Spanish premier announces EU plan to develop electric cars

The initiative form part of a new economic strategy for 2020 that EU leaders are due to approve before June. "We want to put into place with the European Commission a plan for the development of electric cars," Zapatero announced to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in a speech that was received with lukewarm applause.

Zapatero reiterated that the new strategy, set to replace a ten-year plan that failed to turn the EU into "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world" by 2010, needs to have binding targets.

"The other day I met together with a group of companies, some of the most important in Europe, and it was felt it was fundamental that there should be co-operation and integration of efforts in developing the electric vehicle," he told MEPs.

"If our markets don’t have a regulatory framework to provide financial support, and if we don’t have common standards on the technologies, then it will be difficult for Europe to take a leading role," he added.

Greater energy self-sufficiency will also be key to sustainable European growth, said the Spanish leader whose country was one of the worst hit by the recent recession.

"In the last ten years our energy consumption has gone up by nine percent," he told euro deputies. "We need to reduce our dependence. If we don’t reduce it we won’t be able to have any economic growth."

At present roughly 58 percent of the gas used by European homes and industry comes from outside the EU, with last January’s dispute between Russia and the Ukraine and the subsequent European energy crisis highlighting the bloc’s vulnerability.