Danes urge action on unemployment: Jobs top the agenda for EC presidency

Click to follow
EUROPEAN governments will be asked this month to spend more in order to break out of 'the prison of stagnation and unemployment', Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, said yesterday.

Mr Rasmussen, whose country holds the EC presidency, told the Independent in an interview that a decisive move on unemployment would help the case for ratification of the Maastricht treaty in Denmark. 'There is an urgent need for a political decision,' he said, underlining that unemployment is top of Denmark's EC agenda.

The presidency's employment initiative, to be finalised at the Copenhagen summit in June, comes after the agreement on growth reached at last December's Edinburgh summit. 'What has to be the top priority is to fulfil the decisions made in Edinburgh,' said Mr Rasmussen. But he left no doubt that the British-sponsored Edinburgh plan did not go far enough. More was needed, he said, from national governments as well as in European investment projects.

He would not discuss numbers, saying such decisions were for economic and finance ministers when they meet on 19 April.

Mr Rasmussen indicated the focus of his efforts would differ from the Edinburgh plan, which centred on infrastructure. He added inner cities, the environment and education as key targets. But 'I'm not talking about the harmonisation of national budgets,' he emphasised. It was more a question of changing attitudes.

The key to his plan is a co- ordinated push for growth which encourages all governments to increase spending together. 'We can make everybody better off than if each acts on his own,' says Mr Rasmussen, a former economist. Marianne Jelved, the Danish Finance Minister, is touring EC states and her first visit is to Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, today.

Denmark has asked the European Commission to produce an analysis of each member state's fiscal policy and 'their contribution to economic growth', said Mr Rasmussen. Commission surveillance of economic policy, although foreseen after Maastricht comes into force, is a new departure.

It means that Brussels is being given a role in pushing member states into further activity - something Britain discouraged in the Edinburgh plan and which Mr Lamont will almost certainly resist. The Danish move is likely to give further ammunition to the anti-Maastricht Tory rebels at Westminster.

Mr Rasmussen also wants to put the expansion in a much wider framework of co-ordination. Representatives of the European Free Trade Area countries will be present at the next meeting of finance ministers and he said that he wanted them drawn into any initiative.

In May, Mr Rasmusssen meets President Bill Clinton to discuss the same topic. 'Europe has to have a constructive approach to the new American economic policy,' he said.

The Danish leader denied that a push for growth risked higher inflation in Europe, or would hold up the decline in interest rates. 'You have a situation in Europe with a high degree of unused capacity,' he said. 'I don't see any contradiction between our concern with lower interest rates and having higher economic growth.'

Unemployment is one of Denmark's biggest political problems. A co-ordinated EC move would help the case for ratifying Maastricht when the country has its second referendum on 18 May, Mr Rasmussen said. He was confident of a decisive 'yes'.

One of the biggest questions which citizens ask of the EC, he added, is: can they see the concrete political decisions that will influence their lives?

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 20