In Copenhagen, Europe had a date with history. Going into the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) on its home turf, the EU had a relatively good record on environmental conservation, and even more remarkably, an ambitious common position on the reduction of CO2 emissions. But shortly after the conference began, it became clear that Europe would be unable to capitalize on what was an historic opportunity. Its major powers, represented by Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, and the conference's Danish organizers made many well-intentioned contributions to discussions, which were mainly led by Washington and Beijing—the "G2" of the world's biggest polluters—but they failed to play as a team. Ranged against the US, China and powerful developing countries like Brazil, India, and South Africa, the Swedish Presidency of the EU and Commission President José Manuel Barroso appeared to be out of their depth—and in all probability, had he been present, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy would not have made much of a difference either.

From the point of view of climate change, the outcome was an immense disappointment. The last minute agreement hammered out by world leaders fell far short of expectations with no long-term targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions, insufficient aid for the adoption of non-polluting technologies in developing countries, and no restrictions that are in anyway binding. One wonders if the monumental 46,000-tonne carbon footprint of the summit itself (according to the Deloitte estimate) was really worth it. From the point of view of politics, it is a result that highlights a significant weakness of the European project that has yet to be resolved. Europe may well be the world's major economic power with 600 million citizens who are willing to make an effort for the well-being of future generations, but it remained on the touchline. Once again, the lesson is clear: without a united front, Europeans will remain unable to influence world affairs. The question is: when will this lesson be assimilated by Europe's leaders?


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