Blair says Lisbon summit points EU towards a return to full employment

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Tony Blair yesterday rejected Tory attacks on the EU's record for job creation and hailed the EU summit in Lisbon as "a turning point in Europe's approach to economic and social policy".

Reporting back to the Commons on the outcome of last week's summit, the Prime Minister said it marked a "sea change" in thinking, which held out the prospect of a return to full employment. "That post-war goal, achieved 30 or 40 years ago, but then abandoned, is back on the agenda and quite right too," he said.

William Hague claimed the summit seemed to have adopted more targets than concrete actions to boost employment. He said: "Soundbites and pious pledges and rhetoric is going to have to be backed up by action to cut the burdens of tax and regulation, which still stand in the way of job creation."

In his statement, Mr Blair outlined the measures agreed including the commitment to ensure internet access for all schools by 2001 and raise the number of people of working age in employment across the EU from 61 per cent to 70 per cent. He said: "The [summit]marks a sea change in European economic thinking. It points Europe in a new direction - away from the heavy-handed intervention and regulation, towards a new approach based on enterprise, innovation and competition. Above all, [we] agreed that once again in Europe, we can seriously contemplate a return to full employment."

But the Leader of the Opposition said: "It is notable that at the summit there was a great deal more adoption of targets than of any actual actions. It is vital to remember that such rhetoric isn't going to create a single job itself."