Miliband: EU relations 'under strain' over credit crunch

11th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

"The sense of solidarity within Europe, between east and west, rich and poor, new and old is under strain."

London -- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Monday that the economic crisis had put relations in the European Union "under strain", adding its achievements were "being tested as never before".

Miliband added the EU must keep the door open for countries like Iceland and Ukraine -- both hit particularly hard by the credit crunch -- possibly to join.

"The sense of solidarity within Europe, between east and west, rich and poor, new and old is under strain," he said in a speech at the London School of Economics.

"The achievements of the last 30 years -- from the single market and enlargement to the euro -- are being tested as never before."

His comments, made ahead of the meeting of G20 leaders in London in April, come amid divisions between western and eastern European leaders over the EU's response to the credit crunch.

At the start of this month, EU leaders at an emergency summit in Brussels ruled out a regional bailout plan for eastern Europe.

The area, hit by a wave of social protests, has been particularly badly affected because their economies are highly dependent on credit from Western sources that has all but dried up in recent months.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was among those calling for a support fund, adding: "We should not allow a new iron curtain to be set up and divide Europe in two parts."

Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine have secured rescue packages from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help them cope with the crisis.

Miliband added that there were countries like Iceland or Ukraine "for which, though there is no formal membership commitment, we must keep open the prospect of membership."

He added that the crisis underlined the need for EU reform and renewed Britain's warnings against protectionism, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made a recurring theme of his comments on the issue.

"Now is the time we need new reform to preserve the gains of the past," Miliband said.

"Our belief in the long term benefits of the freedom of people, money, goods and services to move across borders is confronted with the short term temptations of protectionism."

He added: "The temptation, given the severity of the economic crisis, is to turn inwards and focus on domestic problems... but solidarity and support between nations is a vital part of the European compact."


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