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Sarkozy unable to break deadlock on EU climate pact

Poland's threat of veto has talks at an impasse

By Gabriela Baczynska
Reuters / December 7, 2008
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GDANSK, Poland - President Nicolas Sarkozy of France failed yesterday to end deadlock with Eastern European countries on a European Union climate package but predicted that a deal would be reached later this week.

"I am convinced we will arrive at a positive conclusion," Sarkozy said after meeting Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland and eight other Eastern European leaders. France holds the rotating EU presidency.

Poland relies on high-polluting coal for more than 90 percent of its electricity. It has threatened to veto an EU plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 unless Warsaw wins fossil fuel concessions.

The EU climate measures must be approved by a majority of member governments and the European Parliament to become law. EU leaders hope their proposed accord will encourage the United States and China to accept a new UN global warming treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Governments worldwide have gathered for a UN-sponsored conference in the Polish city of Poznan to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

"There is still a lot of work ahead of us" before the EU summit ends on Friday, Tusk said after yesterday's talks between Sarkozy and Eastern European leaders in Gdansk.

Poland contends that it needs until 2020 to curb carbon emissions, for example by using more efficient boilers and carbon-scrubbing equipment and possibly building its first nuclear plant.

Tusk said Sarkozy and the EU Commission agreed to extend a period limiting mandatory purchases of carbon emissions permits for east European coal plants.

Under concessions, European coal plants would be required to buy permits for any carbon emissions that exceed those of the most efficient plant. After a set date, the coal plants would have to buy permits for all their carbon emissions. The deadline for complete compliance by Polish plants was delayed from 2016 to 2020.

Eastern European nations are not the only ones with objections. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has called the EU plan unrealistic, and Rome has raised the possibility that EU leaders may approve only parts of the package at the summit.

Poorer European states say tough caps on carbon emissions will harm their economies at a time of global financial crisis, preventing them from catching up with wealthy Western Europe.

"The effects of the economic crisis have been very strong on our countries which are weaker than the western states," said Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu of Romania.

Sarkozy saw reasons for optimism after the meeting with leaders of Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

"It's a very strong political signal that despite the financial crisis no state wanted to change the deadline or the objectives" of reducing greenhouse gases by a fifth, he said.

Earlier, Tusk addressed EU delegates at a Gdansk ceremony to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa, the Polish pro-democracy leader. He called on rich EU nations to show more support for their poorer neighbors.

"Solidarity also means taking responsibility for the weaker," Tusk said. Walesa headed the Solidarity trade union which in the 1980s helped topple communism in Eastern Europe.

EU diplomats are eager to wrap up climate talks this month before France hands the EU presidency to the Czech Republic, which is split by a political power struggle and led by a president who doubts mankind is causing climate change.

Poland's drive for more concessions contrasts sharply with its role as host of the Poznan conference, at which it is supposed to muster support for a new UN climate treaty.

The Poznan conference is also working on a plan to protect the world's forests by compensating countries to stop logging and converting forests to farmland - actions that were clearing 32 million acres of forests a year by 2005.

But the environmentalists say that plan is deadlocked in a committee.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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