EU leaders face growth plan pressure as they meet in Brussels

 

David Cameron and fellow EU leaders meet in Brussels tonight under intense pressure to agree new economic growth plans ahead of a crucial Greek election vote.

With the vote being billed as a verdict on continued eurozone membership for Greece, markets are banking on the summit to lift the gloom.

The aim is to discuss jobs, growth, trade and boosting the EU single market, but officials in Brussels insist the "informal" meeting will reach no conclusions on Greece.

The fear is that a word out of place could worsen the crisis in Athens in the run-up to a sensitive poll on June 17 which could dictate the next step in the single currency saga.

On the eve of the talks Tory MEP Martin Callanan told the European Parliament: "So we are having yet another summit - the 22nd in the last two and a half years.

"None of the others have made any material difference, so why should this one?

"The reason all of these summits have failed is because none of them have addressed the real problem - the collapse in our competitiveness."

Mr Callanan, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said economic growth would only come if the EU slashed business red tape, repealed job-destroying employment legislation, and embraced competition and free trade with the European single market at its core.

Mr Cameron will use the summit to repeat his insistence that the eurozone must get a grip on debt and deficits and deliver sustainable growth without abandoning the austerity packages already approved in return for bailouts for Greece and other struggling economies.

Socialist leader in the European Parliament Hanna Swoboda called for a new EU agenda for "growth, employment and investment", declaring: "Francois Hollande (the new French president) will not be alone in fighting for this new direction in Europe.

"We need budgetary discipline and balance but through fostering growth and investment."

European business leaders, in a letter to the summit signed by BusinessEurope president Jurgen Thumann, said: "The summit urgently needs to demonstrate to businesses, investors and citizens across our continent and beyond that it has a coherent and credible plan to resolve the present crisis and put Europe back on the path towards long-term sustainable growth."

A pre-summit accord on setting up "project bonds" to speed investments in transport, energy and information technology involves the EU setting aside 230 million euros in guarantees to support the issuing of bonds for European infrastructure projects.

The relatively small sum could be "leveraged" to mobilise private investments of more than 4bn euros, say experts, sending a positive ahead of June's election re-run in Greece.

The move is seen as one answer to those arguing that austerity measures have gone too far and are stifling growth prospects and alienating voters and supporters of the EU.

But the wider question of a possible Greek departure from the euro will not be tackled at the brief summit over dinner.

"We are not facing the Greek problem now," said one EU official.

"We will see what the June election brings, and in the meantime get on with implementing growth measures and repeating that no-one wants Greece to leave the eurozone. The message on Greece won't change."

Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: The point we have made for some time is that monetary union implies greater fiscal integration.

"Eurobonds are one way of achieving that fiscal integration but ultimately that would be a matter for eurozone countries to decide.

"We are contributing to this debate. Some of these issues, though, are ultimately issues for the eurozone."

PA

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