Wednesday

17th Apr 2024

EU leaders meet on economy, Schengen and Serbia

A two-day EU summit starts Thursday evening (1 March) in Brussels with EU leaders set to look at statistics showing where each country stands in terms of public deficit, labour taxes and retirement ages.

A discussion paper prepared by EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy, and seen by EUobserver, lists several 'priority' measures aimed at countering the recession in many member states in 2012.

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  • Discussions on Schengen enlargement and Serbia's EU candidate status could be lengthy (Photo: Swedish presidency)

Unusually, the paper goes into some detail with charts showing how each member state fares in a particular area.

One chart shows the public deficit in 2011 and the 2012 deficit target for each country compared to the three-percent of GDP limit set by EU rules.

Ireland, Greece and the UK carry the largest deficits - above eight percent of GDP - while Sweden is the only EU country on budget surplus.

On R&D spending which remains a “challenge” for many member states, the paper shows that Sweden and the UK invested most in research and development while Malta and Bulgaria languish at the other end of the scale.

Meanwhile Belgium charges the highest labour taxes (around 50%) followed by France and Germany. Malta and Ireland have the lowest rates.

The paper also notes that those at risk of poverty in Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic countries has risen by 20 percent between 2005 and 2010.

Greece

With fresh budget cuts passed by the Greek parliament in the early hours of Thursday, EU leaders are likely to hear good news from eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker who will chair a meeting of finance ministers ahead of the EU summit, which is set to start at 6PM Brussels time.

Finance ministers are supposed to give the green light to a €5bn tranche for Greece from its first 2010 bail-out.

They are also expected to approve €35bn from the eurozone bail-out fund guaranteeing Greek loans during a bond swap operation – an operation which by 11 March is supposed to slash €100bn off Greece's debt.

Schengen and Serbia

Despite EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso’s prediction that this summit will see "less drama" than previous meetings, EU sources told this website that discussions on Schengen enlargement and Serbia’s EU candidate status could be lengthy.

Romania earlier this week surprised colleagues by threatening to veto the Balkan country's upgrade over minority rights issues. Its foreign minister later backed down. But its leader could still cause trouble at the summit.

Bucharest’s move is seen as an attempt to pressure the Netherlands, which had vetoed Romania and Bulgaria's accession to the border-free Schengen area last year.

But it is seen as having overplayed its hand by some. "The Romanians lost a lot of Schengen sympathy over the Serbian issue" one EU diplomat said.

A compromise text sought by the Van Rompuy team on Thursday would agree “in principle” to Bulgaria and Romania getting the Schengen green light in September.

This would follow a second report by the European Commission on how corruption and organised crime are tackled in the two countries – with the report a pre-condition for the Dutch government to reconsider its veto.

Germany prompts cancellation of euro summit

A meeting of eurozone leaders planned for Friday after the EU summit in Brussels has been cancelled because Germany is still saying No to increasing the firepower of eurozone bail-out funds.

Spain to test beefed-up EU budget rules

Spain is testing new EU rules on budget discipline as it seeks flexibility from Brussels on deficit targets, amid a wider debate on growth versus austerity.

Third Greek bail-out not ruled out

Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker and German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble have said they do not rule out the need for a third Greek bail-out.

EU leaders mull ways to arrest bloc's economic decline

With Europe falling behind the US and losing ground to China, the special European Council will focus mainly on Europe's economic competitiveness in the global arena. But talks will also cover Ukraine, Turkey and the Middle East.

Column

What do we actually mean by EU 'competitiveness'?

Enrico Letta and Mario Draghi are coming up with reports on the EU's single market and competitiveness — but although 'competitiveness' has become a buzzword, there's no consensus on a definition for what it actually means.

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