EU Council reaches a historic agreement on climate change package

The last European Council under French presidency, chaired by  the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, was held in Brussels on December 11th and 12th. A historic agreement was reached on climate protection and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Council also reached an agreement on the European economic recovery plan, the Lisbon Treaty and the European Security and Defence Policy.

The European Council reached on its December meeting a historic agreement on the energy and climate change package, which could be finalised by the end of the year with the European Parliament agreement on it.

In March 2007 and March 2008, the European Union already took a series of commitments on energy and climate issues. In particular, the EU set the objective of 20% reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases for 2020, the so-called 20/20/20 by 2020 Climate package.

The Council confirmed the EU commitment to get this reduction to 30%, as part of an ambitious and comprehensive global agreement in Copenhagen on climate change after 2012, provided that other developed countries commit to achieve comparable reductions in emissions as well as financial contributions from the more advanced developing countries according to their respective responsibilities and capabilities. These issues were already addressed in Poznan early December this year, in order to reach a common EU voice for the World Climate Conference to be held in Copenhagen on December 2009.

The Union's efforts to combat climate change are coupled with resolute action to enhance its energy security, including interconnections and the connection of the most isolated European countries. In this respect, the European Council asks the Council, on the basis of the guidelines defined in its October 2008 conclusions, to conduct a rapid examination of the Energy Security and Solidarity Action Plan presented by the Commission, in preparation for its March 2009 meeting.

Economic Recovery Plan

The European Council also approved a European economic recovery plan, equivalent to 1.5% of the GDP of the European Union (approximately 200 billion euros). This plan constitutes the common framework for efforts undertaken by the Member States and the European Union to ensure that these efforts are consistent with one another, thereby maximising their effects.

The European Council urges banks and financial institutions to make full use of the facilities granted to them to maintain and support lending to the economy and pass on key interest rate reductions to borrowers. It should be ensured in this context that measures within the common framework, particularly guarantee mechanisms, are actually applied so as to help lower the cost of financing for financial institutions, for the benefit of enterprises and households.

External relations and European Security and Defence Policy

The European Council stated its determination to give, by means of a common declaration agreed at the Council, a fresh impetus to the European Security and Defence Policy. Compliant with the principles of the United Nations Charter and the decisions of the United Nations Security Council, this policy will continue to develop in full complementarity with NATO in the agreed framework of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO and in compliance with the decision-making autonomy and procedures of each.

To this end, the European Council shares the analysis of the report on the implementation of the European Security Strategy of 2003 and endorses the declarations adopted by the Council, which agree on new goals for strengthening and optimising European capabilities in the years ahead and emphasise the EU's desire to work for the cause of international peace and security, while making a tangible contribution to the security of its citizens.

By means of a series of concrete decisions, the European Council expressed the objective to give a new impetus to the European Security and Defence Policy in order to respond to the new security challenges. Some recent decisions on that side, such as those related to critical infrastructure protection or the settlement of a warning information network (CIWIN), as well as the actions taken in the field of counter-terrorism like those aimed to improve cross-border cooperation, show the increasing concern from the European Union on issues related to security. The European Council asks the Council and the Member States to give substance to this declaration by adopting appropriate policies and instruments.

The future of the Lisbon Treaty

Lastly, the European Council debated the elements aimed at responding to the concerns expressed during the Irish referendum and set out an approach to allow the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force before the end of 2009.

On the composition of the Commission, the European Council recalled that the Treaties currently in force will require the number of Commissioners to be reduced in 2009. The Council also agreed that provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision will be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, in order include within the Commission one national of each Member State.

In relation to the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty ratification, the European Council has carefully noted the other concerns expressed by the Irish people relating to taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality. The European Council agreed that, provided Ireland makes the commitment to seek ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the term of the current Commission, all those concerns will be addressed to the mutual satisfaction of Ireland and the other Member States.

Three main legal guarantees will be necessary to be given in order to follow up with Lisbon Treaty ratification:

  1. Nothing in the Treaty of Lisbon makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the Union's competences in relation to taxation.
  2. The Treaty of Lisbon does not prejudice the security and defence policy of Member States, including Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality, and the obligations of most other Member States.
  3. A guarantee that the provisions of the Irish Constitution in relation to the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon attributes legal status to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or by the justice and home affairs provisions of the said Treaty.

In the light of the above commitments by the European Council, and conditional on the satisfactory completion of the detailed follow-on work by mid-2009 and on presumption of  their satisfactory implementation, the Irish Government is committed to seeking ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by the end of the term of the current Commission.