Energy, climate and 'Club Med' top EU summit agenda

European Union leaders began talks Thursday on how to revive their economies, stop global warming and bring their Mediterranean neighbours closer together during a summit in Brussels. ( dpa )

The regular spring European Council, which was due to end on Friday, was being attended by heads of state, government leaders and cabinet ministers from the bloc's 27 member states.

High on the official agenda is how to make the European economy more competitive in the midst of a global slowdown.

But energy security and global warming were also expected to feature prominently.

Arriving at the summit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hoped governments would agree on a common European energy policy.

"I think it's very important also to fulfil the goals on climate change. One year ago we adopted (a proposal) unanimously, now we have to translate this commitment in concrete ways," he said.

The EU executive has recently put forward controversial proposals designed to make energy markets more competitive by splitting up companies which both sell energy to consumers and manage power lines.

On climate change, leaders are being asked to cut the bloc's emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) to at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels - a legally-binding goal which they set themselves a year ago.

While they were expected to broadly endorse a commission proposal presented in January, leaders were expected to steer clear of its most controversial aspect: how to share the burden of meeting that target.

Summing up the view of many of his colleagues, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said the EU needed to "strike a balance" in its bid to cut CO2 emissions.

Leaders were also expected to discuss how to make financial markets more transparent in the wake of the recent turmoil and take stock of a number of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But much of the attention was being devoted to French plans to create a union between countries with borders on the Mediterranean Sea.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose landlocked country is among the most sceptical, welcomed the latest efforts by Germany to integrate the proposal into existing EU policies.

"We're moving in the right direction. Barcelona is Number One," said Plassnik in a reference to an EU neighbourhood policy known as the Barcelona Process.

Her prime minister, Alfred Gusenbauer, acknowledged that the Barcelona Process had been lagging in recent years. But he said his government was unlikely to greet calls for its taxpayers to foot the bill for a so-called Union of the Mediterranean with great enthusiasm.

"We're already putting 16 billion euros (about 25 billion dollars) in, that should be used sensibly. If it's an energized Barcelona strategy, then it should be right," he said.

The Union for the Mediterranean was expected to be presented over dinner on Thursday and be formally launched in July, when France takes over the rotating presidency of the EU.

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