David Cameron tells EU to 'get serious'


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Indy Politics

David Cameron today told Europe to "get really serious" about jobs and growth and restore the EU's economic fortunes.

Arriving this afternoon at a summit in Brussels, the Prime Minister said he expected a lot of support from fellow EU leaders to improve trade, cut red tape for small business and get people back to work.

The summit, due to last just three hours, is attempting to revive market confidence by looking at the long-term economic picture.

Leaders are set to agree a statement declaring: "We have to actively enhance growth and competitiveness, so as to create jobs, preserve our social models, and ensure the well-being of our people".

But the short-term worries about Greek debt and possible default returned to stalk the talks before they had even begun.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is demanding much tougher controls on the Greek economy - including independent control over the nation's tax and spend austerity measures.

The idea has infuriated the Greek government but the Chancellor says she needs to show the German public that more German money for a second Greek bail-out is going to a country getting to grips with its massive debts.

The summit is expected to set out the terms of a new "fiscal compact" to tighten controls on all eurozone economies, and summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy is determined to send out a tough message that the immediate repair work to the ailing eurozone economies will be backed up by reinforced measures to boost jobs and restore growth.

Mr Cameron made clear that was his aim too as he strode into the summit building.

He said: "We need to get really serious about the growth agenda in Europe. We need to complete the single market, agree trade deals and make serious efforts to de-regulate small businesses. That's the agenda I shall be pushing and I hope to find a lot of support."

But support for any UK pressure may be lukewarm following Mr Cameron's refusal at an EU summit last month to back treaty change to boost eurozone discipline.

Today's talks on the terms of a new "fiscal pact" to tighten eurozone controls do not directly involve the UK because of the December veto of plans for a 27-nation treaty change.

But Mr Cameron is concerned that future meetings only involving the leaders of the eurozone states on eurozone business, could stray into single market areas which could affect the UK, particularly its role as a financial centre.

The Government has warned it would block the eurozone countries from using institutions paid for by EU nations to carry through any decisions reached at such meetings.

But Mr Cameron is unlikely to wield that threat today, when a final deal on the "fiscal compact" will not be signed until another summit in March.

This has raised fears that he is backing down, prompting Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to insist at the weekend that he trusted Mr Cameron to stick to the ban on the others using institutions such as the Commission and European Court of Justice, "because we had no guarantees that what they are proposing would not damage the single market, or for that matter, would actually cause problems for the financial sector".

Today UK Independence Party MEP Paul Nuttall said: "If as expected Cameron does a U-turn today and allows the intergovernmental treaty to use EU institutions it shall be his Neville Chamberlain moment when he capitulates in the face of EU demands.

"Just when a strong stand is required he shows weakness. If you give the EU an inch they will take a mile. It weakens his position for years to come, both at the EU negotiating table and at Westminster.

"It was Cameron and (Chancellor George) Osborne who called for fiscal union of the Eurozone. Why is David Cameron encouraging the economic and democratic strangulation of Europe?"

The summit took place against the backdrop of a public sector strike in Belgium - reflecting growing public disquiet across Europe at tough austerity measures which have hit incomes and employment.

All EU leaders managed to beat the stoppage - some flying in military aircraft to a military airfield outside Brussels.

And all were aware that such unrest will continue until they deliver lasting results on the economic crisis and the prospects for recovery.

Liberal Democrat leader in the European Parliament and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt also insisted on "concrete progress" at the summit.

"EU leaders should act instead of producing more paper. The longer they delay taking the real decisions that are necessary, and not just tweaking the provisions of the Treaty, the more costly it will be to rescue the eurozone countries in difficulty."

He said that in the last 18 months EU member states had jointly committed one trillion euros of taxpayers' money to the crisis "and achieved nothing".

"As things stand, countries like Greece or Italy cannot sustain their debt repayments nor consider investing in future economic growth. EU inaction is condemning them to a negative spiral of debt and default," he said.

He said the new fiscal compact boosted fiscal discipline, but failed to tackle the needs for "solidarity and investment that will create jobs and growth".