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EU remains split over bid for binding renewable-energy targets - extended

European Union governments remained split over setting binding targets for the use of renewable energies like solar and wind power, failing to heal a rift over how to fight climate change.

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were among countries that opposed requiring 20% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, setting the stage for an East-West clash at this week's summit of EU leaders. „We'll still have to negotiate over the binding nature of the target,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chairman of a meeting to prep for the March 8-9 summit, told reporters in Brussels today. EU governments are trying to shrink reliance on fossil fuels, bolster the 27-nation bloc's energy independence and cut greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, while battling over the role of nuclear power in the future energy mix. Seven countries in the EU since 2004 - Slovenia, Latvia, Cyprus and Malta, plus Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary - along with Finland and Greece said it would be unfair to shackle governments to inflexible targets. Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Italy backed the European Commission's call for fixed numerical targets. „That is one of the few questions that the heads of state and government will have to deal with on Thursday, because that was 50-50,” said Swedish European Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmstroem. „Sweden wants binding and is very clear on that.”

Separately, the commission, the EU's central regulator, continued to make little headway with a proposal to split power producers from transmission businesses in the €250 billion ($328 billion) gas and electricity market. Germany and France are leading the opposition to the idea, unwilling to break up utilities such as E.ON AG or Electricite de France SA. The commission says it will use its antitrust powers to achieve the same goal. „We know it's difficult, we know there is strong resistance by some companies in Europe,” the commission's president, Jose Barroso, told a Centre for European Reform conference. Regulators will use „other mechanisms.” Less controversial is a target for biofuels to make up 10% of the EU's gas and diesel fuel consumption by 2020. The bloc's current goal for biofuels, a renewable energy that can be made from crops including sugar beet, is 5.75% by 2010. (Bloomberg)