BRUSSELS -- EU leaders gathering in Brussels for a two-day summit must decide how to divide up among themselves the economic burden of cutting down on greenhouse-gas emissions.
The worsening global economic downturn has led poorer EU member states to question the wisdom of sticking to earlier commitments to cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Poland and the Czech Republic lead a group of mostly Eastern European member states arguing that now is not the time to put additional pressure on their underdeveloped, heavily fossil-fuel-reliant economies.
Most other member states, led by the bloc's executive, the European Commission, maintain, however, that the bloc must honor a commitment made in 2007 to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020 and extract 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. The package, intended to fight climate change, is known as "20-20-20" in EU circles.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said on December 9 that while some fine-tuning is possible, the "20-20-20" package is sacrosanct.
"Flexibility on justified concerns -- yes. Anything that questions 20-20-20 targets -- no. This is nonnegotiable," Barroso said at a press conference in Brussels.
On December 8, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued that energy savings would bring economic benefits in the long term. "A digital, low-carbon, environmentally friendly Europe, highly skilled to face the challenges of the world, is something that I believe is the vision that we have got to put forward as we move through this downturn and plan for the future," he said.
Marathon negotiations among EU ambassadors in Brussels in the past few weeks have now yielded a shaky compromise -- the draft of which has been seen by RFE/RL -- offering Eastern European members limited preferential treatment in dividing up emission rights.
Under EU plans, states will have quotas for how much carbon dioxide their companies can emit and, after 2013, their enterprises will have to compete and pay to be included within the quota.
The new compromise looks likely to lead to Eastern European states winning higher ceilings for their overall emissions, delays in introducing the auctioning requirement, and outright temporary exemptions for some sectors of their economies.
Electricity production in Eastern Europe, drawing heavily on fossil fuels such as coal, is particularly likely to benefit from such exceptions.
However, diplomats fear the highly complicated negotiations needed to hammer out a final deal could run into the early hours of December 13.
EU member states are also likely to agree relief measures for industries that are likely to suffer from "carbon leakage" as a result of the adoption of climate-change measures -- the relocation of enterprises out of the EU into countries where such measures do not apply and production costs are consequently lower.
At the summit in Brussels, EU leaders also will discuss the economic crisis, which has seen most of the world's leading economies shrink this year and could develop into a prolonged recession.
The European Commission last week proposed a 200 billion-euro ($260 billion) stimulus package, amounting to 1.5 percent of the bloc's combined gross domestic product (GDP). On December 9, commission President Barroso said he believes the EU leaders will sign up to the proposal as they meet now.
"I was proud to see that there is overwhelming support for the European economic-recovery plan presented by the commission," Barroso said. "And I hope that this week European leaders, the European Council, will support the plan that we have proposed. It is an ambitious but sustainable recovery plan, with a 200 billion-euro fiscal stimulus."
However, there is some skepticism within the bloc. Germany in particular appears unenthusiastic about supporting any EU stimulus spending that is as extravagant as the European Commission has suggested. Part of the reason is that Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, would have to contribute some 20 percent of the EU-wide spending package.
The EU summit is also likely to see specific commitments to assist the ailing car and construction industries.
Gordon Brown said the EU is seeking convergence in the measures they will adopt with U.S. plans being put forward by President-Elect Barack Obama.
"I believe that we can work hand-in-hand with the new American administration and stimulate worldwide development through our common actions," Brown said.
Barroso said the common denominators in the EU and U.S. stimulus packages are "green jobs, infrastructure, [and] energy efficiency."
The summit is set to offer concessions to Ireland in the hope of seeing the Lisbon Treaty, rejected by Irish voters in June, ratified sometime next year.
Dublin wants, among other things, assurances that the EU's constitutional treaty will not affect its neutrality, tax system, or its conservative abortion legislation.