EU leaders await new Greece vote

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The Independent Online

Europe's leaders will gather in Brussels tonight with the Greek economic crisis on a knife-edge and nothing - for the moment - that they can do about it.

The long-arranged summit comes just after the Greek prime minister survived a confidence vote and just before the Greek parliament votes next week on more austerity measures being demanded by the EU and IMF in return for more bailout money, due to be paid next month.

"It's down to the Greeks now to approve austerity measures and then we can see about further assistance" said one EU official. "In the meantime there can be no developments at this summit, and there will be pressure on leaders to say as little as possible at this delicate time".

Prime Minister David Cameron is joining the summit dinner after a day of talks in Prague with the Czech prime minister and president.

When he gets to Brussels early this evening he is expected to repeat his insistence that the UK - which did not contribute to the first Greek 110 billion-euro (£96.5 billion) bailout last year - should not be involved in a second, similar, deal likely to be concluded later this year.

The final summit declaration is likely to be restricted to emphasising that efforts remain on track to stabilise the Greek economy and restore confidence in the embattled euro.

An extra meeting of EU finance ministers has already been scheduled for July 3 to assess the situation after the Greek parliament vote next week, when anything less than approval of more austerity will be seen as a political as well as economic catastrophe for the euro.

One official in Brussels reflected the pessimistic tone in EU capitals, saying: "Many find it hard to think there could be a No vote (in the Greek parliament), because we are so close to the edge of a cliff."

Any such public pronouncement from any EU leader in the next few days will be seen as risking triggering more damaging speculation against the euro, as well as influencing the outcome of the Greek vote.

And any final summit declaration on Greece is likely to be restricted to emphasising that efforts remain on track to stabilise the Greek economy and restore confidence in the embattled euro.

Earlier this week EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy, irritated that too much euro-related bartering had been conducted in public, commented: "I am sometimes accused of a lack of visibility: some of us have too much visibility."

It was Mr Van Rompuy who added the Greek crisis to a summit agenda due to concentrate on the growing EU problem of migration from North Africa is the face of the "Arab Spring".

That issue will dominate Friday's summit session, with moves being considered to allow the temporary suspension of the EU's "Schengen" open borders policy in "exceptional, clearly defined situations, when parts of the external border are under unexpected and heavy pressure."

That could mean member states being obliged to accept migrants who would normally be assessed and rejected or accepted only in the EU country in which they first arrived. Italy says this is untenable when so many economic migrants prompted by the unrest in North Africa are heading for the nearest landfall - Italy.

Since the Arab Spring began, an estimated one million people having fled from Libya, with EU estimates of a total of 48,000 so far arriving in the EU from North Africa.

The Prime Minister's spokesman commented: "Although we are not in Schengen, what happens on the borders of the EU does matter to us and matters for migration to the UK. The Prime Minister will be saying (at the summit) that we need resilient systems and co-operation to ensure we have proper border controls and that we need to focus on upstream issues in North Africa and Libya."

Mr Cameron is also looking to the summit to extend an EU assets freeze and travel restrictions against 23 members of the Syrian regime, including President Assad, to more members of his immediate circle.

A draft summit declaration due to be endorsed by the EU leaders condemns the "unacceptable and shocking violence" the Syrian regime continues to apply against its own citizens."