EU Leaders at Odds on How to Help Poor Nations

The European Union fought Thursday to live up to its self-proclaimed leadership on combating climate change, with the 27 EU leaders at odds over how much to offer poorer nations to join the global battle.

EU nations failed to agree on a figure for climate change funding for developing countries during a first set of talks on Thursday, diplomats said, promising to make new efforts to strike a deal on Friday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

Nine eastern EU states said earlier that they would rather walk away from the two-day summit without an agreement than be forced into a deal for billions of euros that would stretch their budgets — even if that jeopardizes a global climate pact and hurts the EU's international image.

After talks with eight counterparts, Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said they did not want a deal "at any price," considering the blows their economies had already taken during the financial crisis.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned against waiting for a deal, saying the stakes in the climate change battle are too high to bicker over who should shoulder how much of the burden.

"Unless we have a program for financing the action we're taking against climate change, then we will not get an agreement at Copenhagen," where a U.N. climate conference kicks off Dec. 7 aimed at replacing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Brown said.

He said developing nations would need annual help of euro100 billion ($148 billion) by 2020, of which EU governments and companies should contribute up to euro40 billion ($59 billion).

The latest draft declaration the leaders were discussing Thursday night had eliminated any mention of fund targets.

"Many countries are hit by the financial crisis," said summit Chairman Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister of Sweden. "So, of course, they say: 'We also need to address the fact that we are very badly hit and very poor at the moment'," he said.

It is tough to reconcile current EU hesitancy with Europe's early ambitions on the issue.

The Copenhagen summit is seen as a watershed moment for fighting climate change and for global cooperation, and for years the EU has been seeking out the moral high ground, challenging other powers such as the United States and China to match Europe's commitment.

An internal EU squabble over funding could weaken the union globally — and just look bad. U.N. officials say a European declaration on finance could go a long way toward breaking the stalemate in the climate talks. Developing countries are holding back firm commitments to slow the growth of their carbon dioxide emissions until they know how much aid they can expect to adjust to changing climate conditions.

With the U.S. hamstrung by Congress, which has yet to approve U.S. emissions targets, poorer countries are looking to the EU to set the pace that they expect other industrialized countries to match.

The EU announced last year it would decide by spring how much it would contribute, and the delay has led to frustration among climate negotiators.

The debate goes to the core of the European Union's institutional quagmire. For years, the bloc has wanted to raise its international profile but is always held back by hesitant member states putting nationhood ahead of the continent.

To improve cooperation among member states, the EU has been trying for eight years to streamline its rule book through a new reform treaty. Only the Czech Republic has yet to approve the document, and its president, Vaclav Klaus, has held up the whole process since early October.

The EU leaders were working to overcome Klaus' refusal to sign the EU treaty until his country is offered an opt-out from the treaty's Charter of Fundamental Rights. Envoys were drafting a last-minute opt-out for Klaus, who has voiced concern that the charter could be used by ethnic Germans to reclaim land they lost in the Czech Republic after World War II.

The summit leaders had originally hoped they would have been able to fill the new posts of an EU president and foreign policy chief.

Even though the treaty isn't yet in force, politicians were lobbying behind the scenes over presidential candidates, with the front-runners including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker.