Flagging European economytops EU leaders' summit
4 November 2004 , BRUSSELS - Battles over a new European Union Commission and a dismal report on Europe's low-growth economy will dominate a summit of the bloc's 25 leaders opening Thursday in Brussels. Incoming European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is under growing pressure to restore his credibility after the unprecedented and embarrassing rejection of his cabinet by the European Parliament last month. European Union (EU) leaders also face a tough report by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok
4 November 2004
BRUSSELS - Battles over a new European Union Commission and a dismal report on Europe's low-growth economy will dominate a summit of the bloc's 25 leaders opening Thursday in Brussels.
Incoming European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is under growing pressure to restore his credibility after the unprecedented and embarrassing rejection of his cabinet by the European Parliament last month.
European Union (EU) leaders also face a tough report by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok warning that Europe's grand goal of overtaking the US economy by 2010 now looks dimmer than ever.
First, however, it's the embattled Barroso who will be in the hot seat.
The former Portuguese premier - initially hailed as the new EU saviour but now tarnished before even taking office - is struggling to come up with a new line-up of cabinet members.
Two of Barroso's most controversial nominees - Italy's Rocco Buttiglione and Latvia Ingrida Udre - have been axed over the past week to meet the EU assembly's demands.
But this may not be enough. Having sacrificed two would-be commissioners disliked by the left, Barroso is under pressure from conservatives in the Parliament to jettison Hungary's nominee, former communist Laszlo Kovacs.
EU leaders, irritated by the fracas, are insisting Barroso produce a cabinet which can the Parliament's increasingly critical muster.
Dutch officials are hoping Barroso's new line-up will be unveiled by Friday when the summit wraps up. But aides to Barroso say there are no deadlines for naming the new team.
Away from clashes over personalities, leaders face bad news on the economic front.
The report by the Netherland's Kok says the ambitious target agreed at the E.U.'s Lisbon summit four years ago to overtake the US economy by the end of the decade are more or less dead in the water.
Instead, says Kok, Europe must concentrate on whipping its sluggish economy into shape simply to prevent a lurch into economic decline.
"It's clear that we have underperformed," said Kok at a news briefing Wednesday releasing the report.
The plain-talking Kok pulled no punches and blamed member states for not doing enough. He admitted, however, that the weak global economy had not helped.
The E.U. needed urgent action "to remain in the economic league where we are," said Kok, adding that Europe remained under strong pressure from both the US and Asia.
Making matters worse, Kok said the EU's rapidly ageing population would have a negative impact both on labour markets and the continent's cherished social welfare systems.
The Kok report outlines a series of steps which need to be taken to get Europe's economy back on course. It also suggests firm timetables for carrying out reforms.
Among the key recommendations are:
- promoting scientific research and telecoms;
- boosting the EU's frontier-free single market;
- and modernizing labour markets to promote "life-long learning and active ageing."
On this final point, Kok said that early retirement which is still common in many EU states would have to be sacrificed.
In other business, EU leaders will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on Friday to sound him out on negotiating a first-ever EU trade pact with Iraq.
A package of EU aid measures to be put to Allawi on 5 November also include support for Iraqi elections set for January 2005 and help for rebuilding Iraq's police forces and legal system.
EU countries were deeply divided over the Iraq war, with Britain, Italy and Spain (under the previous government) backing the US-led invasion and Germany, France and Belgium leading European opposition to the conflict.
Most EU states have so far been reluctant to get too closely involved in Iraqi reconstruction given growing security concerns.
Subject: German news