EU leaders meet for tough talks on Brexit, climate

EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday at the start of a two-day summit to seek a way out of the Brexit impasse as the bloc remained divided over ambitious targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The ongoing talks with the United Kingdom and how to tackle climate change are the two major topics being discussed by heads of state and government in the Belgian capital.

But the meeting was temporarily disrupted early on Thursday afternoon when it emerged that an aide to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had tested positive for coronavirus. The former German defence minister left the summit to self-isolate as a precaution.

EU officials seek tougher action on climate change

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm that proposes legislation, wants to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. It forms part of the bloc's goal to be climate neutral by 2050.

Diplomats in the Belgian capital say leaders will likely delay any decision until a similar meeting in December.

A group of 11 member states, including France, the Netherlands and Sweden, issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying they backed the 55 percent goal.

Poland, which depends heavily on coal, is bitterly opposed to the proposal. Von der Leyen said in September the new target would be "too much for some and not enough for others."

Read more: Does the EU's methane strategy go far enough?

World leaders agreed five years ago in Paris to keep the global warming increase to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F) by the end of the century.

Scientists say countries will miss both of those goals by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more: How successful are international climate efforts?

Brexit talks stumble over fishing rights

The other major issue that leaders will focus on is the negotiations with the UK as it seeks to strike a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU.

Talks have hit a snag over the past few months over several key issues. They include access to fishing waters, rules on unfair competition and how to enforce any potential pact between both sides.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Britain that the EU wanted an agreement, but "not at any price."

"It has to be a fair agreement that serves the interests of both sides. This is worth every effort," she said.

She added that the EU's lead negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, enjoyed the full support of the 27 leaders.

French president Emmanuel Macron echoed Merkel's comments, insisting that France was ready to accept a no deal scenario.

"In no case shall our fisherman be sacrificed for Brexit," he said on arriving in the Belgian capital.

"If these conditions are not met, it's possible we won't have a deal."

Barnier will brief leaders on the progress that has been made in this week's talks.

British officials say Prime Minister Boris Johnson will decide whether to continue the negotiations, or opt for a 'no deal' Brexit on Friday evening.

Heads of state and government are also set to discuss the bloc's next seven-year budget and the EU's strategy for Africa over the next two days.

jf/rs (AFP, Reuters)