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Europe

EU Leaders Move Ahead on Common Energy Policy

European Union leaders opened a second day of summit talks Friday, downplaying discord over resurgent protectionism in the 25-nation bloc whilst trumpeting agreement on a new common energy policy.

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It's about time for a common policy on energy, Merkel said

The heads of state and government in Brussels for their annual spring economic summit will attempt to flesh out an accord, in principle, to coordinate national energy policies, for example by negotiating jointly with suppliers such as Russia, or helping any member country hit by supply cut-offs.

The need for such an agreement was underscored at the start of the year when EU member states found themselves caught in the crossfire of Russia's gas price war with Ukraine.

European Commission President Jose Barroso said EU leaders had rallied round the plans.

"The European leaders agreed to promote competitiveness, coherence, solidarity and sustainability," he said.

Barroso was vague about details, due to be made public later on Friday, but a draft copy of the accord said the commission would be asked to draw up an "Energy Policy for Europe."

This would include developing common foreign and trade policy to support energy goals, new ways to diversify energy supplies and transport routes and drawing up a common approach to crisis situations.

"We had a very good discussion which underlined that all member states agree that we need a coordinated joint energy policy," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her way into Friday's discussions.

Schüssel said Thursday's talks had set in motion the European Union's nascent energy policy and that it would be regularly reviewed over the next year.

"Be sure, 10 years from now, if you look back to what happened today, this was a very substantial debate leading to a total change of the energy policy in substance in the European Union," he added.

Protectio n ism dispute

Disputes over cross-border mergers and liberalization of the energy sector continued to reverberate around the summit, however.

Tensions had mounted in the run-up to the talks over bids by certain countries to protect their own national enterprises, in defiance of the principles of Europe's single market.

E.ON will spanische Endesa für 29 Milliarden Euro übernehmen e.on

A potential takeover deal between E.ON and Endesa fueled the protectionism row

A string of cases has underlined this, including Spanish efforts to block German energy giant E.ON's hostile takeover bid for Endesa, and French machinations to protect Suez from Italian group Enel.

Tensions over the issue threatened to explode on the eve of the summit, when Italy, deep in campaigning for elections in just over two weeks, sought support for a statement denouncing protectionism.

But Rome withdrew the proposed statement on the eve of the summit, and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, insisted there had been no bust-ups

"It was an absolutely calm, substantial and positive debate. Nobody blamed the others, no fights, no turf wars," he told reporters at a late-night press conference on Thursday. "It was a very good substantial debate."

The only real moment of discord came at the very start of the summit, when French President Jacques Chirac briefly walked out in protest when the head of Europe's employers group UNICE, a Frenchman, delivered a speech -- in English.

K n owledge-based society

As they have done for the last five years, EU leaders will also try to use the summit to push forward the so-called Lisbon Strategy aimed at transforming Europe into the world's leading knowledge-based society.

So far their efforts seem to have borne little fruit.

While the United States and Japan are enjoying an economic resurgence, much of Europe is still struggling to stimulate growth, with latest figures for last year putting economic expansion in the euro zone at a paltry 1.3 percent.

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