European leaders clashed over the bloc’s plans to tackle climate change Thursday, with Poland demanding more time to switch to green energy and others pushing the case for nuclear power.
Brussels’ new leadership, under European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, wants member states to use their summit to commit to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
But, as the talks went late into the night, Poland was still demanding that it be allowed to take longer, perhaps up until 2070 European diplomats said, to complete the switch — and the Czech Republic was pushing for the members to endorse nuclear power as a clean energy.
Von der Leyen’s “European Green Deal” includes a plan to mobilise 100 billion euros to help countries with the move towards carbon neutrality, but critics say this is not enough.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who wants more detailed assurances about funding, said the Czech Republic alone would need 30 to 40 billion euros ($27 to $36 billion) to achieve carbon neutrality.
And Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda estimated the transition would cost two-thirds of his country’s GDP.
Hungary and the Czech Republic want the summit conclusions to explicitly state that, according to their suggested draft, “for certain member states nuclear energy will play a key role in meeting climate objectives.”
But the latest draft seen by AFP simply acknowledges their right to “decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies”.
The Czech leader also hit out at countries like Austria and Luxembourg for refusing to agree to the EU endorsing nuclear energy as green.
“Nuclear energy is clean energy without emissions. I don’t know why countries have a problem with this,” Babis said as he arrived, after earlier accusing Austria of hypocrisy over its power supplies.
“This morning at a quarter to eight, Austrians consumed 23 percent of Czech electricity, Slovakia 30 percent. If we hadn’t supplied Austria with energy, a quarter of them wouldn’t even make coffee.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country gets more than two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear power, backed the Czechs, saying the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees it should play a role.
“For countries that have to get away from using coal, it’s obvious they will not be able to move to all renewables overnight,” Macron said.
And there was more support from Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who insisted that “without nuclear energy there is no carbon-neutral European economy”.
But Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was adamant he would not agree to EU money being used to set up nuclear plants.
“We are convinced that nuclear energy is neither sustainable nor safe, and especially when it comes to waste, we still do not know what we should do,” he said.
The red carpet bickering set the stage for a first summit for the new EU Council President Charles Michel that is more likely to be a baptism of fire than a honeymoon.
The day began with a dramatic protest by activists from environmental group Greenpeace who climbed the front wall of the Europa Building summit venue before the leaders arrived and unfurled a “Climate Emergency” banner.
Polish and Czech sources predicted that the fight could take the summit into the early hours of Friday morning without an agreement.
European officials acknowledge that, with their summit coinciding with the COP25 global climate conference in Madrid, failure to agree would be embarrassing.
The EU’s mammoth 2021-2027 multi-year financial framework (MFF) was another indigestible morsel on Thursday’s summit menu, but sources said the members had agreed to ask Michel “to take the negotiations forward with the am of reaching a final agreement”.
The 27 — departing member Britain is not attending the summit — discussed the budget over dinner, separately from the climate, but the hold-outs want a budget commitment to transition funding.
Ahead of the summit, Michel toured European capitals trying to build consensus on climate and the budget, but failed to find agreement on a Finnish drafted plan.
Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has proposed a seven-year budget based on national contributions amounting to 1.087 trillion euros.
The ‘frugal five’
This is equivalent to 1.07 percent of Europe’s total GDP, but less than the 1.114 requested by the commission and or the 1.3 percent sought by the EU parliament.
A so-called frugal five — Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden — oppose allowing EU spending to swell.
But Finland’s proposed cuts would have eaten into plans for the green transition, a border force, the digital economy and defence — dear to France.
Once their own disputes are resolved — or pushed off down the road — the EU leaders will on Friday turn again to Brexit, after results from the British election come in overnight.