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EU leaders to tackle climate, coronavirus, set Brexit aside

European leaders are keen to focus on other issues over the next two days as the bloc grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, and new, tougher targets on reducing CO2 emissions.

By: Deutsche Welle | December 10, 2020 4:42:04 pm
European Union, EU FlagThe EU is keen to strike a deal on further slashing emissions over the next decade ahead of a UN climate conference that starts on Saturday.

EU leaders begin a meeting in Brussels later Thursday for a two-day summit after Brexit talks between the UK and the European Commission ended without an agreement.

But European leaders are keen to focus on other issues over the next two days as the bloc grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, and new, tougher targets on reducing CO2 emissions.

“We are fed up with Brexit,” said one EU foreign minister, speaking to DW on condition of anonymity. “Leaders didn’t want it taking over the summit. We want to concentrate on climate change and other things.”

Brexit talks remain deadlocked

The only mention of the UK will come when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen briefly updates governments on the negotiations.

EU diplomats had downplayed the chances of a breakthrough during talks between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and von der Leyen.

A statement released by von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, said the discussion with Johnson was “lively,” while UK government sources described them as “frank.”

“Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged,” a Downing Street source said.

Both sides have set a deadline of Sunday to decide whether to push ahead for a deal or let Britain leave the current Brexit transition period without one.

But deadlines have slipped before. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told MEPs in a private meeting on Monday that Wednesday was the final day to strike an agreement.

Unblocking the EU budget

Poland and Hungary have so far refused to sign off on the bloc’s next seven-year spending cycle over a row about the role of law.

Both countries face EU investigations over charges that they have undermined the independence of their courts and media.

The argument erupted last month when Budapest and Warsaw refused to approve the €1.1 trillion budget for 2021-2027, as well as a €750 million coronavirus recovery fund.

The fund would give the European Commission more powers to raise money on financial markets in the same way governments do.

But Polish and Hungarian ministers argued officials were unfairly trying to link access to EU funds with rule of law concerns targeting their countries.

Ambassadors tentatively agreed to a German-brokered compromise on Wednesday that still ties payments to democratic standards.

However, sanctions cannot be imposed until judges at the European Court of Justice have given their verdict on whether the new rules are legal.

All governments need to agree to the EU’s seven-year budgets. A veto means an emergency spending plan kicks in that would have seen billions of euros slashed in infrastructure spending, hitting Poland and Hungary in the pocket.

The deal struck still needs to be approved by leaders at the summit and the European Parliament.

EU seeks new green deal

The EU is keen to strike a deal on further slashing emissions over the next decade ahead of a UN climate conference that starts on Saturday.

Leaders will discuss cutting them by at least 55% from 1990 levels. The current 2030 goal is to cut emissions by 40%.

The proposal was unveiled by the European Commission in September during von der Leyen’s maiden State of the Union speech.

European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday that an agreement is “within our grasp.”

But there can no deal on climate change unless Poland’s and Hungary’s leaders sign off on the 2021-2017 budget.

“If you have no agreement on the first one, then it’s more difficult to solve the other one,” one senior official told Reuters, adding that if the budget is not in place, some countries will lack the EU funding they need to cut emissions.

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