EU summit must tackle social problems, Barroso says

18.03.09 @ 17:43

  1. By Elitsa Vucheva

BRUSSELS - European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has one day before an EU summit in Brussels called on member states to put a special emphasis on the "social consequences of the economic crisis."

  • EU leaders should "focus their minds on employment issues," said Mr Barroso (Photo: European Commission)

It would be a "fundamental error" to think that the EU can focus on financial regulation and supervision and not pay due attention to the "social consequences of the economic crisis," he told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (18 March).

"Our public opinion would not understand, it would be unacceptable that EU leaders meet at the highest level and that they discuss the problems of the banks and not social problems. That they discuss the problems of the financial sector and not that of employment. That would be really unacceptable."

The remarks come ahead of an EU leaders' meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. The Czech EU presidency has also tabled special summit on social affairs in Prague on 7 May.

The Prague event will be a good occasion "to see what has been done so far and what we can do for the future," Mr Barroso added.

A document to be adopted by EU leaders at the end of their meeting on Friday has been modified to include one specific point on "the social impact of the economic crisis."

"The rapid increase of unemployment is central to our concerns. Timely, temporary, and targeted measures are needed as a matter of priority to stimulate employment and to prevent and limit job losses and negative social impacts," reads a draft of the document seen by EUobserver.

"Particular attention should be given to the most vulnerable and to new risks of exclusion," it adds.

EU heads of state and governments are also to dedicate a part of their dinner on Thursday to the preparation of the May employment summit.

The statements come amid soaring unemployment in the EU.

The average jobless rate hit 7.6 percent in January this year, with the figure higher in some countries (15 percent in Spain, more than seven percent in Germany and eight percent in France).

Business Europe, the EU's main business lobby, predicts 4.5 million more jobs to go in the bloc this year.

Member states should do more

The commission president insisted on the need for member states to implement measures agreed in December to stimulate the European economy - the "European Economic Recovery Plan."

"What we need now is not words, but action. We need implementation of the recovery plan," Mr Barroso stressed. "If member states are in a position to do [even] more, they should do more."

Energy and broadband projects worth up to €5 billion have proven to be the thorniest part of the plan so far, with no agreement on the spending by member states.

A source from the Czech EU presidency indicated that a compromise on the €5 billion "seems to be approaching" and that it was realistic to expect this compromise to be reached at the summit.

"We are on the right track," the diplomat said.