeting that target.

Summing up the view of many of his colleagues, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said the EU needed to "strike a balance" in its bid to cut CO2 emissions.

Leaders were also expected to discuss how to make financial markets more transparent in the wake of the recent turmoil and take stock of a number of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But much of the attention was being devoted to French plans to create a union between countries with borders on the Mediterranean Sea.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose landlocked country is among the most skeptical, welcomed the latest efforts by Germany to integrate the proposal into existing EU policies.

"We're moving in the right direction. Barcelona is Number One," said Plassnik in a reference to an EU neighborhood policy known as the Barcelona Process.

Her prime minister, Alfred Gusenbauer, acknowledged that the Barcelona Process had been lagging in recent years. But he said his government was unlikely to greet calls for its taxpayers to foot the bill for a so-called Union of the Mediterranean with great enthusiasm.

"We're already putting 16 billion euros (about 25 billion dollars) in, that should be used sensibly ... If it's an energized Barcelona strategy, then it should be right," he said

The Union for the Mediterranean was presented over dinner on Thursday and be formally launched in July, when France takes over the rotating presidency of the EU.

Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk threw a spanner into the works of a proposal to create a Union for the Mediterranean by linking it to Ukraine's European Union membership aspirations.

Asked what he thought about the 'Club Med' proposal, Tusk said: "We accept this agreement in general, but we also have our own proposal about Ukraine."

Tusk said he hoped other member states would support his vision of giving Ukraine a clear "European perspective."

It has nevertheless received a lukewarm response from many EU countries that do not border the Mediterranean.

These include the Czech Republic, Latvia and other Eastern European countries, which fear it will distract EU funds away from their region.

Ukraine's leadership has signaled its willingness to eventually join the EU, but membership talks with Brussels have not yet begun.

DPA with Expatica

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