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Europe

EU Set for Most Important Summit in Years as Crises Reign

Three main issues will dominate the European Union's final 2008 summit in Brussels. And as always, there's been no shortage of squabbling between large and small bloc members in the run-up.

Flags of the EU nations

It's time again for the EU's annual pre-Christmas get-together

What to do about climate change -- that's one question that almost certain to create a stormy atmosphere when the 27 EU nations convene on Thursday, December 11.

"This will be perhaps the most crucial European [summit] in recent years ... a real test for Europe," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said ahead of the Brussels meeting.

The EU has set itself a target of lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent of their 1990 levels by the year 2020. One way to achieve that, say some established member states, is to force industry throughout the bloc to pay for the right to emit greenhouse gasses.

But newer EU members such as Poland, which are still heavily dependent on coal-generated power, say that would cripple their economies.

Germany is sitting on the fence on this issue.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she could understand Poland's concerns and that a compromise should be found. And on Monday she vowed to resist any measures that could cost German jobs.

But Germany has also joined with France and Italy in insisting their industries should be protected from competition, if developing economies don't sign on to the climate-protection agreement.

Economic crisis looms large

Jose Manuel Borroso

Barroso says this meeting will be especially important

At the summit, member states will also debate ways to coordinate their various national responses to the global economic crisis.

At stake is a stimulus package of 200 billion euros ($258 billion) -- or around 1.5 percent of the EU's total economic output.

Here, too, members disagree -- especially on what to do with some 5 billion euros in unspent EU funds. Some states want that money invested in high-tech projects like broadband Internet, while others should say it should be refunded to individual countries' national budgets.

And there are questions about the package's effectiveness since it represents an effort to coordinate national strategies, rather than an EU-level response to the economic downturn that has pushed most of Europe into or to the brink of recession.

Where to go with Lisbon

A man talks on his phone as he stands in front of a financial display board showing the FTSE 100-share index

A faltering ecomony, a changing climate and a stalled treaty are all on the agenda

Finally, members must consider how to proceed with the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's stalled initiative to reform and streamline its own structures of governance.

Ireland voters rejected the treaty in a popular referendum last June but the way could be cleared for the Irish to hold a second referendum on the treaty by October 2009, a draft statement by EU leaders released at Thursday's summit said.

In a symbolic blow for the treaty, the parliament of the Czech Republic said on Tuesday it was delaying a vote on ratifying the document until February 2009.

With the Czechs scheduled to assume the EU's rotating presidency at the start of the new year, that means Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek would be charged with brokering a solution to impasse over the controversial treaty.

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