EU is united, Brussels summit insistsMarch 2nd, 2009 - 7:28 am ICT by IANS
Brussels, March 2 (DPA) The European Union (EU) is still a union and its members will follow its rules and reject protectionism, EU leaders stressed Sunday at an emergency summit to discuss the world economic crisis.
“The idea of divisions between new and old member states, North against South or East against West - that approach is one that we clearly rejected,” Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who convened and chaired the meeting in Brussels, said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is set to host a summit of the Group of 20 (G20) leading economies in London on April 2, hailed the meeting as “the start of a European consensus” on the main issues.
In three hours of talks, the leaders of the EU’s 27 member states penned a joint statement approving the measures that they have already agreed to fight the world economic downturn and pledging to decide more detailed proposals by the summer.
They also stressed the need for the bloc to overhaul the regulation of its banking sector and to find a way to deal with toxic assets in a bid to get banks to lend to one another again.
But their main purpose was to stress the union’s continued unity, which had threatened to fracture before the summit as members accused one another of protectionism and forming cliques and power blocs.
“Europe can only face this challenge and overcome the current crisis by continuing to act together in a coordinated manner,” the final statement said.
Much of the ire had been sparked by a French plan to give a massive loan to French carmakers and to demand in return a pledge of preferential treatment for French factories and suppliers.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have become major centres of French car production, were particularly critical of the plan, with the Czechs summoning Sunday’s summit to condemn protectionism.
But France Saturday withdrew the offending clauses from its rescue plan, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejecting angrily accusations at the summit that it had been protectionist.
“We didn’t ask to close factories in other countries, but to keep ones at home open. Protectionism is an American problem,” he said.
Topolanek, who clashed with Sarkozy over the issue in January, appeared more conciliatory Sunday, saying “there is not one case of protectionism in Europe.”
Not one participant accused another of protectionism, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrived 90 minutes late after her aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in Hannover with engine trouble.
But Sarkozy risked provoking further wrangles by insisting that the EU protect the continent’s car manufacturers.
Tempers had also flared over a meeting of the EU’s G20 members - Britain, France, Germany and Italy - in Berlin Feb 22 to which non-members Spain and the Netherlands had also been invited.
That provoked other middle-weight EU members such as Poland and Finland to ask why they had not also been invited to Berlin and the forthcoming London G20 summit.
Brown rebuffed such complaints, saying that the inclusion of Spain and the Netherlands on the G20 guest list had been based on the decision of an American-led G20 meeting in Washington in October.
But Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that Finland would raise the issue again among EU foreign ministers in the coming weeks.
EU diplomats had also warned of a rift between new and old EU members when Poland, the current president of the Vysegrad group of Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, called a pre-summit meeting of the quartet with Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic trio.
But that meeting also called for European unity, with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk saying that all present had “re-affirmed the utmost importance of … pan-European solidarity.”
And in a ground-breaking move, the summit’s final message stressed that EU leaders recognized “clear differences between member states in Central and Eastern Europe.”
That declaration, first drawn up by the Czechs, allayed fears that the new member states might be trying to form a bloc within the bloc.
It also reassured states such as Poland and Slovakia, whose economies are in relatively good shape, that they are not about to be classed with newcomers such as Hungary and Latvia, who have been forced to seek massive bail-outs to shore up their public finances.
Hungary, however, left the summit disappointed after its proposal for a 190-billion-euro ($240-billion) safety fund, and its parallel call for a speeding-up of the rules governing entry to the euro group were summarily rejected.
“The situation in every country is different,” Topolanek said.
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