EU leaders reached broad agreement on a plan for pollution-cutting measures which they called a "massive" step in the fight against global warming, but argued over the role of nuclear energy and details of the planned switch to green sources like wind and solar power.
The disagreements set up more debate yesterday on the EU's ambitious new environmental agenda, which aims to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for pushing up the world's temperature.
"What has been agreed, apparently agreed, on today [Thursday] is a massive step forward from whatever point of view you take," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after leading the first day of talks.
The 27 EU leaders pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, saying they will raise that target to 30 percent if other major polluters like the US and China join them.
"Europe has given proof of its responsibility and leadership," French President Jacques Chirac said.
According to a draft agreement, they will aim to go even further in the future -- with cuts of 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050.
They also committed to the principle of ensuring that 20 percent of the EU's energy will come from renewable sources like water, wind or solar power by 2020, but disagreed on how to achieve that goal.
Poland, Slovakia and some other new EU members from former communist central European nations have argued that they do not have the money to invest in costly alternatives and prefer to stay with cheaper, but more polluting, options such as coal and oil.
They suggested a system of cooperation whereby nations with more advanced alternative energy programs would go beyond the 20 percent threshold, while others were given more time to hit the target.
"Not all countries will be able to achieve this threshold," said Polish President Lech Kaczynski, adding that Poland would accept mandatory targets only if they were tailored to individual nations.
Meanwhile, France joined the Czechs, Bulgarians and Slovaks in arguing that nuclear power should be included in Europe's plans to switch to a low-carbon economy.
"Nuclear energy has been one of the most important carbon-free energy sources contributing to reducing emissions,'' Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said in a letter sent to EU headquarters.
However, Austria, Ireland and Denmark do not want the EU to sanction nuclear power.