Shares in French nuclear giant Areva and British postal operator Royal Mail plunged Wednesday, with investors otherwise cautious ahead of the latest look at the US Fed's thinking on when to raise interest rates.
London's benchmark FTSE 100 index shed 0.19 percent to end the day at 6,696.6 points, while in Paris the CAC 40 added 0.09 percent to 4,266.19 points and Frankfurt's DAX 30 climbed 0.17 percent to 9,472.80 points.
Switzerland's SMI index briefly rose above the 9,000 mark during the trading session, hitting its highest level since the end of 2007, and ended the day up 0.12 percent at 8,983.52 points.
Milan rose 0.14 percent but Madrid fell 0.54 percent.
The European single currency increased to $1.2546 from $1.2537 late in New York on Tuesday.
"European equity markets came under renewed pressure in today's trading session, while the US equities remained in negative territory," said Sucden analyst Myrto Sokou.
In Paris, Areva shares tumbled 15.7 percent to 10.18 euros after the company suspended its financial outlook for the next two years.
The French government is reportedly considering injecting 2.0 billion euros into the company which is facing cash flow problems as interest in nuclear power has cooled since the March 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in Japan and its reactors under construction are hobbled by delays.
- Amazon mauls Royal Mail -
Royal Mail was the biggest faller on London's benchmark index after posting a drop in earnings as its parcels division faces fierce competition from US online giant Amazon, which is doing its own deliveries.
Royal Mail fell 8.4 percent to 430 pence "after it warned that growth in parcels would slow thanks to Amazon and its competitive delivery network", noted Brenda Kelly, chief market strategist at IG traders.
European stock markets were largely "taking a breather after two consecutive days of substantial gains," said Markus Huber, senior analyst at brokers Peregrine & Black.
Investor attention was largely focused on the US central bank, which publishes minutes of its last meeting that saw the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) stick to its ultra-low interest rate policy.
"There is only a limited amount of economic data scheduled for release today with the FOMC minutes later tonight likely to take centre-stage... In the short-term markets are somewhat overbought which makes for the occasional round of profit-taking likely," said Huber.
At its meeting in October, the Fed also ended its quantitative easing stimulus programme, after six years of pumping easy money into the US economy via asset purchases to shore up growth.
Investors will be looking for hints just when the Fed will begin raising interest next year.
The Bank of England on Wednesday revealed that its policymakers had voted 7-2 in favour of keeping its main interest rate at 0.50 percent against a background of low inflation and steady growth in Britain.
CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler noted the opinions of those who voted to keep rates steady was more diverse than previously "which caught markets a bit off guard and sent the pound flying off its lows."
The euro slid to 80.06 British pence from 80.18 late on Tuesday in New York. The British pound firmed to $1.5671 from $1.5633.
On the London Bullion Market, the price of gold climbed to $1,196 an ounce from $1,192.75 late on Tuesday.
- Wall Street retreats -
Wall Street stocks retreated from record highs as analysts said investors were exercising caution ahead of the release of Fed minutes.
News that new US housing construction starts slowed 2.8 percent in October from September didn't help sentiment.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.11 percent to 17,668.91 points in midday trading.
The broad-based S&P 500 shed 0.29 percent to 2,045.82, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.62 percent to 4,673.33.
Asian markets slipped Wednesday despite record closing highs on Wall Street on Tuesday, with Tokyo stocks retreating 0.32 percent after Japan's central bank decided against fresh monetary easing even as the country tipped back into recession.
Sydney dropped 0.57 percent, Shanghai lost 0.22 percent and Hong Kong fell 0.66 percent. Seoul ended flat.