Italy, Poland threaten to veto EU climate package

16.10.08 @ 01:38

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Italy and Poland have threatened to veto the European Union's package to tackle climate change, saying their economies cannot bear the added burden that emissions reductions would impose.

  • Mr Berlusconi at the summit - France believes he'll come round in the end (Photo: eu2008.fr)

"I have announced my intention to exercise my veto," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters at the European Summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday (15 October). "Our businesses are in absolutely no position at the moment to absorb the costs of the regulations that have been proposed."

The remarks echoed that of Polish leaders earlier in the day. Warsaw is opposed to language in an agreement between the EU chiefs that commits the bloc to finalising a deal on the climate package in December.

"Poland is ready to veto if there are attempts to force us to accept the climate-change package in the next month," said the country's foreign minister, Radek Sikorksi, at the summit.

Poland's Europe minister, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, repeated the threat, saying: "We certainly don't see the conditions for early agreement if we don't find better burden-sharing inside the package."

The key issue for Poland, alongside Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, is the use of 2005 as the baseline year for setting new emissions targets, rather than 1990. They argue that they made significant cuts in carbon emissions after 1990.

Critics of this position say that these reductions were only due to the economic decline that followed the fall of Communism.

But the eastern Europeans say this was coincidental and that there were serious investments made at the time in more modern, cleaner technologies, pointing to how emissions did not noticeably increase after their economies improved.

Berlusconi 'will come round'

Speaking to reporters late on Wednesday, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose country currently chairs the six-month rotating EU presidency, said he believed his Italian friend "who I've known for a long time" would come round in the end.

"[Mr Berlusconi] made some good points, saying they have a problem with off-shoring jobs already," he said. "And he's quite right. We can't blame him. He's playing his role," Mr Sarkozy explained. "But we have a historic responsibility here."

Referring to the eastern nations, the French leader said: "Some countries said we should drop the timetable. We cannot find in two and a half months that we haven't found an agreement."

"But we are not going to do what we normally do, which is hand off the whole thing to the next presidency. We are not going to do that."

He conceded that "We have to take into account the concerns of our members," however, adding "there is some room for flexibility."

At the same press conference, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was more blunt: "We have to be frank - the situation is difficult. There was a lot of pressure that we should be more prudent, more cautious," while underscoring that there remained "a consensus on objectives."

"Our responsibility goes beyond the present moment. The future of the planet is in our hands."

A source close to the discussions told EUobserver that the two member states were likely to give in eventually. "Italy and Poland were very much in the minority and put in their place," the contact said.

Last throw of the dice

Green Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes meanwhile told this paper that he thought Poland and Italy were making a last ditch negotiating play.

"They very vigorously defended their corner today as they knew today was the last day they had a chance of delaying the opening negotiations [on the climate package] between the parliament, the council and the commission.

"The French presidency has told [key MEPs] they are eager to open the [tripartite negotiations] in the first week of November, and at that point, the role of individual member states decreases," he said.