A two-day rally driven by hopes that Europe had a plan to contain Greece's debt crisis and shore up the continent's other struggling countries ended Wednesday amid reports of divisions among leaders.
The past few weeks have seen remarkable volatility, particularly in European shares, with investors responding to every twitch from European leaders on whether Greece will gets its next loan installment, whether national parliaments will agree to a stronger pan-European bailout fund and whether there's a credible plan to save Italy and Spain from needing rescue loans themselves.
The overall trend had been pessimistic until Monday, when it seemed that finally Europe's leaders were agreeing on a strong set of measures.
That new optimism culminated in Greece's passage of a property tax _ one of a host of painful debt-reduction measures it must enact in exchange for rescue loans. The country will go bankrupt unless it receives an euro8 billion ($11 billion) rescue loan before mid-October.
But the rally ended Wednesday, with reports of heavy resistance to a proposal to ask private holders of Greek debt take on bigger losses.
Many say that even after an agreed-upon reduction, Greece's debt is just too big to ever be paid off: With weak growth, Athens simply doesn't make enough money to pay its day-to-day bills and the interest on its loans, so the debt will continue to grow. As a result, there have been calls to further slash what it owes.
A pushback against that plan renewed uncertainty about Greece's path and European markets have made little headway.
In France, the CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent to 3,029 while Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent to 5,634. The FTSE index of leading British shares was down 0.2 percent at 5,284. The euro, however, held its own against the dollar, rising 0.5 percent to $1.3647.
U.S. markets were also set to open higher later _ Dow futures were up 0.6 percent at 11,189 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 0.7 percent to 1,177.
The relatively small moves in markets may be a sign they're waiting to see how the upcoming events unfold. Finland is set to vote on the proposals to strengthen the eurozone bailout package on Wednesday, and Germany will do the same the next day. Yes-votes would reassure investors.
"The markets are readying themselves for concrete news now but the slow progress of politics could mean the markets are setting themselves up for a fall," said Jane Foley of Rabobank.
Meanwhile, whatever happens with the EU, the larger global economy still looks fairly weak, and oil fell again Wednesday on expectations that slow growth would weaken demand for raw materials.
Benchmark oil in New York fell 68 cents to $83.77 a barrel.
Earlier, shares in Asia lost steam after spending the morning in positive territory.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index eked out a gain of less than 0.1 percent to close up just 5.70 points at 8,615.65. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was 0.9 percent higher at 4,039.50. But South Korea's Kospi gave up earlier gains and closed down 0.7 percent to 1,723.09.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng sank 0.7 percent to 18,011.06 while benchmarks in Singapore and Thailand also fell.