EU - The Reluctant Gambler


Last night Commissioner Cañete came to speak to the European Parliament’s COP 21 delegation. In truth he didn’t have much fresh to say; still all to play for; things moving in the right direction; everything still on the table. Same old, same old. Negotiations are always about the last round, so I suspect the delegation will be hearing a lot more of that before the week is out.

I left the gathering not up, not down, but there was a niggle at the back of my mind, and there it stayed, until 5am this morning, when it came to me: Kenny Rogers.

Some of you may not have heard of Kenny Rogers, the near legendary country singer. If not, shame on you. Have a Google.  In his prime (and many would argue he is still there), he bears more than a passing resemblance to Commissioner Cañete. Throughout the seventies he churned out hit after hit: Lucille, Ruby, Coward of the County.  However, the song that was playing in my head when I woke this morning was, ‘The Gambler.’

On a warm summer’s eve

On a train bound for nowhere

I met up with the gambler

We were both too tired to sleep

So we took turns a-starin’

Out the window at the darkness

The boredom overtook us, he began to speak

As in all great country songs, the gambler - who made a life, out of readin’ people’s faces - offers some sage advice:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em

Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

Know when to run

You never count your money

When you're sittin’ at the table

There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done.

What would Kenny’s gambler have made of the goings on in Paris? 

With almost all states declaring their Intended Nationally-Defined Contributions (INDCs), the deck is fully loaded.  However, the real challenge is how the cards are played. At the moment there are two serious players in the room, the US and China. Both have hinted at what is in their hand: peak coal use by 2030, the impossibility of a fully binding agreement, and so on. Beyond the hints and allegations however, the cards are being played close to the chest.

The EU on the other hand is playing with its cards face up.  Everyone knows where the EU stands, everyone knows its asks.  A binding deal, and by 2030, at least 40% emissions reduction, a 27% mix of renewable energy, and a 27% indicative energy efficiency target.

Even the European Parliament has gotten in on the act. The opinion of Parliament, drafted by rapporteur Gilles Pargneaux, has been debated in the Environment Committee, debated in plenary, with votes on both occasions. [You can read my remarks on M. Pargneaux’s efforts:]

So the game takes place around the declared position of the EU. On the question of the binding nature of the agreement, its stance is clear. There is no negotiation, the position is fixed. On the issue of climate finance, the position is fixed. On the issue of loss and damage, the position is fixed. There is no flexibility, no prospect of negotiation.

So the question is, can the immutable position of the EU act as a lever for change? Can its steadfast position act as an encouragement and an incentive to others? Is it a driver of the final agreement?

Time will tell. As Kenny says:

There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done.