BERLIN - The Social Democrats are calling for sanctions on energy-intensive US export products if the Bush administration continues to obstruct international agreements on climate protection, the party's leading environmental specialist said yesterday.The move, after the United Nations climate conference last week in Bali, Indonesia, has won strong support from the Greens and other leftist groupings in the European Parliament. Those factions will renew their bid to impose such levies when the Parliament reconvenes next month.
It also signals a big effort by the Social Democrats to take the initiative on the environment and perhaps reshape it as a foreign policy issue that could affect relations between Berlin and Washington.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken the lead on climate change, both domestically and internationally, leaving her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, frustrated. The opposition Greens have also lost ground on an issue they had long dominated.
But with three important state elections next year, the Social Democrats, still floundering in the opinion polls, are revamping their program to stem the decline of public support, party officials say.
"Merkel has made climate change a big issue and has tried to bring the Bush administration on board, so far without success," said Ulrich Kelber, deputy parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats and an environmental specialist who is leading the campaign to impose levies on energy-intensive US products.
"We cannot let the US continue to block multilateral agreements, as it tried with Kyoto, or weaken them, as it did in Bali," he said, referring to a compromise agreement on reducing greenhouse gases during the UN climate conference last week.
"The US is a major part of the problem. Levying special taxes or sanctions on energy-intensive US products, such as steel and aluminum, which are exported to Europe, could be the first step," Kelber said.
US officials and the American Chamber of Commerce in Brussels said that it was too early to react to the proposals.
Environmentalists inside the Social Democratic Party and in the European Parliament said the idea behind levying taxes went beyond pressuring the Bush administration to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases.
They also want to widen the European carbon emissions system, which at the moment excludes steel and other intensive energy products imported by EU member states.
Unless such products are included, they said, it was unrealistic to believe that the trading system could reduce climate change significantly.
The EU's emission trading program was launched in January 2005, becoming the first international trading system for carbon dioxide emissions.
It covers more than 11,500 energy-intensive installations across the EU, which represent nearly half of Europe's carbon dioxide emissions, according to the European Commission.
The installations include oil refineries, coke ovens, iron and steel plants and factories making cement, glass, lime, brick, ceramics, pulp and paper.
Earlier attempts by Germany's Social Democrats and the European Parliament to widen such levies were met with opposition from Gunter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner for industry and enterprise, who is German and a Social Democrat.
Turmes said Verheugen wanted to protect industry and Germany's car sector rather than support moves to either impose levies on steel and other imports or expand the European emissions trading system.
"What we don't want is a situation where the US, between now and the next climate accord, which is supposed to be concluded in 2009, will do everything they can to block it," Kelber said.
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