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Growth the new buzzword at EU summit

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-01

European leaders kick off a summit on the eurozone economic crisis in Brussels on Thursday, with the focus switching from austerity to growth. EU leaders are marking out a new plan to tackle the increasing rate of unemployment.

AFP - European Union leaders seek to turn the corner on the debt crisis on Thursday by mapping out new routes for growth in their economies just as a eurozone-wide recession kicks in.

After two years in which government debt, bailouts and austerity became bywords for EU summits, the latest two-day meet starting 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) sees the EU move to secure jobs.

"I'm sure you will agree, a little less drama will do no-one any harm," said the head of the EU executive, Jose Manuel Barroso.

A treaty designed to ensure there will be no repetition of the massive debts that felled Greece, Ireland and Portugal will be signed on Friday morning, after EU president Herman Van Rompuy is given a new 30-month mandate.

An EU future for Serbia, a deepening clash with neighbouring Belarus and efforts to break a United Nations deadlock on Syria will all vie for attention, although worries over Spain's worse-than-expected public finances could drag leaders back to familiar ground.

However, with competing ideas for how to re-engineer economic growth on the table, the summit marks a change of emphasis.

Leaders at summits "have over recent months given their full attention to financial stability and budgetary consolidation," said one of the newest EU leaders, Belgium's Socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

Having slashed his country's budget in ending an 18-month political crisis, he said the focus has to be on creating and saving jobs with at least six months of recession in store for the eurozone, according to the EU's own forecasters.

Speaking as trade unionists across Europe urged EU leaders to maintain the continent's social model and resist moves for more flexible labour rules, Di Rupo acknowledged there were "very different" ideas on how to achieve growth.

Latest jobless figures out hours before the summit began showed the unemployment rate inching ever higher to a record 10.7 percent in January in the 17-nation eurozone, the ninth month above the symbolic 10 percent ceiling.

That meant more than 5.5 million youngsters aged below 25 were without a job in the EU last month, where Spain saw the highest unemployment at 23.3 percent followed by Greece at 19.9 percent and Ireland and Portugal, both at 14.8 percent.

A statement drafted for the leaders to sign demands an "urgent" revamp of priorities to boost employment among adults to 75 percent, though more than 24 million people are out of work across the EU.

As fears of social unrest rise, more than half the bloc, largely countries with liberal-leaning governments, have signed up to a demand for new growth goals including a fresh focus on trade with the United States, Russia and China.

From Italy to Britain and Poland, they want to shake up Europe's energy market and open up the digital economy, alongside a call for an end to easy state guarantees for Europe's banking system.

Perhaps the biggest argument during discussion on changes to the strategy will concern a bid to revamp tax policies right across the eurozone and the EU.

However, preparatory talks among ministers showed several states refusing to buy into a bloc-wide corporate tax alternative for multinationals, and a French-led financial transactions tax sought by nine states.

A call to dangle debt relief to cash-strapped Egypt and other north African and Middle Eastern Arab neighbours was already sidelined despite moves to use the southern Mediterranean neighbourhood as another growth primer.

Talks on boosting a eurozone financial firewall have meanwhile been delayed until later in March, after a specific meeting of eurozone leaders on Friday was cancelled with Germany "not ready" to talk about pumping in more money.

Checks on whether Greece has met a list of conditions enabling currency partners to open the taps on a 237-billion-euro ($310 billion) bailout approved last week will also be discussed by EU finance ministers who meet in the hours before the summit begins.

Date created : 2012-03-01


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