10th Dec 2022

EU leaders gather for rift-packed summit

  • Tough and lengthy talks expected at the final summit of French presidency (Photo: EUobserver)

Almost two years after adopting ambitious green goals, a year after signing the new Lisbon Treaty and some sixteen months after the first signs of the financial crisis, EU leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday (11 December) to write a new chapter in the three long-running dossiers.

The top-level gathering will kick off at 3 p.m., which is earlier than usual, with some diplomats predicting what will certainly be quarrelsome talks could drag on until late Friday or even early Saturday, as the host of the meeting, French president Nicolas Sarkozy - whose country is finishing its six-month chairmanship of the EU, is ready to do all it takes to get a deal.

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But it will be his Irish colleague, Prime Minister Brian Cowen to open the show by presenting Dublin's analysis on why the Irish voters rejected the EU's reform treaty in the June referendum and what can be done to rescue its ratification.

But judging by the draft conclusions put forward by the French presidency last night, Ireland has already achieved enough backing from both Paris and some other capitals to win a promise of all "necessary legal guarantees" on the controversial issues for the country of four million.

"Taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and common security and defence policy with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality" should all be safeguarded in a separate declaration to be adopted later, the Irish Times has reported.

Moreover, Dublin could see a pledge to retain the country's commissioner if all other EU leaders follow the French line – all in a bid to enable the Irish government to hold the second referendum by 31 October, according to the draft document.

It would mean that one of the key elements of the EU's institutional reform would be changed despite previous pressure on member states not to touch the package when the bloc was turning the former European Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty, following the negative referendums in France and the Netherlands.

Germany and the Benelux countries have criticised the idea, while some smaller states argue they had always preferred that the one-commissioner-per-member-state principle be preserved in the composition of the bloc's key regulating body.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the commission would be slimmed down to representing just two-thirds of the countries at any one time as of 2014, "unless the European Council [premiers and presidents of member states], acting unanimously, decides to alter this number."

How much is enough?

Another hot issue at the summit will be Europe's grand strategy for economic recovery. Brussels has suggested that the Union invest 1.5 percent of its GDP to boost economic activity amid projections of a severe recession in 2009.

While the plan was "in principle" accepted by the bloc's finance ministers last week, Germany, the bloc's biggest economy, but also several other countries are reluctant to promise additional financial injections beyond what they have already planned for their domestic pump-priming plans.

But according to calculations by Bruegel, a Brussels-based think-tank, based on the national announcements, the EU-wide direct fiscal boost is currently projected to reach only 0.64 percent of the EU's GDP by the end of 2009, substantially below the advertised target.

Moreover, some countries have complained that the summit conclusions as drafted by the French presidency suggested the recovery-related goal should be a public investment boost of "at least" 1.5 percent of EU's GDP.

"We don't want to create an image that whenever EU leaders meet, they raise this figure," one diplomat following the negotiations commented.

Apart from the debate on the amount of public money to be pumped in the economy, EU leaders are likely to cross swords over the list of measures to be supported, with Britain keen to see VAT cuts included, as part of its own recipe for recovery, against the opposition of most other countries.

Toughest battle

But if anything is to cause the leaders to be up all night, it will be the complicated arguments over the climate change package.

Although the member states had agreed on most elements of the legislation before this week's top-level meeting, there are still a couple of areas where they had not been able to strike a compromise since the European Commission put forward the bill in January.

There are two camps of opponents of the green plan, among both western wealthy countries and states in central and Eastern Europe.

On one hand, Germany has been resisting the attempts by most "new" member states to achieve greater compensation due to their lower economic potential to be able to face the costs of the required investments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made clear this week that the summit "must not take decisions that would endanger jobs or investments in Germany."

"I will see to that," she said, referring to the Berlin's bid to allow key German industries to be awarded emission allowances in the projected auction scheme for free.

Italy is also threatening the result of the talks due to concerns over the impact of the package. "If I see that Italian interests will be hurt in an excessive way, I will use our veto rights," the country's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi warned on Wednesday, according to Italian media.

On the other hand, the Visegrad four countries of central Europe, the three Baltic states plus Romania and Bulgaria are presenting a united front in floating various proposals on how they should be compensated for their previous efforts to cut CO2 emissions.


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