By Barbara Lewis and Michael Szabo
BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) - EU diplomats on Friday agreed to begin talks on a legal text to slash permit supply and prop up carbon prices in the bloc's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), marking a big step forward for the divisive proposal.
EU president Lithuania said member state officials would start negotiations with the European Parliament and the executive European Commission over the "backloading" plan, which seeks to delay the sale of 900 million carbon permits until later this decade.
"Common sense prevailed. Almost unanimous support from member states. (We're) moving toward a stronger ETS," EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard tweeted.
The Commission wants to raise the price of allowances in the EU ETS, now below 5 euros per ton, to incentivize companies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
Sources at Friday's meeting in Brussels said the majority of countries supported advancing the text to so-called trialogue talks after it had been stalled for months due to indecision by a handful of governments.
"A number of countries said they could support, (and there were) no abstentions. The presidency asked who could not agree and stated at the end there was a qualified majority for the trialogue," one diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.
Another diplomat, also asking not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said: "The mandate was given very quickly. Only Poland and Cyprus not supporting ... Only one trialogue should be needed. There is no date, but it should be very soon."
Trialogue talks could conclude next week and, if agreed there, the final text would then go to the parliament's environment committee before being sent to the full parliament for a final vote, tentatively scheduled for December 10.
Member states in the EU Council of ministers would also need formally to approve the final text, likely either in their next Environment Council meeting on December 13 or at full EU Council talks on December 18 or 19.
(Additional reporting by Ben Garside in London; Editing by Dale Hudson)