For Eastern Europe, the cost of going green will be a challenge
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (r.) and his foreign minister, Franco Frattini, spoke to the media Wednesday at an EU environmental conference in Brussels.
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Italy, along with Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia argue that they are disproportionately affected by EU ecological regulations, as their economies rely largely on industry.Skip to next paragraph
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Postcommunist countries in Eastern Europe are also still struggling to adapt to the market economy and have been hit by the financial crisis.
Although Italy has a mature capitalist system, it is one of the least productive industrialized nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.
Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, said the European Commission should “be tolerant of the poorer member states” when setting sustainability standards.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency, replied that the environment must be a priority, regardless of its economic impact:
“The ambitious energy package is based on the belief that the world is a disaster. It would be tragic to abandon [it] on the pretext that the financial crisis occurred” he said on Tuesday, speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
An environmental expert at the European Commission dismissed the division as merely political.
“All member countries agree on the target, but everybody now realizes we can’t afford to reach it that quickly” says the expert, whose is withheld because the expert is not authorized to speak to the media.
“As it was originally planned, the transition was supposed to be fast, and thus too expensive. Everybody is aiming to dilute the policy, but France and some other nations could not say it out loud, because they feared losing face” says the expert.
Germany, who fears for its own industries, would like to slightly lower the carbon dioxide target. But is also pushing for the package to be finalized as soon as possible.
At the Copenhagen conference, world leaders will discuss a new sustainability regulation that is set to replace the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 by nearly 180 nations.
The protocols set limits for greenhouse-gas emissions, while allowing prosperous countries to buy quotas from less industrialized nations.
The rule is meant to help poor countries that limited industrial production and therefore produce fewer emissions, while enabling industrialized economies to pursue further growth.
Mr. Missiroli says there is still a good chance that the EU will find a common ground before the Copenhagen conference, possibly slightly lowering its targets while keeping its overall goal of significantly reducing carbon emissions by 2020.
Yet the recent episodes may shed a new light on the image of Europe as the “good giant” of environmental policies.
“Were it to step back [from its own green targets] because of the economic crisis,” says Missiroli. “Europe would cut a poor figure for sure.”
Indeed, how Europe handles this current disagreement will determine how the world continues to view the Continent as an environmental leader.
“Now, the European Union’s credibility is at stake,” says Missiroli.