“Today ‘Yes’ is on the agenda – or perhaps ‘Oui’ is considering the French presidency,” Merkel told reporters in Brussels, playing off the moniker she has gained throughout the course of France’s six-month term at the helm of the EU – ‘Madame Non.’
EU leaders sealed an agreement Friday for a €200-billion plan designed to dig Europe out of recession and a package to combat global warming on the final day of a crunch two-day summit in Brussels.
Merkel has come in for particular heat from her European counterparts in recent weeks owing to her apparent reluctance to spend more and cut taxes to spark the EU’s largest economy.
But in Brussels on Friday she wanted to make sure she was seen as part of the EU’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions to fight global warming – as well as being part of the solution getting the region’s economy back on track.
“It was a successful, good, harmonious and interesting summit,” Merkel said, making sure to heap praise on French President Nicolas Sarkozy – with whom ties have been strained recently. “I worked wonderfully with Nicolas Sarkozy and I will continue to do so.”
After persuading Ireland to submit a stalled EU reform treaty to a second referendum next year, the 27 leaders agreed to club together to fund an economic stimulus package and make major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are starting to change the way we do things in Europe – talking less and doing more,” Sarkozy told a post-summit press conference.
Although the climate change deal was only nailed down after protracted negotiations, the French president said there had been an overwhelming consensus on the need for a joint assault on the economic slowdown.
“Everybody was on the same line about the need for a recovery plan,” said Sarkozy. “Exceptional situations need exceptional measures.”
An eve of summit interview by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, who ridiculed the idea of “tossing around billions” to fend off recession, had indicated that the rescue package would prove a major bone of contention.
But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose “breathtaking” £20-billion ($30 billion) stimulus package was singled out by Steinbrück, said the agreement was a riposte to those “who say you (should) do nothing.”
“What Europe has proved unanimously today is that it is ready to act in a united way to deal with the global downturn,” Brown told reporters. “We will continue to reject the do-nothing approach and we will not stand by and let the recession take its course.”
Under the stimulus plan, member countries would pump on average the equivalent of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) into their economies in order to temper the impact of a global recession.
Ahead of the summit, Germany expressed reservations about ploughing so much public money into the economy and resisted pressure to contribute more than what it judged necessary to get the German economy going again.
Sarkozy also said that there had been unanimous agreement on the need for an “historic” climate package that he said should inspire the rest of the world. “No continent has given itself such binding rules that we have adopted with unanimity,” he said.
The EU’s climate-energy package, the “20-20-20” deal, seeks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, make 20 percent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total energy use.
Sarkozy denied the targets had been watered down amid calls by several states for amendments to the initial package at a time of recession.
“The objectives remain the same,” he said. “No way can the (economic) crisis be used as an excuse not to move on the environment.”