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EU tackles climate and treaty obstacles

Coal power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany 2007
Leaders need to agree a coherent EU position on climate targets

By Laurence Peter
BBC News, Brussels

After Europe's emergency economic measures in the last few months, it is longer-term challenges that look set to dominate a two-day EU summit opening in Brussels on Thursday.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The Swedish EU presidency says the first working session will be devoted to climate change and preparations for the global conference in Copenhagen, now just weeks away.

A coherent EU position on new targets for tackling global warming is seen as vital to get developing countries on board and spread the green initiatives already taken by the EU.

The 27-nation bloc is committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 and by up to 30% if other countries join in.

Armed with these ambitious goals, it is claiming a leadership role in the international climate debate.

But the thorny issue of financing to help developing countries cut emissions will be at the heart of the Copenhagen talks.

The hope is that Copenhagen will set a realistic framework for limiting global warming to 2C.

EU 20-20-20 TARGETS
20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020
20% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020
20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020

But the European Commission estimates that by 2020, rich countries will need to be giving developing countries 100bn euros annually to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impact.

The Commission's blueprint suggests the EU's share of that help could be 2-15bn euros annually.

The question now is whether EU leaders can agree on short and medium-term funding targets, which would put the EU in a strong negotiating position at Copenhagen.

It is hoped that market forces will also play a big part, as the EU's cap-and-trade system for reducing emissions is seen as a model for the rest of the world.

The Commission says a well-designed international carbon market could deliver up to 38bn euros annually by 2020 - money that could be invested in adaptation and green technologies.

But there are calls to reform the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The EU is considering how to improve the CDM, which allows polluters in rich countries to offset their emissions by investing in green projects in developing nations.

The mechanism is beset by bureaucratic difficulties and critics say it makes it too easy for enterprises to avoid cutting emissions at home.

LISBON TREATY

The Lisbon Treaty has been ratified by all the member states except for the Czech Republic, yet Czech Eurosceptics have mounted a challenge that the other leaders may find tricky to resolve.

EC Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso (R) welcomes Czech PM Jan Fischer at EU headquarters in Brussels, October 13, 2009
EC Chairman Barroso pursues Czech PM Jan Fischer on the Lisbon treaty

Lisbon will be discussed at the summit dinner.

The treaty - the result of a decade of negotiations - is aimed at streamlining EU institutions, to make them better suited to the enlarged bloc of 27 nations.

EU leaders are anxious to put the long-delayed treaty into effect.

A new Commission has to be appointed soon - and EU leaders want this to happen under the Lisbon rules, which keep the number of commissioners at 27.

The current Commission's mandate is expiring, and its powers while it carries on in a caretaker role are open to challenge.

The big Irish "Yes" to Lisbon in a referendum on 2 October brought sighs of relief from EU governments.

But since then, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has demanded a Czech opt-out from the treaty's Charter of Fundamental Rights, similar to opt-outs previously won by the UK and Poland.

LISBON TREATY
Aimed at streamlining EU decision-making
Creates new posts of EU president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs
More decisions by majority vote, rather than unanimity
Ratified by all member states except the Czech Republic
Only Ireland held a referendum
Took a decade of negotiations
Was intended to take effect in January 2009

And the Czech Constitutional Court still has to rule on whether the treaty violates Czech sovereignty.

EU leaders may agree to offer President Klaus a legally binding declaration, along the lines of one already given to the Republic of Ireland, which might be enough to make him sign the treaty.

They have ruled out any revision of the treaty itself, as that would then have to be ratified again by all the states.

They will be looking for a "quick fix" to satisfy the Czechs, all too aware that a UK general election looms next spring, with the anti-Lisbon Conservatives favourites to win.

Potential candidates for two key new posts - an EU president and a foreign policy chief with enhanced powers - are carefully testing the diplomatic waters before committing themselves.

But that does not stop the feverish speculation and behind-the-scenes lobbying.

The UK government has made it clear it would like former prime minister Tony Blair to be the new EU president, but Mr Blair is yet to confirm his willingness to take on the job.



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