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Eleventh-hour deals mark EU summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) gestures while speaking at the summit in Brussels (12 December 2008)
President Sarkozy pulled out all the stops to make the EU summit a success

By Laurence Peter
BBC News, Brussels

It was anyone's guess how many shirts each leader would need to pack for this landmark European Union summit.

The Danish prime minister said he had brought an extra shirt for Saturday - and he was not alone in that.

In the end it was not needed because, despite some gloomy predictions on the first day, the summit did not over-run.

Key deals were struck on the EU's wide-ranging climate package and the controversial Lisbon Treaty.

It is quite historic what has happened here
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, described it as "the most important European Council in which I have participated".

It was a personal triumph for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the climate package "historic" and proclaimed the stalled Lisbon Treaty process "relaunched".

He also insisted it was time for the EU to punch its weight on the world stage.

Mr Sarkozy pulled out all the stops to make this summit a success, not least because France will hand over the six-month rotating EU presidency to the Czech Republic in January.

Ireland concessions

On Lisbon the deal is that the Republic of Ireland will strive to get the treaty ratified by next October, when the term of the current Commission - the EU's executive arm - runs out.

That means holding a second referendum, under the Irish constitution.

A woman walks past graffiti urging a "No" vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum (9 June 2006)
It is not clear what happens if the Irish vote 'No' again

In return, EU leaders agreed on a set of "legal guarantees" to ease Irish voters' concerns - concerns which prompted them to reject the treaty in a referendum in June.

Ireland is the only one of the EU's 27 member states to put the treaty to a referendum - though there are loud calls in several states, including the UK, for referendums too.

The EU is "guaranteeing" that the treaty will not encroach on Ireland's policies on taxation, state neutrality, abortion and the rights of the family.

But it is not clear what happens if the Irish vote "No" again.

The treaty aims to reform EU institutions, to adapt them to the enlarged bloc of 27.

Opponents say the text differs little from the defunct EU constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

In another concession to the Irish, the EU has pledged that if Lisbon is finally ratified by all 27 - and most have already done so - then Ireland will keep its commissioner.

In that case, each member state will have a commissioner.

Yet under the current Nice Treaty, the plan was to reduce the number of commissioners in 2009.

German 'bullies'

With the Lisbon deadline set for the second half of next year it is likely that the climate package will preoccupy the Czech EU presidency more.

The European Parliament will consider the revised package next week, and with the power of co-decision MEPs can still make amendments.

One of the chief climate negotiators, Green MEP Claude Turmes, said the imprint of powerful industrial lobbies was all over the compromises agreed at the summit.

EU 20/20/20 TARGETS
20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 1990 levels
20% increase in use of renewable energy by 2020
20% cut in energy consumption through improved energy efficiency by 2020

Fewer of Europe's big industrial polluters will have to buy all of their carbon emission permits as from 2013.

The phasing-in of full auctioning of permits is being pushed back to ease the burden for struggling economies in Central and Eastern Europe.

The former Communist countries argued successfully that richer EU states should help them more to modernise their fossil-fuel based industries.

Poland's power stations are still 95% reliant on coal.

Mr Turmes blamed Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel for the deal, saying she had been "bullied by the big firms in Germany".

Green campaigners condemn the EU's free handouts of emission permits to industry, saying they have allowed huge windfall profits for energy firms, instead of encouraging cleaner technologies.

Economic anxiety

The changes to the package look set to strengthen doubts about whether the EU really can meet its 2020 deadline for 20% emissions cuts, 20% use of renewables and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.

Patnow power plant near Konin, Poland
Critics fear the climate deal may have been undermined by compromises

But CO2 emissions are likely to fall anyway if a prolonged recession brings significant plant closures.

A simultaneous UN climate conference in Poland added to the pressure on the EU to show unity and live up to its claim to be the world leader on this issue.

Mr Sarkozy and Mr Barroso voiced hope that US President-elect Barack Obama would help spearhead the drive to combat global warming and get China, India and other big powers to follow suit.

Anxiety about the economic crisis overshadowed the summit and coloured the climate talks.

Some undiplomatic German comments on UK economic policy highlighted the difficulty of co-ordinating the EU's response and avoiding protectionist or "beggar thy neighbour" actions.

But agreement was reached on an EU economic recovery plan worth about 200bn euros (180bn), or 1.5% of the EU's total gross domestic product (GDP).

It comes on top of massive state bail-outs for stricken banks across Europe.

So despite the arguments, progress was made and EU leaders kept their shirts on.

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