Financial crisis divides EU on greenhouse gas cuts

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What price clean air, sparkling streams, stately chestnut trees along busy avenues? In some ways it depends on whether you are a citizen of Old or New Europe.

A debate on whether to stick to an ambitious European Union timetable meant to slash greenhouse gas emissions at a time of economic turmoil is dividing the continent.

Most governments within the 27-nation bloc insist on going ahead with a December timetable for legislation requiring a 20 percent cut in EU emissions by 2020. They say that will send a strong signal to the U.S., China and other big industrial states to embrace a new global deal on reducing emissions after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

"The European Union must keep its leadership role" on the environment, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told his EU counterparts this week.

But eight former Soviet bloc countries argue the EU's envisioned pace could hurt them more than the prosperous members of "Old Europe" — the 15 west European nations that have not had to play catch-up to compensate for decades of ruinous communist economic policies.

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