The informal meeting of EU Heads of State held last week failed to cover all the topics set out in the agenda and was instead dominated by a discussion about economic governance and the current economic crisis in Greece.
The summit had been scheduled as an opportunity to discuss the EU’s economic policy more widely, consider climate policy post Copenhagen and also aid efforts in Haiti. A short statement was issued offering solidarity towards Greece and in a [press conference]( “”) after the meeting Spanish President Jose Luis Zapatero described discussions about the need for enhanced economic governance and a strategy for generating growth and job creation to 2020. Protecting and enhancing the Eurozone’s competitiveness was clearly a dominant issue.
This is not surprising as some reports this week indicated that after a very brief period out of recession the EU economy could be headed back into negative growth. A key question in this debate is where the EU considers future growth will come from? Will it stem from a return to growth in the heavy industries, manufacturing and retail firms that have been hit in the recent recession or from newer sources of wealth based on innovation, intellectual property and service provision? This will determine the EU’s approach to many policies that will need to be decided in the coming months not least the future position the EU takes in international climate negotiations.
President Zapatero hinted that the EU’s economic strategy may be more comprehensive than simply protecting the status quo when he added: “I not only refer to economic government concerning the EU-27, but the world economy and the positions that the EU should take in decisive matters for the future, such as regulation of the financial system, regulation of raw materials and climate change”. The name check for climate change is welcome but equivocal. Defenders of our high emitting companies and practices will interpret this as meaning we cannot go further without the rest of the world joining in for fear of damaging our competitiveness. Proponents of clean and innovative technologies and services will be hoping the EU sees that its future security lies in being a dominant player in the post-carbon economy and that growth will be achieved through massive investment in new energy infrastructure. Significantly both the US and China have indicated that they intend to invest in low carbon energy irrespective of what the rest of the world does. The extent to which the US is allowed to do this by its own internal politics will be a decisive factor in future negotiations.
This debate, due to take place during Thursday’s meeting, was in the end postponed. When it does happen it is likely to be heated as countries have already aligned themselves on both sides of the argument with the UK, France, Holland and Denmark supporting the case for stronger targets leading to higher innovation and investment in future technologies. While Poland and Italy are dominant in taking the opposing view.
The Environment Council on March 15th may be the next opportunity for this discussion to be aired but anything decisive may be held over until the Spring Summit on March 25th-26th. If the EU wants to play a role in getting the world’s emissions on to a declining pathway it has to make its mind up on which target it will adopt before the next Ministerial negotiation which is likely to be in Bonn this June. Spring Council is therefore the last chance. It would be short sighted to miss this opportunity, whatever the short term economic circumstances are at the time. Some issues are too important to postpone.