EU leaders debate climate aid to poor at summit in Belgium

Friday, October 30, 2009

BRUSSELS -- The European Union fought Thursday to live up to its self-proclaimed leadership on combating climate change, with the 27 EU leaders at odds over how much to offer poorer nations to join the global battle.

EU nations failed to agree on a figure for climate change funding for developing countries during a first set of talks on Thursday, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said, promising to make new efforts to strike a deal on the second day of talks here today.

"On climate, we are not ready yet. ... We have not solved it," he told reporters after leading talks.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said EU leaders "have to achieve" agreement Friday on offering billions of euros to developing nations that would prove Europe's commitment to tackling climate change ahead of U.N. talks on a new greenhouse gas pact in Copenhagen.

The leaders did agree on a crucial issue for the union's future, diplomats said -- concessions to the Euro-skeptic Czech president to persuade him to sign a reform treaty strengthening the bloc's diplomatic power and creating the post of a fixed EU president.

Nine eastern EU states said earlier that they would rather walk away from the two-day summit without an agreement than be forced into a deal for billions of euros that would stretch their budgets -- even if that jeopardizes a global climate pact and hurts the EU's international image.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned against waiting for a deal, saying the stakes in the climate change battle are too high to bicker over who should shoulder how much of the burden.

"Unless we have a program for financing the action we're taking against climate change, then we will not get an agreement at Copenhagen," where the U.N. climate conference kicks off Dec. 7 aimed at replacing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Brown said.

The EU executive said developing nations would need annual help of $148 billion by 2020, of which EU governments and companies should contribute up to $59 billion.

The latest draft declaration the leaders were discussing Thursday night had eliminated any mention of fund targets. Reinfeldt said EU nations needed to take account of how badly many of them have been hit by the financial crisis.

It is tough to reconcile current EU hesitancy with Europe's early ambitions on the issue.

The Copenhagen summit is seen as a watershed moment for fighting climate change and for global cooperation, and for years the EU has been seeking out the moral high ground, challenging other powers such as the United States and China to match Europe's commitment.

An internal EU squabble over funding could weaken the union globally -- and just look bad. U.N. officials say a European declaration on finance could go a long way toward breaking the stalemate in the climate talks. Developing countries are holding back firm commitments to slow the growth of their carbon dioxide emissions until they know how much aid they can expect to adjust to changing climate conditions.

With the U.S. hamstrung by Congress, which has yet to approve U.S. emissions targets, poorer countries are looking to the EU to set the pace that they expect other industrialized countries to match.

The EU announced last year it would decide by spring how much it would contribute, and the delay has led to frustration among climate negotiators.

The debate goes to the core of the European Union's institutional quagmire. For years, the bloc has wanted to raise its international profile but is always held back by hesitant member states putting nationhood ahead of the continent.

To improve cooperation among member states, the EU has been trying for eight years to streamline its rule book through a new reform treaty. Only the Czech Republic has yet to approve the document, and its president, Vaclav Klaus, has held up the whole process since early October.

The EU leaders yielded to Klaus' objections, paving the way for the Czech Republic to become the last country to approve the deal. Klaus' signature now only hinges on a ruling from the Czech constitutional court, expected to rule Tuesday.

That will allow EU leaders to fill the new posts of an EU president and foreign policy chief. Politicians were lobbying behind the scenes over presidential candidates, with the front-runners including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker.

Support for Blair's candidacy appeared to wane at the summit as European socialists leaned away from supporting him and other names surfaced in discussions.

Associated Press writers Aoife White, Constant Brand and Barbara Schaeder contributed to this report.

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