» Thursday, March 13, 2008

European Council/European Issues

The Prime Minister Spokesman (PMS) started by telling assembled journalists that the Prime Minister was currently in the PES meeting and that the main Council session would start at approximately 1815 local time. The main items on the agenda were climate change, the Lisbon agenda and energy issues. On climate change in particular, the Prime Minister had given an interview on the train to Brussels on reduced rate of VAT on green products.

Asked if the Prime Minister would have a more optimistic message on the European economy than the Finnish and Estonian Prime Ministers, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s view was that the fundamentals of the economy in Britain and Europe remained sound, but that there was no room for complacency. We had to remain vigilant to risks and we needed to continue to discuss these issues both at an EU level and a wider international level.

Asked, in regard to VAT, who else apart from the French was supporting our zero ratings, the PMS replied that there was no question of us agreeing to anything that risked our zero rates of VAT. However, that was not where the debate was at the moment; in our view the debate had moved on from where it had been several years ago when those kinds of issues were being discussed. The Prime Minister’s view, as he had said in his interview, was that taking action to deal with climate change was about putting the right incentives in place and was about, on occasion and where necessary, reducing taxes. We did have support from the French on this and it was something the Commission was looking at. It would be something that the Prime Minister would want to discuss further with European colleagues while he was here in Brussels and in the future.

Asked if the Prime Minister was alarmed about the Solana report on climate change, the PMS replied that we welcomed this report; it was an important part of the debate and the process of going forward. The Prime Minister’s view was that it was important to develop a better understanding of the implications of climate change for European, foreign and security interests. This report helped to identify that.

Asked what the UK’s position was on President Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union, the PMS replied that our general position was that we welcomed an EU role in supporting enhanced regional cooperation in the Mediterranean. The Barcelona Process provided a basis on which to build. Of course, we would have to look at the details of how it would operate in practice, and clearly it would need to involve all European member states.

Asked for details of the Prime Minister’s talks with the Spanish Prime Minister, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was at the PES meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at the moment; they would want to have a separate word away from that in the margins. It would be the first time that they have spoken face to face following Mr Zapatero’s successful election, however they had spoken on the phone earlier in the week. There was nothing more to say at the moment as the meeting was taking place.

Asked if the Prime Minister was worried about the EU backsliding regarding commitment on climate change targets, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought it was very important that the European Union stuck to the commitments it had previously entered into and one of the things he was doing today was setting out some constructive and practical proposals for how we might deliver those objectives.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be pursuing the subject of energy liberalisation with the French and German leaders, the PMS said that, as journalists knew, the Prime Minister was strongly supportive of the objective of completing the single market in energy; having a competitive, integrated and transparent EU single energy market was not only in the interests of all the EU consumers but was also a key element of EU energy security. The Prime Minister was of course going to continue to argue for liberalisation of the EU energy market.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any proposals for any new EU sanctions against Sudan, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered questions on this yesterday at PMQs; as he had said then, he believed that we must strengthen sanctions against the Government of Sudan and this should include military sanctions for the whole of Sudan.

Asked if Northern Rock would be discussed at Brussels, the PMS said that he was not aware of any planned talks; this was a matter for the Treasury and there was an established process for discussion between the Treasury and the European Commission.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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