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France: Sarkozy attacks EU carbon targets

Source:  Copyright 2008, Financial Times
Date:  January 15, 2008
Byline:  Peggy Hollinger, Andrew Bounds and Sarah,Laitner
Original URL: Status DEAD

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has weighed into the controversy over the European Union's climate change plans with an attack on some proposals as "neither efficient, fair nor economically sustainable".

Just six months before France takes up the EU presidency, Mr Sarkozy has written to Commission president José Manuel Barroso to set out his objections to the plan for reducing carbon emissions to be published later this month.

In the letter seen by the Financial Times, Mr Sarkozy stresses his support for a system to cut carbon emissions and promote the development of renewable energy.

However, he warns that, as currently structured, the proposals could unfairly penalise France and would pose a real threat to European industry, which would be forced to move to countries where regulations were less restrictive and costly.

The car industry alone faces potential fines of between €4bn ($5.9bn, £3bn) and €13bn if it does not meet strict criteria for cutting carbon, according to commission documents.

The president's letter comes as EU member states lobby furiously for revisions to the text, which has sparked concerns around Europe.

Germany's chancellor, Angel Merkel, has publicly criticised proposed restrictions on carmakers, while Belgium's prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has also written to the Commission to try to have his country's target on renewable energy amended.

But the EU has staked its claim to leadership of the battle against climate change by pledging to cut carbon emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels, to boost renewable energy generation to 20 per cent of supply - a tripling of current levels - and to ensure plant fuels make up 10 per cent of vehicle fuels, all by 2020.

On January 23 the Commission will unveil how it intends to achieve this - and how the load should be spread among different member states.

A spokeswoman for Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, said: "The member states that are complaining are those that agreed to the targets. We are executing a direct request from them. Everyone has to give their particular share if we want to be leaders in the fight against climate change."

But France and others are determined to get the proposals revised before discussions start on global reductions with a successor to the Kyoto Accord, which will be negotiated over the next two years.

In his letter, Mr Sarkozy says France "could not accept a target for renewable energy higher than 20 per cent, if accompanied by financial penalties".

Last summer France pledged to increase the share of renewable energy from 9 per cent in 2007 to 20 per cent by 2020, in line with European goals. FT estimates show that France is set for a target of about 22 per cent.

The fact that France opted decades ago to stake its future energy needs on carbon-free nuclear power - which today provides almost 80 per cent of French electricity needs - should be taken into account when setting overall targets, he suggests.

"France emits 25 per cent less CO 2 per head than the European average," Mr Sarkozy says. This should be the starting point for setting French targets in reducing emissions and should vary according to each country's record, he adds.

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