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22nd May 2022

Climate package must now be 'cost-effective'

  • Poland has not put its veto back in its holster yet. (Photo: EUobserver)

Europe's climate package was saved from collapsing during a summit of the bloc's leaders under threat of veto from Poland and Italy on Thursday (16 October).

European Union heads of state and government agreed during a two-day meeting to reach an agreement on the package by December, but only by offering the two rebel nations a compromise that will now allow member states to implement the package in a way that is "cost-effective."

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The final statement agreed to by the leaders calls for "intensified work in coming weeks to allow the European council to decide in December 2008 appropriate solutions to the issues in this work in progress."

The package will be implemented "in a rigorously established cost-effective manner to all sectors of the European economy and for all member states, respecting each member state's specific situation," the final conclusions continue.

"The objectives remain unchanged, the calendar remains the same," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a press conference after the summit.

"The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it," he said.

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.

Italy too had threatened a veto, arguing that its economy already has a problem with off-shoring jobs, and that the burden imposed on its manufacturing sector by having to reduce carbon emissions will now be squeezed even further if the world tips into recession.

Not yet in the clear

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, asked by reporters whether there had been at any point a real threat to the package as a whole, responded "That was precisely what was at stake this morning."

He added that at one point, the French presidency took the Poles out of the meeting for a short tete-a-tete to convince them.

However, despite the compromise, the climate package is still not entirely in the clear, as the Poles have not put the threat of a veto back in its holster.

Speaking at the end of the summit, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Poland "has won the right to veto if there is no other solution."

His foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, echoed Mr Tusk, telling reporters that Poland's veto "is still possible."

Nevertheless, he said, Warsaw hopes to reach an agreement by December that is acceptable to every member state.

"That means that we have now a few weeks [to finish negotiations on] a very good package that has to take into account the interests of our part of the world."

Mr Tusk stressed that Poland is interested in protecting the climate, as it is the very country that is to host the next UN climate change conference, which will take place in Poznan in early December.

Yet this conference, he declared, will be host to "both the rich and the poor." The poorer countries were "afraid" for their economies, he said.

"It is a 'to be or not to be' question for Poland," the Polish leader said, as his country depends for 90 percent of its power on coal. "If Poland can not agree to the targets, how will the other 100 poor countries?" he asked.

"We are not telling the French to decommission their nuclear power plants, which several tests show are very dangerous - and use only windmills as of tomorrow."

"Nobody is going to persuade Poland that we have to decommission all coal-fired power plants and start using windmills," he said.

Vague language

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the result, admitting he had been taken by surprise when a paper from seven countries tabled on Thursday morning suggested the December deadline be scrapped.

In return for keeping the December deadline, heads of states agreed to have final talks on the package at their December summit. This means that even if given the OK by qualified majority at the ministerial level when environment ministers meet to discuss the package next week, any final agreement will require unanimity, as decisions taken at European summits must be unanimous.

Mr Rasmussen admitted it would be very difficult to reach a global agreement on a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 if European countries are not able to reach agreements at the latest by the end of this year.

Greens relieved

Green groups, for their part, were relieved at the result.

"It could have been a lot worse," Greenpeace spokesperson Mark Breddy told EUobserver.

"Italy and Poland failed to delay the package for the moment, opportunistically using the financial crisis as an excuse," he said.

"There was vague language worked into [the final statement], but nothing that stops environment ministers to negotiate a strong deal."

EU environment ministers meet to hammer out the details of the package on Monday (20 October).

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