11 March, 2007
The EU’s political leaders used big words such as “historic” after their 2007 Spring Summit. Are they correct? Has the EU tanker made a new turn which will gradually allow it to win back the trust of its citizens? As always, trying to evaluate the outcome of such summits is like gauging whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.
On the one hand, it is indeed a success that Chancellor Merkel got the 27 member states on one line as regards some of the targets proposed by the Commission. The commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unilaterally by 20% (and by even 30% when the US and other economic powers will follow) before the year 202 is spectacular when one looks at where the debate stood just a few years ago. The impact of freak weather, the Stern report on the economics of climate change, the “inconvenient truth” of Al Gore’s media hurricane has clearly woken up politicians as well as big business.
Energy efficiency, technological breakthroughs and renewable now are put forward as the miracle mix to deal with the twin challenge of climate change and energy security. The right policies in these three areas should not only provide the solution but, if you read all reports, even make us richer and healthier. If it were so easy, one wonders why the market (this fantastic mechanism which always finds the most efficient solutions to make us richer) did not discover this earlier. Maybe all these solutions are overlooking something?
But as always, the devil is in the detail. It is not hard to use the right words; it is much harder to follow up on them with the right actions. In reality, the decision on how to share the burden of this 20% commitment will be the real test for EU leadership. The vagueness of the summit’s conclusions over the possibility for some countries (France to start with) to define nuclear power as a renewable energy source will certainly come back to haunt the EU when it will define how each country will do its bit to reach the 20% binding target set for renewables. Let’s hope that the half-full glass does not start leaking when the real hard choices need to be made.
More essential though is the fact that EU leaders have still not understood the full extent of the challenge. The first ten pages of the summit conclusions are ample proof of the fact that the economic competitiveness paradigm still rules the political elites’ long-term thinking. Becoming the world’s first knowledge economy in a competition with the US or the new tigers in Asia is still more important than fighting the real global challenges of the 21st century.
It would have been a real historical summit if the EU leaders would have had the courage to say that sacrifices will be needed (and not just from industry) if we are to win the war against climate change and energy insecurity. But then again, maybe for that, we will have to wait for the next generation of leaders?Author : Willy De Backer