On Tuesday a numerically impressive delegation of Europeans will be in Washington for the first formal US-European Union summit since Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration last January. Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s prime minister, will be there in his capacity as leader of the country that holds the EU’s rotating presidency. So will Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister. So will Javier Solana, the EU’s head of foreign policy. So will Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external affairs commissioner. So will José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president – and from what I hear, a few other bigwigs are going along for the ride as well.
This is quite a turnout. It would be nice to think it reflects an exceptionally warm and constructive relationship between the Obama administration and its EU allies. But as a timely new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations points out, the real picture is less rosy. “To Americans, these summits are all too typical of the European love of process over substance, and a European compulsion for everyone to crowd into the room regardless of efficiency,” write the authors, Nick Witney and Jeremy Shapiro. Read more
According to an opinion poll, more than half of Denmark’s population has little or no confidence that world leaders will strike an agreement on fighting climate change at December’s landmark United Nations summit in Copenhagen. It is just a hunch, but I reckon one impulse behind this pessimism is the widespread European suspicion that China, which recently overtook the US as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, will play an unconstructive role at the talks.
What if this suspicion is unfounded? Read more
What should be the top five priorities of the next European Commission?
1) Top of my list is the defence, and if possible the strengthening, of the single European market. This is the European Union’s bedrock achievement. It secures prosperity for its citizens, and it underpins the EU’s collective weight in the world. Without the single market, the EU would lose not merely its cohesion but its very reason for existence. The single market is under strain at present because of the emergency measures taken over the past year to prop up Europe’s banking system. These have, in effect, suspended the EU’s state aid rules in this sector. The Commission will need to be tough in making sure that EU governments do not manipulate the rules as the emergency measures are gradually withdrawn. Meanwhile, it should continue to press the case for integrating and liberalising the EU’s service sector, which accounts for two-thirds of all EU economic activity. Read more
Excuse the pun, but the Arctic is a hot topic in Brussels these days. So hot that I and many others struggled through wintry rain and darkness this morning to hear Elisabeth Walaas, Norway’s state secretary for foreign affairs, give a talk on the challenges facing the High North.
By now, the facts are well-known. The Arctic region is thought to contain huge energy resources, perhaps as much as 20 per cent of the world’s undiscovered, technically recoverable reserves. In an age of dwindling fossil fuel supplies, the temptation to exploit these resources is irresistible. Read more
How much will it cost the European Union to fight global climate change? Clearly, the answer depends on what your target is, how you propose to get there, and the size of the EU’s contribution compared with those of the US, China and so on. But a new report from the Centre for European Policy Studies thinktank offers some useful estimates.
The report assesses six recent studies, ranging from the Stern Review and a World Bank analysis to research prepared by Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company. In these reports, the average annual global costs for mitigating and adapting to climate change are put at anything from €230bn to €614bn, based on 2006 data. Read more
Read a European Commission document closely enough, and there’s usually a nugget in it somewhere. In the case of Tuesday’s communication on rising global food prices, it was to be found in the final paragraph, which asked the question: Should the EU drop its biofuels target due to rising food prices?
European Union leaders committed themselves last year to producing 10 per cent of their road transport fuel by 2020 from biofuels. Among scientists, car manufacturers and green campaigners, not to mention several EU governments, it was always a contentious target. But the Commission reaffirmed the goal in January, describing biofuels as one of the few measures “realistically capable of making a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from transport”. Read more
There has been much talk of the Franco-German motor that has traditionally propelled the European Union breaking down recently. So the cancellation of a meeting last week between the two countries to discuss proposals to cut pollution from cars led to plenty of puns.
The German press said the process has stalled but the French government said that was overblown. Whatever happens, the two biggest automakers in the European Union will have to strike a deal over whose companies will have to make the biggest changes to ensure the European Union meets – or at least comes close to – its climate change targets. Read more
Thursday’s thundering Financial Times editorial on the food crisis unfortunately arrived too late to change opinions on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont, the European Commission nerve centre. The day before the call for a pause in the push for biofuels was made Jose Manuel Barroso, Commission president, defended the policy.
He said the use of crops for fuel had so far had little effect on higher food prices. It can’t be often that the Commission disagrees with its multilateral brethren, the IMF, World Bank and United Nations. Read more
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, promised us a “new industrial revolution” last year and it looks as though he might just deliver.
Barroso seized on climate change as a new raison d’etre for the bloc on its 50th birthday, now that war between its members was a distance memory. An economy built on fossil fuel would have to be weaned off it, he said.
No one really believed him, though the club’s 27 members were dragged far enough along, with differing levels of enthusiasm, to endorse fairly stiff targets for greenhouse gas reductions – a fifth below 1990 levels by 2020.
The potential gains are great, but the pain is also becoming clear, and as the Commission prepares to deliver its medicine on January 23 howls are growing louder around Europe.
A friend of mine who works for the European Commission’s internal market directorate moaned the other day that it was “turning into the OECD”. In other words, it had stopped bludgeoning the barriers to trade in the EU market with a battering ram of regulations and was instead consulting, advising and recommending change . But the OECD, a dry economic think tank , seems to be turning into the European Commission, judging by the latest furore surrounding it.
In early September its round table on sustainable development met to discuss a report entitled “Biofuels – is the cure worse than the disease”. The academic paper fuelled a controversy that has burned for several weeks.