PARIS (AP) -- France backed down Tuesday from a plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions that had been a central plank of President Nicolas Sarkozy's push for a more prominent role in the global fight against climate change.
The plan, launched by Sarkozy with much fanfare last September, has been on the back burner since being ruled unconstitutional in December. Sarkozy's government had insisted a reworked tax would nonetheless go into force by July.
Leading conservative legislator Jean-Francois Cope said after meeting the prime minister that they agreed that any carbon tax "would be Europe-wide or not (exist) at all," instead of being a French-only tax.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office said in a statement later Tuesday that the government would request that the European Commission accelerate plans to harmonize environmental taxation across the continent.
The tax had been part of France's plan to meet its pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions fourfold from 1990 levels by 2050. Some environmental groups criticized the tax as not strict enough.
Many within Sarkozy's own conservative party criticized the tax, arguing that it would disadvantage French companies compared to European rivals.
The decision to back down on a headline reform that Sarkozy had once compared to decolonization and the repeal of the death penalty comes two days after the president's UMP party suffered a stinging defeat in regional elections.
France's business lobby applauded the government's withdrawal of the plan.
"We are relieved, especially for all the industries that wouldn't have been able to support this new handicap on their competitiveness," the head of business lobby Medef Laurence Parisot said in a statement.
Sarkozy's plan would have made France the largest economy to impose a carbon tax, though other European countries including Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Slovenia already tax household carbon dioxide emissions.
Among the French, surveys show around two-thirds of people opposed the measure.
Sarkozy himself appeared to back away from the measure in recent weeks. In an interview with Figaro magazine earlier this month Sarkozy for the first time conditioned the tax on the creation of a Europe-wide carbon tax. He also quietly dropped any mention of his previous July deadline.