Czech leader sees deep rifts among Europe's powerhouses
The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands met in Berlin to nail down a joint European stance for the Group of 20 meeting in London on April 2.
Prague -- Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, said Sunday's talks among Europe's largest economies in Berlin had exposed deep rifts.
"If I put it very tenderly, the divergence in opinions was rather big," Topolanek told reporters on the plane home from the talks.
The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands met in Berlin to nail down a joint European stance for the Group of 20 (G20) meeting of developed and developing countries in London on April 2.
"It was obvious that the four countries representing the EU in G20 (France, Germany, Britain and Italy) do not have the same opinion on a number of issues," Topolanek said.
"Our responsibility (as the presidency) is to look for some unity. This won't be easy at all," he said after the countries agreed to step up the regulation of financial markets and to double IMF funding to avoid a repeat of the global economic crisis.
The leaders also agreed on "appropriate" market regulation and on "measures that keep distortions to competition to an absolute minimum" at the Berlin meeting.
The latter decision follows a row over protectionist measures proposed by some EU countries as a way to cushion the impact of the global downturn.
France in particular has raised hackles in the Czech Republic with comments by French President Nicolas Sarkozy against French automakers producing their cars in the Czech Republic.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Topolanek said "the crisis that has hampered relations with President Sarkozy is over because the problem was blown up by media rather than based on facts."
He said he had not met Sarkozy over the issue in bilateral talks in Berlin, but added they had "agreed to call and meet before the extraordinary EU summit in Brussels" next Sunday, which will discuss the results of the Berlin meeting.
The March 1 summit of the 27 EU member countries will be preceded on the same day by a mini-summit of nine eastern European member states, held on a Polish initiative.
Topolanek said the mini-summit was motivated by "Central and Eastern European countries' concerns about certain discrimination regarding for instance their access to financing by means of the European Central Bank."
"There is certain fear that Europe -- the old EU members and eurozone countries -- may create a situation that will somehow secondarily affect Central and Eastern Europe," he added.
Banks in the West recently exacerbated a dire situation for east European banks by tightening their credit.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick told Monday's edition of German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung that Eastern Europe needed 120 billion euros (154 billion dollars) to recapitalise its banks and would not be able to round up these funds without outside help.
Topolanek said the presidency "feels responsibility for all EU countries," but that the eastern meeting "is basically formal."
"I think the EU is aware of this problem," he added.