Ebola and economic challenges set to dominate EU summit

Leaders to discuss climate change targets that will replace EU’s current framework

Jean-Claude Juncker: discussion of his much-feted €300bn investment plan likely to be deferred until December summit. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

Jean-Claude Juncker: discussion of his much-feted €300bn investment plan likely to be deferred until December summit. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

 

EU leaders, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, gather in Brussels today for a two-day summit.

A discussion on the EU’s climate and energy framework for 2030 ahead of next year’s UN climate summit in Paris has long been pencilled in, but the summit is also likely to focus on the Ebola crisis, as well as the euro zone’s economic challenges.

However, a detailed discussion of Jean-Claude Juncker’s much-feted €300 billion investment plan for Europe is likely to be deferred until the December summit.

So what are the main issues on the agenda?

Climate Change

Discussions between diplomats from all 28 member states have been ongoing in Brussels over the past few months as the EU strives to forge a common policy.

While it appears that Ireland may get concessions on agriculture emissions, the EU is deeply divided on the issue of climate change, with ambassadors due to meet this afternoon to try and forge some form of consensus before the summit begins.

Poland and a number of east European states, which are highly dependent on fossil fuels, are seeking to scale back the level of emissions targets suggested by the European Commission in a policy paper in January.

Even the more environmentally-progressive member states are conceding that commitments on climate change must be balanced by economic reality.

With Europe tentatively emerging from recession, many countries are concerned about imposing punitive climate targets, particularly as Europe is struggling to maintain competitiveness in comparison to the US and fast-growing Asian economies.

As it stands, it is likely that member states will back a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions, a 27 per cent renewable energy target, which would be binding at EU level, and possibly a 27 per cent energy efficiency target.

Economy

A special “euro zone” summit involving leaders from countries in the single currency is scheduled to begin tomorrow lunchtime, which will be attended by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and chairman of the euro group Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Leaders meet a week after turmoil returned to global markets, fuelled in part by the Greek government’s suggestion that it may leave its bailout early.

While the market turmoil has subsided, there are continuing concerns about the medium to long-term health of the euro-zone economy. Inflation fell to a fresh low of 0.3 per cent last month, unemployment remains at record levels in many countries and even behemoths like Germany have experienced a slowdown in economic growth in recent months.

Last week the IMF warned that the euro zone had a 40 per cent chance of re-entering recession. Simultaneously, the euro zone is embroiled in an escalating dispute about its economic policy, with France and Italy calling on Berlin and Brussels to consent to greater flexibility in the application of fiscal rules. Both countries, who submitted their 2015 budgets to the European Commission for scrutiny last week, are believed to be in breach of the EU’s fiscal targets as set out in the Stability and Growth Pact.

Negotiations have been taking place in Berlin this week to secure some kind of compromise between France and Germany ahead of this week’s summit, though a resolution to the issue may not be reached before tomorrow’s discussion.

Technically, the European Commission has until next Wednesday to return countries’ budgets to the national capitals for changes.

Ebola

European CouncilHerman Van Rompuy

Britain is one of only three EU countries to have introduced screening at its main international airports. France followed suit, introducing screening at Charles de Gaulle Airport on Saturday, while Brussels Airport bowed to pressure and introduced screening on Monday.

Last week the EU confirmed it fell to individual countries to decide about screening at EU entry-points, though EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday did agree to increase co-ordination of resources.

Concrete measures that may emerge from the summit are a commitment to more funding for countries affected by Ebola – Cameron has called for a doubling of EU funds to €1 billion, and the mobilisation of more workers to the affected regions.

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