BRUSSELS -- The two-day European Union summit opening in Brussels later today is likely to be short on decisions and long on controversy.
There is unlikely to be agreement on a joint EU position on a new global climate change deal. Failure to reach internal agreement will gravely damage the EU's chances of goading other world powers to follow its example at an international climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
Even more vexing for the EU establishment will be the continued lack of closure on the Lisbon Treaty. Vaunted as a new beginning for a bloc badly in need of reforms after waves of enlargement in the middle of the decade, the accord is being held hostage by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has demanded further EU concessions.
"The whole of Europe is being held up by Klaus" has become a familiar refrain in continental European media.
The Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, could barely disguise his impatience in a pre-summit webcast, confirming the latest Czech demands will be addressed at the summit.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus
"We still lack the ratification of the Czech Republic. We have [the Czech] Constitutional Court looking into a complaint from 17 senators; that has to be finished. After that, Vaclav Klaus has to sign the treaty," Reinfeldt said. "And to do [that], he has asked for an opt-out regarding the [EU's] Charter of Fundamental Rights. The [Swedish EU] Presidency is preparing [the text for the opt-out] and this will also be discussed at dinner on Thursday."
The gist of Klaus's demands is a request for an iron-clad guarantee that the EU charter will not be used to overturn the post-WWII Benes Decrees depriving expelled Germans of their property rights. Furnishing such assurances without prompting another round of ratifications could prove a legally tricky issue for the EU.
Meanwhile, the Czech Constitutional Court is considering a separate legal challenge brought against the Lisbon Treaty by a group of senators. The court is expected to make a decision on November 3. Klaus has indicated he might sign the treaty if the challenge is rejected but has not offered an unequivocal confirmation of his intention to do so. This makes other EU leaders nervous.
The upshot of Klaus's foot-dragging is that EU leaders will be unable to formally discuss whom to appoint as EU president and foreign minister, positions to be created by the Lisbon Treaty.
The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared interest in the president's job, as has Luxembourg's sitting premier, Jean-Claude Juncker. Brussels insiders suggest, however, that Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende could get the job, with the current British Foreign Secretary David Miliband becoming the EU's new high representative for external relations.
To settle the issue, a special summit could be called in mid-November, or the EU might have to wait until its next regular summit in December.Lively Controversy
Diplomats say, the precise job descriptions of the two figures have become a source of lively controversy. Some member states argue they must remain figureheads, while others say they must have real powers. Similarly, there is no agreement as yet as to how the two new officials will interact with the existing president of the European Commission, or with the EU's rotating presidency. The latter institution will survive Lisbon, albeit in a reduced capacity.
Failure to agree on a vision for dividing up the estimated 20 billion to 50 billion euros the EU's climate change goals would cost the world annually until 2020 could prove a major embarrassment for the bloc, which prides itself on leadership on the issue.
In a speech in Brussels on October 28, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said fighting global warming was a "moral and ethical" challenge.
"Our moral responsibility is clear, and it is important to underline this matter," Barroso said. "Because sometimes when [we] speak about climate change, when [we] speak about targets in the future, we speak about 2020, 2030, 2050. But climate change is happening now. I've [met] the leaders of some governments [whose] countries might literally disappear in [that] time because of the [rise in sea levels]."
There is a consensus within the EU that climate change is taking place faster than predicted just a few years. To reverse the effects of global warming, the EU wants to cap the rise in temperatures by 2 degrees between 1990 and 2050. For this goal to materialize, the world's greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and fall back to no more than half of the 1990 levels by 2050.
It is the costs involved that are the main bone of contention within the EU. As one of the richest regions in the world, the bloc is expected to foot a substantial share of the bill and help finance emissions-cutting measures in the poorer regions. But its member states fail to agree -- for various reasons.
Reductions envisaged by Barroso mean the developed world must cut back emissions by up to 95 percent by 2050. This seems unfair to the poorer member states of the EU, led by Poland, who argue their own development is at stake.
Meanwhile, Germany is loath to agree to any global EU contribution, fearing it will weaken the bloc's hand in haggling with the United States and other major industrial economies.
Britain, meanwhile, argues it cannot give the EU a blank check to negotiate its contribution on its behalf.
Agreement on the issue is deemed unlikely by officials in Brussels.
The summit will also briefly discuss fighting illegal immigration and extending the remit of the EU's Frontex border management agency. Southern member states have demanded that Frontex start intercepting boats carrying illegal immigrants across the Mediterranean.
The summit will also announce an action plan to strengthen the civilian capacity of the state institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.