Climate breakdown shows need for new EU environmental strategy

20/12/2009

 

After the failure in Copenhagen, many must consider what went wrong. Europe needs to rethink its international environmental strategy.

The European Union can look back at a number of green success stories. Working together with developing nations, Europe played an important role at the Rio Conference in 1992, for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and for progress in other fields, such as control of dangerous waste under the Basel Convention and the Biosafety Protocol under the Convention on Biodiversity.

But in Copenhagen, European leaders were sidelined by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. When the deal between Barack Obama and the emerging economies was done, the European Union faced the choice either to agree or to be accused of stopping an agreement in Copenhagen. The press conference where José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt were going to present the European view was delayed for more than two hours – a sign that discussions among EU Heads of Government were not easy.

José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt at the Climate Summit. Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

Already before EU co-ordination started, Nicolas Sarkozy said that the deal was done. Once again, the big EU countries acted on their own, making the role of the rotating Presidency difficult.

The Swedish Presidency´s disappointment over the Copenhagen Summit was obvious.

Major fiasco, complete mess, totally inadequate, massive disappointment are words that spring to mind twittered Gunnar Caperius, adviser to the Minister for Environment.

The Minister himself, Andreas Carlgren, wrote on his blog under the title `Disappointed over the Copenhagen outcome´: What happened at the climate conference is really not what I and the EU have worked so incredibly hard for…Yesterday the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa made a deal on their own.

Of course, the responsibility rests with many players, mainly the US and China. But the Swedish EU Presidency was too weak, with clear divisions between Andreas Carlgren and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

What lesson can the European Union learn from the climate fiasco?

First, the world has changed. China is flexing its economic muscles more than before. India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are taking a self-confident role on the global scene. The European Union must have a more coherent foreign policy in relations to such countries, not allowing them to divide Member States (as Russia has done on energy policy).

Second, Europe must build stronger alliances with poor countries. During the climate negotiations, Sweden as EU Chair categorically refused to discuss new commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. This attitude provoked many developing countries, and in the end the European Union had to revise its position. Now, EU leaders, and the new High Representative Catherine Ashton, must find ways to increase trust among the poor countries.

Third, environment cannot any longer be seen isolated from trade and development policy. The refusal by China and India to move forward on binding climate commitments will certainly increase calls for border tax adjustments and other restrictive trade measures. That is a dangerous route.

The EU should instead use the review of the Common Agricultural Policy and the negotiations on the next long-term budget to reduce trade barriers and subsidies, and use this leverage to convince major partners to move forward on climate.

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The Swedish Presidency: Effective but not Exciting

14/12/2009

 

It is too early yet to make a final assessment of the Swedish EU Presidency. Negotiating a climate treaty in Copenhagen is the most important goal for Fredrik Reinfeldt and his colleagues. At the end of the week we will know if this aim was achieved.

However, it is possible to summarize progress so far in other fields.

As others have noted, it has been a low-profile but effective Presidency. Sweden moved issues forward that were already on the agenda. One contributing factor has been the many skilled civil servants and diplomats in the Swedish administration.

After Ireland´s yes-vote, Fredrik Reinfeldt was successful in convincing Vaclav Klaus to sign the Lisbon Treaty. That was an important achievement, allowing the new Treaty to enter into force on 1 December. It paved the way for the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the two new top positions in the EU.

Fredrik Reinfeldt´s leadership has been compared to a Volvo diesel, running at an even speed in a reliable way. In some areas, however, it would have been better with a modern eco-car with more acceleration.

It is hard to find many areas where Sweden really pushed the European agenda forward during these six months. Yes, an EU presidency should act in the interest of the whole Union, but it had been possible to take more initiatives during 2007 and 2008 that had been mature for decisions this autumn.

Environment is a case in point. The Swedish government was late in its proposals regarding the EU Sustainability Strategy review, and has taken few initiatives in areas such as chemicals, waste and biological diversity. The talk about `eco-efficiency´ did not lead to concrete decisions.

In some areas the reasons are ideological.

The centre-right government in Stockholm did not want to review the controversial directive on posting of workers, after a heated debate in Sweden regarding the Laval case. The conclusions at the December Summit on the post-Lisbon strategy do not contain much on good working conditions, gender equality or anti-discrimination, but these issues were never a real political priority for Reinfeldt´s Presidency.  

It is harder to understand the lack of initiative in areas such as environment or consumer protection where political parties in Sweden´s coalition government have traditionally had strong views.

Of course, there are exceptions.

Enlargement is perhaps the most important success story of the Presidency. Carl Bildt and his skilled collaborators played an important role behind the scenes to break the impasse in Croatia´s membership negotiations. There was also progress for Serbia and other parts of ex-Yugoslavia. Iceland started its route towards membership.

Carl Bildt also secured agreement on the European External Action Service. The Swedish Foreign Ministry did more to prevent a new Georgia crisis this summer than is publicly known, and managed (at least so far) to hold the EU together on Iran.

Justice Minister Beatrice Ask convinced her colleagues about a new Stockholm Programme with more focus on fundamental rights than before (her colleague Tobias Billström, however, was not able to change the repressive character of migration policy in Europe).

Health Minister Maria Larsson tried to hold the EU together in its response to swine flu and moved the issue of better antibiotics forward – an underestimated policy area.

But more often than not, Sweden followed the will of the big EU countries, for example on the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton.

At a remarkable event, France met with 21 other countries to discuss the future of agricultural policy, excluding Britain and Sweden – a clear provocation to the EU Presidency. The deal on financial supervision allowed the UK to retain national control over its financial sector, while the Swedish government watered down proposals on the regulation of alternative investment funds.

The Swedish Presidency was much better than the Czech, but it was in some ways also an opportunity lost.

Now in Copenhagen, the EU position is to abandon the Kyoto protocol without having a new binding treaty to put in its place.

That is not very promising for the final assessment of the Presidency.

[UPDATE Sweden´s first EU Presidency took place in 2001. A detailed description is now available in my book “Anna Lindh och det nya Europa”. More information at www.annalindheuropa.se.]


A Green World Power – But For How Long?

06/12/2009

 

Finally, the Copenhagen Climate Summit starts. Reaching an agreement at the conference is `a very big and important task´ for the Swedish EU Presidency, Fredrik Reinfeldt stated in July. Now it is clear that Copenhagen will not produce a binding agreement, a setback for Reinfeldt´s ambitions.

Without doubt, the European Union has played a leading role in global climate negotiations, saving the Kyoto Protocol and setting the most ambitious emission targets among major economies.

European leverage in Copenhagen depends on how governments solve outstanding issues. There is still no bid from the EU on financial aid to developing countries, although Reinfeldt claimed so after the European Council in October. Sweden is now trying to get pledges from as many EU governments as possible.

Green Ministers. Denmark´s Connie Hedegaard and Sweden´s Andreas Carlgren.  Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

Green Ministers. Denmark´s Connie Hedegaard and Sweden´s Andreas Carlgren. Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

Financial aid has to be additional to earlier promises if Copenhagen is to be a success. Developing countries will not be convinced if the money comes from existing development aid budgets. The European Council on Thursday and Friday has to come up with a substantial offer.

Fredrik Reinfeldt must also have the guts to say no to Barack Obama if the US position is too weak. It would be a serious mistake to abandon the Kyoto Protocol without a better binding agreement in place.

In Copenhagen, the European Union will be in the lead. But in five years, the picture might have changed. The new government in Japan has already presented an ambitious climate target. China is moving fast forward, for example on green technologies. The same goes for South Korea and other emerging economies. With Barack Obama as President, the United States can regain the leading role in environmental policy the country had during the 1970s and 1980s.

Europe could quickly lose its pole position if there is not enough progress on new environmental measures. Unfortunately, there has been a slowing down in green policy-making during the last few years, with industry concerns over short-term competitiveness growing more influential.

The new Commission will have a key role in securing that Europe does not fall behind. Connie Hedegaard is a good choice as climate commissioner, but it is also crucial that the new climate directorate has a strong leadership. The ambitious climate targets agreed must be followed by concrete measures to preserve Europe´s credibility.

Other environmental issues are equally important. It will not be possible to find long-term solutions to climate change without adressing the loss of biodiversity. Resource and energy efficiency will climb even higher on the political agenda when conflicts over scarce resources grow stronger.

Thus, Jan Potocnik´s portfolio is as important as Connie Hedegard. The European Parliament should put tough questions to Potocnik on the agenda for the coming years.

The new high representative, Catherine Ashton, also has a key role. The European External Actions Service should have a strong green component.

Being a green world power is an advantage for the European Union, giving credibility both in the world and among its own citizens. The Copenhagen Summit will be a test for European diplomacy and for the Swedish Presidency. However, ambitious Commission proposals on environment during the next few years could be even more important for Europe´s role on the global stage.

Others on the Swedish EU Presidency: DN, Jean QuatremerTony BarberGrahnlawse2009.eu