EU Nations Agree to Cut Emissions, Put Turkey on Notice

The bust of French statesman Robert Schuman, one of the founders of the European Union, is seen outside of an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday while environmental activists launch a hot air balloon during a demonstration. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

(CN) — On the final day of a two-day summit, European leaders pledged Friday to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and threatened to take a harder stance against Turkey, which is unnerving the EU with its actions in the Mediterranean region.

During an all-night session in Brussels, the European Union’s 27 national leaders agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in the next 10 years compared to 1990 levels. The EU is seeking to become so-called “carbon neutral” by 2050, as stipulated under the Paris climate agreement.

“The EU needs to increase its ambition for the coming decade,” EU leaders said in a statement at the end of the summit.

EU leaders meet regularly in Brussels as part of the European Council, a body made up of national leaders which serves as the main driver for EU policy. The council has no legislative power but it is the EU’s power center. EU laws are crafted by the European Commission, the executive branch, and the European Parliament, the only democratically elected institution at the EU level.

The EU is pushing ahead with major plans to meet its climate goals. It is making massive investments in new technologies, such as hydrogen power, and expanding renewable energy sources while also closing coal-fired plants and reducing smog. Still, the goal to cut emissions by 55% is seen as not ambitious enough for many and the European Parliament is seeking a 60% cut.  

Each EU member state is enacting its own plans on how to meet the emissions goals. Some countries like Poland and the Czech Republic rely heavily on coal-fired power plants and it will be difficult for them to move away from coal. They are looking at using nuclear power as the best alternative and under Friday’s agreement they would be allowed to carry out that strategy, a concession that is angering many environmentalists who see nuclear as a dangerous and polluting source of energy.

“The new 2030 target needs to be achieved in a way that preserves the EU’s competitiveness and takes account of member states’ different starting points and specific national circumstances,” the council said.

The EU wants to use a $910 billion coronavirus recovery package as a major tool to reduce emissions. At least 30% of those funds and 30% of the EU’s new $1 trillion seven-year budget are to go toward its climate change goals.

Fighting climate change is a central pillar in EU policy making and it is looking at possibly imposing carbon taxes on goods coming from outside the bloc as a bid to force other nations to cut emissions. The EU sees itself as a world leader in efforts to reduce emissions.

At the summit, the EU also issued a stern warning to Turkey, though it stopped short of imposing sanctions. It said it would seek to work with the United States in dealing with Turkey. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Mediterranean theater and that has allowed Turkey and Russia to play a bigger role.

Turkey, once considered a likely candidate to become an EU member, is increasingly being seen as a major threat to the EU because of what European leaders see as its expansionist ambitions.

Turkey has been involved militarily in the Syria and Libya civil wars and also angered Greece and Cyprus by claiming gas drilling rights in their territorial waters. Turkey has sent drilling ships off the shores of Greek islands.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European leaders, in particular French President Emmanuel Macron, are frequently clashing. Recently, Erdogan called for a boycott of French goods after Macron initiated a crackdown on Islamist groups in France following terrorist attacks. Macron angered the Muslim world by declaring that their religion was “in crisis” around the globe because of the rise of Islamist terrorism.   

“Regrettably, Turkey has engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU,” the council said.

EU leaders said they want to open talks on a range of issues with Turkey and hold a conference to settle disputes but warned they are ready to impose sanctions unless Turkey ceases its drilling operations in Greek and Cypriot waters. Besides the dispute over drilling, Turkey and the EU are at odds over the long-standing problem of Cyprus. Part of the island remains under control of Turkey after it invaded Cyprus in 1974 following a coup attempt to bring Cyprus under Greek control. The Turkish part of the island, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is not internationally recognized.   

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the EU’s stance “the strongest warning up to date to Turkey to change its behavior.”

“Sanctions are not an end in itself,” Mitsotakis told reporters at a news conference after the summit. “But the threat of sanctions can be used in order for Turkey to change its behavior.”

The Turkish foreign ministry called the EU’s stance “biased and illegal” and accused Cyprus and Greece of forcing the EU to take an adversarial position against Turkey.   

“This situation harms the common interests of Turkey and the EU as well as peace, security and stability of our region,” the ministry said.

It said Turkey has been willing to settle disputes and “demonstrated goodwill.” It welcomed the idea of holding a regional conference.

“As Turkey has always indicated, the EU should assume the role of an honest broker, act with common sense in a principled and strategic manner,” the ministry said.


 Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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