June 20, 2019 / 1:33 PM / 3 months ago

EU leaders meet to hammer out deal on climate, top jobs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s 28 national leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday to haggle over how ambitious their climate goals should be and who should navigate the bloc in coming years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

The leaders made the following comments on their way to the meeting.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL

“Germany - conservatives as well as socialists - is committed to the spitzenkandidat principle. Not everyone in the European Council shares this position as we have known for quite some time. But we also have different discussions in parliament. So I think that the report that Council President Donald Tusk will present us today will make clear that there is still a range of problems. We will have an open discussion on the issue, so it can be that we will not yet see a result today. In my view this doesn’t really pose much of a threat because - as I said after the European elections - our goal should be to find a solution by the time the European Parliament convenes for the first time so we can start work quickly. This means we still have a few days of time. Today is an important first day and what the president of the Council will tell us about his discussions is very important for me. On this basis we will hold our discussions.

We have to work step by step, respecting the opinions in the European Council but - and I underline this - at the same time respecting the European Parliament. We need a joint solution. It is not acceptable for the European Council to make a suggestion that will not be supported by the European Parliament at the end.”

FRENCH PRESIDENT MACRON

“We need personalities with competences, who share these ambitions, who have the credibility to do it, and I’ll support the strongest personalities in that respect. We need gender balance for these nominations.”

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER JURI RATAS

“My hope and the Estonian hope is that we will find the solution about the top positions at the end of this council. We are ready and we are open. For us, it is important to see geographic balance, demographic balance and also the gender balance. I understand it is quite a big opportunity and challenge but I really hope we find the best solution for our people in the EU and for our countries.”

IRISH PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR

“Yes, I certainly will (support Manfred Weber). It is our view that the largest party in the European Parliament, the party that won the European elections, that the president of the European Commission should fall to us and our candidate is Manfred Weber.

But I am also very well aware that other parties did well too and there’s going to have to be a compromise and there is going to be a package.

The sense that I have is that we won’t be in a position to elect a new Commission president or a new Council president today. The likelihood is that we will have to have another summit at the end of June or early July and that’s not at all unusual in the European political process sometimes. It takes a few rounds. It’s quicker to elect the pope very often than it is to fill these particular positions.

I anticipate that (an EU climate plan) is going to be agreed. I know there are some countries that have reservations, understandable reservations, but we want the European Union to be a leader when it comes o climate action, leading the way for China, India and the U.S. I anticipate that will be agreed today, but I can’t say for sure.”

LUXEMBOURG PRIME MINISTER XAVIER BETTEL

“What is more important than who because we’ll discuss about the strategic agenda also today and we should really avoid an institutional crisis between us and between the European Parliament.”

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER ARTURS KRISJANIS KARINS

“(Asked on whether the new European Commission president should be a former head of government) It is a rhetorical question. It’s a little bit like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder... make no doubt as far as the EPP’s candidate Manfred Weber, I have worked with him for the past 10 years, he is extremely qualified for European politics.”

POLISH PRIME MINISTER MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI

“We cannot agree, for now, to make the goals more ambitious because there have to be very clearly formulated conditions for compensation mechanisms for member states and regions, for industries.

    For us it is not enough to have a formulation about a just and responsible energy transformation. Because if we are talking about justice, we have to underline that already today in terms of consumption of energy, countries of western  Europe consume sometimes twice as much energy per capita than Poland.

    We also stress that Poland after the second world war fell into 50 years of stagnation and this context has to be taken into account, as well as the gigantic effort of the Polish society and economy in the context of the  Kyoto protocol, in the context of the reduction of emissions which had already happened in the 90ties and 2000 — this cannot be ignored.”

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ

“We are trying to get a deal tonight. It is the first time I participate in that kind of negotiations. I wish to reach a deal tonight or tomorrow. It is important to send a stability, certainty message/signal to the European public opinion.

For the Spanish government it is very important to reach gender balance among the 4 top jobs we are discussing.

I think it’s very important to stick to the mandate and the statement made by the European Parliament some weeks ago. It says that we need to choose among the spitzenkandidat, the candidate for the Commission, for the presidency of the Commission. And this is what I will defend in the Council. We need to choose someone who has the support in the Council and also in the Parliament and has the profile of being a spitzenkandidat. And in my opinion - in my opinion - the best candidate is of course Frans Timmermans.”

CZECH PRIME MINISTER ANDREJ BABIS

“For me the most important the Czech interest and that is nuclear. We don’t like that Europe says nuclear is a dirty resource. There will be tough discussion, I’ll see what the Polish prime minister’s position is.. the Slovaks have, I don’t know why, change theirs.

We have to be reasonable. We are an example in the world but in the global competition we must not threaten our industry, our economy. We have a 2030 target, today is 2019. There is pressure to talk about a 2050 target, I don’t know why.

I cannot imagine there will be no combustion engine cars, no welding, no gas burning in 2050. We have to think about how much more we will depend on Russian gas. Why should we resolve 31 years ahead what will be on 2050...let’s talk about numbers.

When our European lignite plants have 43 percent efficiency and we should close them down and elsewhere in the world they have 222 percent efficiency and those are operating. Let’s talk about remissions form huge container ships, airplanes.

We will see how the debate pans out. Germany has shifted its position, Slovakia too... I will make a statement on that in the Council, but primarily I am here to fight for Czech interests.”

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE

“During the election campaign for the new leadership of the Tory party, it seems the positions have shifted so much, so it is difficult for me to assess where exactly all the positions are at the moment and as you know it’s my opinion that if the political declaration has to be changed, that we need movement from the UK side ...

(On limiting the Irish backstop) Why would the UK agree with a time limit to the backstop, because it would mean the end of the Good Friday agreement in three, four or five years time?”​

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, Michel Rose, Phil Blenkinsop, Jan Strupczewski, Sabine Siebold, Daphne Psaledakis, Alexandra Regida, Belen Carreno, Robin Emmott, Alissa de Carbonnel and Gabriela Baczynska

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