31st Oct 2020

EU leaders head for difficult summit on climate and institutions

  • Glacier: the poker game over the EU's top jobs risks overshadowing negotiations on climate change (Photo: Marina and Enrique)

EU leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday (29 October) for a two-day summit to try and shape a common position on climate issues amid the twin distractions of negotiating a treaty-saving deal with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and making informal shortlists for the EU's future top jobs.

"We hope to see a mandate for climate negotiations, we are very close to the Copenhagen Conference, this is the time to form our mandate," Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt said in a webcast ahead of the summit he will be chairing on Thursday.

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In draft conclusions prepared by Sweden, EU leaders say "the overall level of the international public support required could lie in the range of €22 billion to €50 billion a year by 2020" and that the EU is ready "to take on its resulting fair share of total international public finance."

Precise figures are unlikely to be tabled, despite Mr Reinfeldt's warning of a "risk for a clear deadlock" at the UN conference in the Danish capital in December. Germany and Italy are wary of advancing figures for fear the EU's negotiating room in Copenhagen may be diminished, while Poland wants to make "voluntary" contributions and base its share of the longer-term burden on a complicated formula involving carbon emissions levels.

Despite all the Swedish focus on climate talks, the Lisbon Treaty is set to steal the headlines of this meeting. Over dinner, leaders will discuss the precise wording of a deal offered to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has requested an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights in order to sign the treaty.

Mr Klaus, whose unpredictability has been a source of frayed nerves in Brussels, has now promised that he will sign the treaty if his conditions are met - a move that can only take place after 3 November when the Czech constitutional court is expected to rule on the compatibility of the treaty with national law.

Slovakia, which initially called for a similar opt-out due to the countries' common past, has since changed its mind. "We will not sacrifice social rights for people in Slovakia," Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Wednesday.

Without the Lisbon Treaty in place, all talks about nominations to the newly created top positions – such as the president of the European Council or EU foreign minister - are off the formal agenda. But this is unlikely to stop the posts and possible candidates being discussed in the corridors.

Several names have emerged in recent days. British ex-prime minister Tony Blair has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for president of the European Council. But he is strongly opposed in some quarters, not least by Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker who on Tuesday became the first to formally put his name out for the job.

Dutch leader Jan-Peter Balkenende's name has also been circulated, while two latecomers to the names race, former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga and current Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who joined the "maybe" ranks on Wednesday.

EU leaders, however, will also be focusing on a series of other issues including the economy where they are expected to endorse a recent statement from the Group of 20 nations calling for more international economic coordination and to make a "political commitment to active labour market policies" as unemployment rates continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the Baltic Sea strategy, the EU's first coordinated approach to a so-called macro-region, is expected to formally endorsement and could become a model for other similar entities – for instance the Danube region or the Alps.

Migration will also be on the agenda on Thursday afternoon, as well as enhancing the powers of Frontex, the EU's border agency, while EU foreign ministers will discuss the European Union's role in the world over dinner.

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