13th May 2021

EU-US summit to see trade move but no climate deal

Three days before the EU and the US meet to inject new energy into transatlantic relations, it looks likely that the two continents will fail to agree on climate change but transatlantic economic ties will be strengthened.

"The [EU-US] summit will not be a defining moment," the US ambassador to the EU, C. Boyden Gray, told journalists ahead of the meeting due on 30 April, when asked about the thorny issue of the fight against climate change.

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  • The EU-US summit will take place on Monday in Washington (Photo: EUobserver)

Mr Gray admitted that Washington would not commit itself to any cap on greenhouse gas emissions, while stressing the US' ultimate condition remains to get emerging economies such as China and India – which he said would be the biggest polluters soon – on board as well.

The EU, which sees itself as a leader on environmental issues, has been pushing hard to engage the White House in a new framework to replace the Kyoto protocol, which runs out in 2012. US president George W. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto treaty in 2001, arguing it would hurt his country's competitiveness.

The two continents do not see eye to eye when it comes to ways in which to address this highly topical issue, however.

In Europe, the fight against climate change is closely linked to energy security, with renewable energy, such as solar, wind or biomass, expected to diminish the bloc's dependency on external energy sources, particularly from Russia. Recently, Moscow turned off the energy taps to Ukraine and Belarus, a move which also affected several EU states.

On the other side of the Atlantic, new technologies are seen as essential, with ambassador Gray saying "we must have an answer before setting binding limits."

He added that this view is shared by the Republicans as well as the Democrats in the United States.

One EU diplomat speaking to EUobserver indicated that the negotiations are lengthy and problematic, saying "we would spend four to five hours talking via video-link, but not move a bit."

Breakthrough on economy

But things are brighter on the economic front, with the summit set to place transatlantic economic relations on a new footing.

President Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jose M. Barroso are expected to sign an economic pact, setting up the so-called transatlantic economic council.

"There will be meat on the bone," ambassador Gray said on Thursday (26 April), adding "the credit has to go to Mrs Merkel," who prioritised the idea of having a strong transatlantic market without barriers during Germany's six-month EU presidency.

The agreed common market conditions would mean recognising the same norms for various industries and services, such as admission procedures for pharmaceutical, cosmetics and chemical companies, as well as for the car and banking sector.

It is estimated that breaking down the regulatory barriers could see a boost of 3.5 percent in gross domestic product in the world's two largest economic blocs.

According to some media reports, EU industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen has been tipped to chair the transatlantic economic council.

In addition, the EU is set to push the US to lift visa restrictions for new EU states plus Greece during the meeting next Monday, although no major breakthrough is expected here either.

"It is not the US administration, but the Congress which sets the rules," the US ambassador to Brussels said, dampening the EU's hopes. He indicated the legislation process could be wrapped up by the end of 2007.

Strong transatlantic ties appealing to the public

Meanwhile, a new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation shows that the great majority of Europeans and Americans have overcome the tensions triggered by the US-led war in Iraq in 2003 and support closer trans-Atlantic links.

The Germans are leading the European chart, with 90 percent of German people favouring greater cooperation on climate change.

On the other hand, support for the abolition of trade restrictions between Europe and the US is quite low - 54 percent in Europe and 65 percent in the US. Exporting nations like Germany or Finland support the project, while the French and Austrians are circumspect (28 percent and 38 percent, respectively).

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