The European Commission on Wednesday proposed far-reaching measures to combat climate change, including national targets for the use of renewable energy sources and the obligatory purchase by companies of carbon dioxide emission permits.
The Commission's proposals, hotly contested by business groups and environmentalists alike, must receive approval from all 27 European Union member-states and the European Parliament in order to take effect.
"There is a cost, but the cost is manageable," José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, told the European Parliament.
In an effort to reassure industrialists that the proposals would not put them at a disadvantage against competitors from China, India, the US and elsewhere, Mr Barroso said: "We want industry to remain in Europe. We don't want to export our jobs to other parts of the world."
In order to defend European industry, the EU will if necessary require importers to buy the same carbon emission allowances for non-European goods that EU manufacturers will themselves have to purchase, Mr Barroso said.
The plan's starting point, agreed by national governments last March, is that the EU should by 2020 reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from their 1990 levels, and ensure that 20 per cent of energy use comes from renewables such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
EU experts say the targets are ambitious but within reach. By 2005 the EU had cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 per cent from their 1900 levels and was relying on renewable energy sources for 8.5 per cent of its power.
The EU has set its sights on becoming the world's leader in the fight against global warming. It is hoping that, by forcing itself to meet demanding targets, it may gain a competitive advantage in low carbon technologies of the future.
Some members of the European Parliament have criticised the Commission for not doing enough to protect European industry or, conversely, for not announcing down even more rigorous measures.
"European industries should be required to reduce their carbon footprint, but we should be careful not to penalise them in the global marketplace," said Anne Laperrouze, a French deputy. "Protection of the environment should not be considered as economic protectionism."
China and the US have so far not asked their industries to meet mandatory greenhouse gas emission targets.
Under the Commission's proposals, rich EU member-states such as France and Germany will be asked to bear the brunt of the CO2 emissions-cutting targets.
New and less well-off countries in central and eastern Europe will be allowed to increase their emissions by up to 20 per cent from 2005 levels, reflecting their desire to catch up with the higher standard of living in western Europe.
Mr Barroso said the EU's ultimate goal was a worldwide agreement on cutting CO2 emissions. "This is about global warming, global climate change, not only climate change in Europe. We've got to put our proposals in such a way that we bring others with us," he said.
The proposals, he said, would give Europe more energy security and make it less dependent for supplies "on regimes that are not our friends".
He said the climate change plan was a good example of how the EU can sometimes act more effectively at supra-national level than individual member-states can on their own.
"If some people in Europe have doubts about the need for the European Union, I think this is exactly the kind of policy that shows why we need a strong European Union more than ever," Mr Barroso said.