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EU leaders agree to cut emissions by 55% over the next decade after all-night summit

Leaders also came to a compromise yesterday to clear the way for a €1.8 trillion Covid-19 recovery package.

EU leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban clashed during the talks.
EU leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban clashed during the talks.
Image: Olivier Matthys/PA Images

EU LEADERS DEBATED through the night into this morning trying to agree more ambitious climate targets, despite earlier winning a victory for unity in unblocking the bloc’s two trillion euro budget and recovery fund.

The bitter summit debate over how to fight climate change went into the early hours, as the 27 EU members disagreed over declaring a binding target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.

After marathon talks, the 55% cut was finally agreed. 

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said: “Europe will reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. It puts us on a clear path towards climate neutrality in 2050.”

The fight was over how the cost of the effort should be shared across the countries: highly dependent on coal, Poland – allied with several Eastern European countries – fears serious economic consequences and wanted details on the aid it would receive.

“I’m always optimistic. I think that leaders are determined to reach a consensus before going to bed,” a European source said after seven hours of fruitless talks.

As part of its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU has pledged to become climate-neutral by 2050, the date when it would offset or capture more greenhouse gas than it emits.

However, the previous interim target for 2030 – a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 1990 – is not now seen as sufficient to achieve this goal.

At an October summit, the EU leaders postponed the decision on the more ambitious climate target until their next meeting, given the hesitation by the eastern member states.

Green new deal

The new climate goals are backed by big EU powers, including France and Germany, as well as many major businesses keen to access European funding to kickstart a recovery through what Brussels has taken to calling a green new deal.

The marathon row over climate targets began after the resolution of another fight, also involving Warsaw, that might have spurred optimism.

The leaders resolved a bitter dispute with Poland and Hungary and salvaged the bloc’s landmark coronavirus recovery plan that the countries had vetoed.

Europe’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package had been blocked by Hungary and Poland over an attempt to link the disbursement of funds to respect for the rule of law.

The stand-off risked delaying the recovery fund well into next year, just as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic was punishing the European economy, but yesterday the leaders came to a compromise that allowed the package to go through.

“Today’s agreement shows that insight triumphs over egoism. With this financial package, Europe can emerge powerfully from the crisis,” German finance minister Olaf Scholz said in a statement.

“We have defended the interests of Hungary. D-Day was a success!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

Brexit pushed aside

And his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki said: “We fight for our rights. We fight for clarity, we fight for certainty of law, and we fight for the EU treaty so that they are not circumvented by the secondary law.”

Under the deal, the Polish leader explained, the rule of law mechanism would be limited to ensure that EU funds are spent correctly according to precise criteria and not touch on social issues such as abortion, LGBT rights or migration policy.

Budapest and Warsaw are major recipients of EU budget cash, and their critics see the rule of law mechanism as a way to slow their alleged slide into authoritarianism.

Both governments have been accused by Brussels of rolling back democratic freedoms, notably judicial independence in Poland and press and civil society freedoms in Hungary.

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Both climate and the budget succeeded in pushing failing Brexit trade negotiations to the side. The leaders were not expected to discuss the talks at length during the two-day summit, but had been due to be briefed on them.

London and Brussels have said they will decide by Sunday whether to press on with talks aimed at thrashing out a post-Brexit trade deal, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen failed to bridge “major differences”.

The EU ratcheted up pressure by publishing its no-deal contingency plan to protect air and road travel and fishing rights just three weeks ahead of a year-end deadline, as negotiators from the two sides resumed talks in Brussels to find a way forward.

Turkey sanctions

The marathon summit also decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets for sanctions over its stand-off on energy resources with EU members Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara has been challenging Athens over maritime territory in the region by repeatedly sending a gas exploration vessel into Greek waters.

France, Greece, and Cyprus are pushing for action against Turkey, but other EU nations including Germany, Italy and Poland oppose slapping broad sanctions or an embargo on a fellow NATO member.

“The council adopted sanctions in the face of Turkey’s ‘unilateral actions and provocations’,” French minister for European affairs Clement Beaune tweeted.

© AFP 2020

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