New member states call for EU solidarity
By Honor Mahony
Central and eastern European countries have called for solidarity among member states, as several western states look to national solutions to get themselves out of the current economic crisis.
The gathering of nine member states, who all joined the bloc after 2004, also offered their public support to the European Commission to uphold the principles of the internal market and fight against protectionism.
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Their message came just before all 27 member states gather in Brussels on Sunday afternoon (1 March) to talk about forging an EU response to the crisis, which has been notable for the public friction it has caused between national governments.
Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who chaired the mini meeting, said the EU as a whole should show "universal solidarity, more responsibility and more optimism."
He called on all member states to adhere to the "rules and principles" enshrined in the EU treaties, referring to upholding basic internal market rules and said the "temptation of protectionism" should be avoided.
The European Commission, which is currently examining plans by six member states to aid their car industries to see if they breach the bloc's strict state aid rules, welcomed their support.
"It is very important that in times of difficulty all countries of Europe are working together," said commission presisdent Jose Manuel Barroso.
"We need to do things in the spirit of true solidarity," he added noting that he had seen "great commitment to Europe" from the region.
The newer member states have been alarmed by signs that richer member states intend to try and buy their way out of the crisis, an option not open to central and eastern countries.
They have been calling for an EU response as a way of avoiding this trend, which could lead to a run towards economic nationalism.
France prompted the talk of protectionism with its plans to give 6bn euros to its two major car-makers - a package that the European Commission has just indicated it will accept. French president Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to ask for an EU-wide car package at the summit later today, something which Germany is strongly opposed to.
Meanwhile, solidarity among member states is in short supply as several countries grapple with the effects of the crisis and angry citizens.
Some eastern states - including Hungary and Poland - feeling the cold of being outside the 16-nation eurozone, have asked that the rules for entering the single currency be speeded up.
But this has already been rebuffed by Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, in charge of the eurozone, who on arriving to the Brussels summit said: "I don't think that we can change the accession criteria overnight. This is not feasible."
Currently the rules stipluate that countries have to remain in the euro waiting room for two years after meeting strict defict and exchange rate criteria.
Poland's Europe minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz said that one of the reasons of the Sunday morning's mini summit was stop there being a "a plan for the west and a plan for the rest."
He pointed to the issue of bailing out banks saying that eastern European member states, most of whom are outside the single currency, are worried that bailouts will be agreed only for eurozone banks and not for the rest.
The meeting of EU leaders - a three-hour lunch - is expected to try and agree a common statement on how to respond to the crisis. A draft of the statement talks about "building confidence and promoting financial stability" as well as making the "maximum possible use of the single market."