Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hailed the two-day European Union (EU) summit as historic. But the leaders' compromises on an economic stimulus, climate change and the Lisbon Treaty manifest the 27-nation bloc's weaknesses rather than its strengths.
The stalled ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty will be re-launched as Ireland has agreed to hold a second referendum pending decisions to relieve concerns of the Irish voters, including Ireland's military neutrality, its opposition to abortion and national rights on taxation. EU leaders also agreed not to trim the European Commission, so that Ireland can have a representative in the executive body of the EU.
The Irish "no" vote in June 2008, which put on hold key EU institutional reforms, was blamed on "democracy deficits" -- the out of touch of Brussels among ordinary EU citizens.
The composition of the European Commission became the biggest concern among Irish voters because they feared that their country might lose its voice in the future in the key EU institution.
The re-launch of the Lisbon Treaty might turn out to be a success given the arrangements. But the aim of the deal at the summit was pretty pragmatic: the early entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The so-called "democracy deficits" across EU member states are by no means tackled head-on. As a result, Brussels is not getting closer to grassroots citizens.
The deal on climate change managed to keep the so-called "20-20- 20" targets: 20-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions against the 1990 levels, 20-percent share of renewables in total energy consumption, and 20-percent energy savings, by the year 2020.
The overall emissions reduction target appears to be impressive. However, the WWF argues that the EU will not be cutting 20 percent of its own emissions as between 60 percent and 70 percent of the reduction -- depending on the country -- will be allowed to be reached by buying external credits from outside the EU. The EU leaders also agreed to give heavy polluters in eastern European countries free pollution permits.
By now, the EU has already achieved approximately 9 percent of reduction in emissions compared to the 1990 levels. The 2020 target therefore translates into a mere 11 percent reduction from now on till 2020, argues the WWF, the world conservation organization.
In a bid to coordinate national efforts to help boost the sluggish economy hit by the financial crisis, the EU leaders agreed on an EU-wide economic stimulus package worth 200 billion euros (264 billion U.S. dollars). The sum amounts to 1.5 percent of the EU's gross domestic product, with 170 billion euros (224 billion dollars) coming from national governments and the rest from EU funding.
But EU leaders watered down the original proposal. Germany, the largest economy in the EU, opposed a call for it to expand its national fiscal stimulus plan for the benefits of the EU economy as a whole, saying its current plan worth 32 billion euros (42 billion U.S. dollars) is enough. In addition, EU leaders failed to decide on a proposal pushed by France and Britain to cut value- added tax on green goods and labor intensive services such as restaurants.
The difficulties reveal the deep-rooted clash of interests between individual member states and the EU as a whole. With the further integration of the bloc, the problem is expected to become even more acute.
(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2008)