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EU to fight until 'very last moment' at Rio summit

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU will fight to the last for credible commitments at the Rio+20 Earth summit but it will be "very very difficult", the bloc's environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said Wednesday.

The European Union will "engage till the very last moment and we are going there exactly with that commitment," Potocnik said, citing "optimism" but admitting there were no guarantees of an all-encompassing agreement.

"After tough pre-negotiations in New York, unfortunately not enough progress has been made so we have some intense days ahead of us in Rio," the commissioner said.

Privately, EU negotiators were more forthright. "It will be very, very difficult to draw up concrete measures and fix dates," one told AFP.

"No promises were made during lead-up negotiations," said another. "There was nothing concrete, just a lot of blah-blah-blah and statements of intention."

French dreams of creating a World Environment Organisation, for instance, are not expected to see the light of day. "At best there'll be a bigger role for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)," said a senior European official.

The presidential election campaign in the United States is one factor, with US President Barack Obama skipping the summit and Congress unlikely to ratify whatsoever.

Chinese refusal to act in the absence of Washington is another, the negotiator added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Rio de Janeiro for the June 20-22 conference, the Earth Summit's 20-year follow-up, which is drawing wide global participation.

The landmark 1992 summit, where then US senator Al Gore played a high-profile role, set the ball rolling in UN-led efforts to tackle problems facing the planet including climate change and species loss.

But Potocnik said he viewed the summit as the launch of a process, with much to be done in its wake.

"For success in Rio the adoption of a document with concrete targets is enough," he said.

"As long as we agree on things we think need to be done," Potocnik said.

"We might not achieve all targets in all areas but even if we come to a partial achievement I will be quite happy," he said.

Potocnik said that with 130 heads of state and government due to show, "we should all go there, at whatever level, with an understanding we need that agreement for a better future."

"Concerning the EU, I'm optimistic we will speak with one voice strongly," he said. "My call would be that simply dispersing our message would simply not help."

As many as 50,000 activists, policymakers and business executives are expected for the 20-year follow-up. But expectations for major achievements are low as much of the world focuses on present economic woes.

The EU is also sending three other commissioners: Connie Hedegaard, responsible for climate action; Dacian Ciolos, who holds the agriculture portfolio; and development chief Andris Piebalgs.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso may also attend, if the eurozone crisis permits.

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