Climate change and a proposed Mediterranean Union top the agenda of a two-day European Union summit opening Thursday in Brussels. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris about the issues involved.

Leaders from the 27-member European Union gathering in Brussels are expected to call on countries like the United States and China to commit to a new international agreement slashing heat-trapping carbon emissions.

The EU sees itself as a leader in the fight against global warming after member states agreed last year to slash emissions by 2020.

EU leaders were poised on Thursday to agree to a timetable for tackling climate change that they hope will allow them to set the pace in global talks next year. Failure to agree on the details could delay EU regulation and weaken the bloc in United Nations talks on emissions in November 2009.

EU spokeswoman Barbara Helsserich told reporters in Brussels that many Europeans believe environmental protection is critical -- and does not hamper economic growth.

"Nearly two thirds of Europeans -- 63 percent -- feel that protecting the environment is more of an incentive for innovation than an obstacle to economic performance," said Helsserich. "And almost as many Europeans feel that protecting the environment must be given priority over economic competitiveness."

Also on Thursday, European Union leaders gave a lukewarm welcome to a watered-down version of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan for a Mediterranean Union. The Union would foster closer ties between Europe and its North African and Mideast neighbors on the Mediterranean Sea. Mr. Sarkozy's original plan has been scaled back because of opposition from several EU nations. France's EU partners -- especially Germany -- are concerned that the project will boost Paris's influence, with Berlin and other EU nations footing the bill.