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28th Jan 2023

Cablegate: Van Rompuy expects Cancun talks to fail

  • 'Had I been there, my presidency would have been over before it began,' Van Rompuy told the US diplomat on Copenhagen (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

As UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, approach the half-way point this weekend (4-5 December), a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy had already "given up" on the multilateral meeting as far back as one year ago.

In a discussion with US ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman on 23 December 2009, Mr Van Rompuy reportedly said the Mexican talks were doomed to failure, while his chief of staff Frans Van Daele predicted they would end up looking like the second installment of a horror movie.

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The one-hour meeting over coffee took place in Brussels' Justus Lipsius building, just days after UN climate talks in Copenhagen ended in fiasco.

Mr Van Daele referred to the distant Mexican meeting as "Nightmare on Elm Street 2," before adding: "Who wants to see that horror movie again?"

As the three men huddled in one of the vast building's many hundreds of rooms, Mr Van Rompuy made his position clear by stating: "multilateral meetings will not work."

He then laid out what he felt would be an appropriate roadmap: first unifying Europe's position on tackling climate change, then holding bilateral talks with the US, before finally holding three-way discussions with China.

In his mind, the crucial talks with the US would take place at a EU-US summit scheduled to take place in May 2010 and not at Cancun where representatives from almost 200 nations are currently meeting (29 Nov - 10 Dec 2010) at considerable expense to the organisers.

Just over a month later however, the bilateral EU-US summit was cancelled by the Americans.

Mr Van Rompuy and his chief of staff cut lonely figures in the almost empty Justus Lipsius building back in December 2009, according to the US ambassador's description, with most EU officials in Brussels already away on Christmas vacation.

Becoming animated, the mild-mannered Belgian told his US interlocutor he was extremely glad not to have attended the just-ended Copenhagen climate talks.

"Had I been there, my presidency would have been over before it began," he said.

The former Belgian prime minister formally took over his new post on 1 January 2010, but had faced considerable pressure to attend the Copenhagen talks, which he described as an "incredible disaster."

He thought Europe had been "totally excluded" and "mistreated" and he refused to accept the US ambassador's line that the meeting's chaotic nature was the reason the EU had been left out of crucial final discussions between the US and China, amongst others, which ultimately resulted in a weaker-than-hoped-for Copenhagen Accord.

"They could certainly have called Europe and told us to come," Mr Rompuy told the ambassador.

He did lay some of the blame for Europe's treatment on its own doorstep however, reportedly telling Mr Gutman that: "No one knows who to call: Merkel, Barroso, who knows who?"

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