By Florent Kervazo
Ironic Europe! After spearheading the fight against climate change for years, the EU now seems to encounter more difficulty reaching consensus on the environment than on the financial crisis.
Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Tusk, the Italian and Polish prime ministers, have led the rebellion at the latest Brussels summit. They claimed they did not have to follow EU restrictions, as they were not in power at the time the agreement was reached, an unprecedented denial of the supranational nature of so many of Europe's commitments.
Mr. Berlusconi further expressed that stringent environmental regulations would cause businesses to relocate to Asia. Yet two recently released reports suggest that his viewpoint is too narrow. The U.S. conference of mayors recently published a survey according to which 10% of all new jobs created in the U.S. in the next thirty years will be "green collar" jobs. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) also deemed that the fight against climate change will create more jobs than it will destroy.
Within the past few years, there has been a tremendous surge in public concern about the effects of global warming. Yet in many countries, the percentage of skeptics remains fairly high (60% of Brits, according to a recent poll, doubt that humans have notable impact on climate change). If we put the environmental crisis on the back burner, we risk losing the fragile momentum high gas prices have created in favor of emissions reduction.
Often in the past European countries have, in times of crisis, tried to disregard EU commitments and become slightly more isolationist. France itself is a repeat offender, especially when it comes to abiding to the stringent fiscal rules of the Stability Pact. In light of this history, one must applaud President Sarkozy's resolute defense of the EU's constraining greenhouse gas reduction targets.
While the U.S. is in election mode, many eyes yet again turn to Europe to live up to the challenge of providing headstrong policy. It is hard, however, to mobilize masses on long-term concerns when their short-term financial situation is threatened--and one can hardly blame them. But in times like these, we need strong leaders who can steer away from populism and uphold critical commitments. In this fight, Mr Sarkozy holds the more reasonable, long-term view, and Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Tusk represent short-term interests..
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.