BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European homes, offices and streets will have to use energy-efficient lighting by the end of the decade, EU leaders decided on Friday.
The decision to order a massive switchover that will affect the lives of all the European Union's 490 million citizens came at a summit of the 27-nation bloc as part of an ambitious green energy policy to fight climate change.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired the summit, told a news conference: "We're not saying people should throw out all the bulbs in their house today but people should start looking at what's in the shops.
"Most of the light bulbs in my flat are energy-saving bulbs. They're not yet quite bright enough. When I'm looking for something I've dropped on the carpet, I have a bit of a problem," she joked.
The leaders asked the executive European Commission to come up with proposals for saving power in office and street lighting by 2008 and in homes by 2009.
The decision, hailed by environmental campaigners, is a potential business opportunity for manufacturers such as Philips
and Siemens-owned Osram but risks stirring Eurosceptical complaints about EU meddling in citizens' lives.
The summit set a target of increasing energy efficiency to save 20 percent of the EU's energy consumption by 2020 compared to projected use.
"The European Council ... invites the Commission to rapidly submit proposals to enable increased energy efficiency requirements for office and street lighting to be adopted by 2008 and on incandescent lamps and other forms of lighting in private households by 2009," the final statement said.
Incandescent lamps are traditional lightbulbs which use a filament. They are inefficient compared with new fluorescent lights and other alternatives.
Australia last month said it will be the world's first country to ban incandescent lightbulbs in a bid to curb greenhouse gas emissions, announcing it would phase them out within three years.
"We are very impressed by the Australians and before we came to the summit, we had already been in touch with them and looking at the issue. We support this scheme and hope to take it on," Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said.
The European decision prompted a flurry of jokes including this from a British BBC radio reporter: "How many EU leaders does it take to change a lightbulb. Answer: 27."
Additional reporting by Darren Ennis