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Europe snubbed in Copenhagen?

Gavin Hewitt | 12:20 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

World leaders negotiating in Copenhagen, 18 Dec 09Imagine if you believe you have had the smart ideas, that you have set the agenda, that you are leading by example, that you are defining the future and at the defining moment, when all your hard work should bear fruit, the door is shut in your face. You think it is almost your party but you are stopped at the rope line.

Others who you never imagined were even players are being waved into the inner sanctum. A deal is being done and you are not invited.

Some say this was Europe's fate in Copenhagen. To be "snubbed", "bypassed", "sidelined". All those words have been used.

In the final hours of a chaotic and exhausting meeting a two-and-a-half page accord is drawn up. The United States is there. So too China. They are the big two and the chief carbon emitters. Also present: Brazil, India and South Africa. Powerful emerging nations and a new world order.

As for Europe, the world's biggest trading bloc - they get a text message.

The Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, current holder of the EU presidency, learns about the accord on his mobile phone. He is still negotiating, but the real business has been done elsewhere. He senses that President Obama had been desperate to wrap the summit up and muses whether it was because "there was a snowstorm coming" towards Washington.

Some European leaders felt they ended up as the rubber-stampers of the accord and not its architects.

There is an element of caricature here. Some of Europe's leaders were very active in Copenhagen. Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy worked tirelessly to get a deal and the British prime minister has scarcely been able to hide his frustration at the summit's chaos. Certainly British officials had influence on the final outcome but, even so, the sense of being on the outside remains.

Spool back to some recent European Council meetings. At the last one, while Copenhagen was in session, I remember being told that the new money that Europe had pledged to help developing nations in the short term (before 2012) would lead to a breakthrough. It would demonstrate that the rich world would pay to reduce the global impact of climate change. This was a "show the money" moment. I was told that Europe's offer would persuade the poorer countries that down the road many more billions would come their way. Gordon Brown was bullish. Europe and the UK was leading by example, he believed.

Then go back further to another council. European leaders believed they were setting an example by agreeing that by 2020 the developing world would need 100bn euros to adapt to climate change. Early on they had committed the EU to cutting emissions by 20% by 2020. If others joined in it would move to 30%. The message was that on climate change Europe was leading the world.

Here are more questions than answers. Did Europe misjudge its influence? In Copenhagen should it have made a larger offer to cut emissions, to create momentum? Would it have made a difference? Was Europe's hand weakened because it was masking deep divisions among its nation states? Why does the EU not have the stronger voice it so obviously craves?

Occasionally a still photograph gives an insight that moving pictures do not. It happened in Copenhagen. It is a group picture. To the right is Barack Obama. To his left is Gordon Brown, bent over a piece of paper. He appears to be amending a text. To Obama's left is Sarkozy. Across from them is Chancellor Merkel. To her side is Jose Manuel Barroso. Fredrik Reinfeldt is there too. The meeting appears informal and spontaneous. What struck me was that these were Europe's power-players. As always the big three were there: Germany, France and the UK. Sitting alongside was the President of the Commission and the leader of the country that holds the rotating presidency. Now it may be too soon after the Lisbon Treaty was signed to expect to see any difference. But this question will be returned to time and again in 2010. Will Europe's new "big names," Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, be in the frame or will Europe's big beasts continue as the face of Europe?

Europe is disappointed at the outcome of the summit in Copenhagen. Some believe, however, that it is a step along the road to a binding global agreement. Attention moves to a meeting in Bonn in the late spring. How will Europe approach this? How will it settle its differences and how will it ensure it remains at the table when the deal is done? It will be another test for Europe's ambitions.


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