BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Some 5,000 steel workers from across the continent protested outside European Union headquarters Tuesday to demand their industry be exempt from planned pollution caps, which they fear will lead to job losses.
Unions from across the 27-nation bloc are backing steel companies to pressure EU governments and lawmakers to water down rules to cut pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. They say such regulation would lead to higher production costs and job losses.
Europe's steel industry employs some 650,000 people.
"We are in favor of a clean environment, but we are also in favor of job security in the European (steel) industry," said Erich Foglar, president of the Austrian Trade Union Confederation.
EU governments and European parliamentarians are currently negotiating a plan which will force heavily polluting industries, like steel and cement, to sign up to a cap-and-trade emissions program, which could impose euro54 billion ($68.8 billion) a year in polluter fees.
Major polluters already trade carbon permits, meaning they must spend money to buy more pollution allowances or upgrade their plants.
Unions fear that if the EU approves the plans, it will leave the bloc's steel sector at a global competitive disadvantage. They fear steel companies like ArcelorMittal SA and ThyssenKrupp AG could move production out of Europe as a result.
The EU's 27 leaders are to meet next week in Brussels to finalize the specific details of goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. EU governments and the European Parliament have already provisionally agreed to water down separate plans to curb emissions from new cars.