Chief executives from Europe’s biggest energy companies have urged EU leaders to take swifter action to support low-carbon electricity, as member states tried to overcome differences on a €5bn ($6.49bn, £4.62bn) proposal to bolster energy infrastructure.

The European Commission proposal, including support for new grid connections and pilot power stations that can capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions, have proved unusually divisive ahead of a two-day meeting of heads of state that begins on Thursday in Brussels.

Nearly 60 chief executives from leading electricity companies across Europe met in Brussels on Wednesday to urge stronger action to support low-carbon electricity.

The group, which included executives from Eon and RWE of Germany, EDF of France, Enel of Italy and Endesa and Iberdrola of Spain, issued their first ever joint declaration, pledging to make electricity carbon-free by 2050, but urging governments to play their part in achieving that goal.

The chief executives’ demands include the speedy release of subsidies for carbon capture and storage, incentives to build new grid connections, a commitment to nuclear power, and better co-ordination of the patchwork of national systems for subsidising renewable electricity generation.

Many of those prescriptions lie at the heart of plans put forward by José Manuel Barroso, European commission president. He called for using unspent funds from the 2008 budget to build plants and offshore wind.

The initiative appeared to receive a boost in January after the Russia-Ukraine crisis cut gas supplies to Europe and the economy continued to slide into the worst recession since 1945.

Yet it quickly became bogged down in disputes between member states over money and priorities that critics say highlight the EU’s clumsy response to the larger financial crises.

“It’s been difficult all along,” said one diplomat involved in the discussions. Even Mr Barroso last week acknowledged that he was “rather concerned” about a lack of progress.

Energy executives, including Lars Josefsson, chief executive of Vatenfall and president of the European electricity producers group, urged policymakers to move forward. “Let’s get this €1.25bn out and let’s build these projects. Time is of the essence,” Mr Josefsson said, referring to the funds within the €5bn package proposed by the commission for carbon capture and storage.

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