europe bids to turn from crisis to growth
Last Updated : GMT 18:08:33
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Europe bids to turn from crisis to growth

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Europe bids to turn from crisis to growth

Brussels - AFP

European leaders bid Monday to move away from the debt crisis and focus on much-needed growth as a new battle erupted over putting the eurozone\'s Achilles heel, Greece, under EU supervision. European Union heads of state and government hold their first summit of the year from 1400 GMT to finalise a new German-driven pact to toughen budget discipline. They do so amid a general strike in Belgium over deepening austerity in their own country. With recession looming large over Europe, leaders will also try to find ways to jumpstart the economy and reduce an unemployment rate averaging 10 percent across the 17-nation eurozone. Ideas include lowering the tax burden on employers to get more people hired, and giving all youths guaranteed options in work, training or study. Two years into a crisis that forced Greece, Portugal and Ireland to take bailouts, European governments will put the finishing touches on the new \"fiscal compact\" to prevent future debt debacles.  Public anger over the austerity-first policy sweeping the eurozone was on full display in Belgium, where the strike halted the Eurostar and Thalys international rail lines, forced flight cancellations and brought public transport in Brussels to a standstill. The pact will apply to 26 countries inside and outside the eurozone, excluding Britain, and those that want to tap future rescue funding will have to ratify this treaty on fiscal discipline in order to do so. Hoping to shield two other nations in financial trouble, Italy and Spain, EU leaders will put the finishing touches to a rulebook for a permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a financial \"firewall\" worth 500 billion euros. Several governments hope that the treaty on fiscal discipline, demanded by Berlin, will convince Germany to back an increase to the ESM to 750 billion euros. It could also prompt the European Central Bank to step up its purchase of bonds from governments paying higher risk premiums on commercial markets. Weary of contributing to bailouts, Germany is pushing a plan for Athens to be placed under stewardship with the eurozone appointing an EU commissioner who could veto Greek budget decisions. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that only radical reforms in Greece could unlock a second bailout of 130 million euros ($171 million), negotiated in October. \"Unless Greece implements the necessary decisions and doesn\'t just announce them ... there\'s no amount of money that can solve the problem,\" he told the Wall Street Journal. The German idea has angered Athens, with Greek Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou calling it the \"product of a sick imagination.\" One EU diplomat told AFP that the plan put forward by Berlin for Greece to cede budgetary sovereignty to Brussels on a temporary basis was simple blackmail, but other diplomats saw a trend. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, meanwhile, said Sunday there was \"total convergence\" among his political allies on new austerity measures needed for a second bailout and on debt cuts to avert default. With the country buried under a mountain of debt, Greece is seeking to wrap up a deal with private investors that have been asked to take a \"haircut\" worth about half the 200 billion euros owed to them. Talks have been snagged on the amount of interest to be paid on the remainder, with Athens facing a critical bond reimbursement worth 14.5 billion euros on March 20. Greek Finance Minister Angelos Venizelos told reporters Saturday he was hopeful of a deal within days. The voluntary bond exchange, which aims to wipe out 100 billion euros ($130 billion) off the country\'s debt of 350 billion euros, is a pre-condition for Athens to receive the second bailout, although senior EU sources say governments may have to dig deeper into their pockets to help Greece.  

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