Germany, France and the Czech presidency of the European Union are calling for EU leaders to hold talks the end of February to coordinate the bloc's response to the economic crisis.
Aid from one EU member should not come at other members' expense, some politicians said
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, was "positively considering the idea of hosting an informal meeting of heads of state and government of the whole of the EU," according to European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger on Monday, Feb. 9.
Such a meeting, to be held in either Brussels or Prague during the last week of February, would prepare the groundwork for the bloc's regular spring council, which is traditionally devoted to economic issues and which this year takes place March 19-20.
Laitenberger said the possibility of organizing an extraordinary summit had been discussed in a morning telephone conversation between Topolanek and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
"It would be at this stage a preparatory exchange of views ... and to increase information on how efforts are going in the member states with economic stimulus," a spokesman for Barroso told a briefing Monday. "It would be a preparatory meeting."
An announcement on the exact date and location is likely to be made Wednesday, after a meeting in Brussels between Topolanek and the EU executive.
Merkel, Sarkozy support emergency summit
The French and Germen leaders held talks at the Munich Security Conference
Germany and France on Monday echoed the calls from the Czech presidency for an emergency summit on the economic crisis.
"Restoring credit must remain a key priority," German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a joint letter addressed to Topolanek and the commission.
"The solutions may vary from one state to another. But ... the guidelines and principles must be approved together to ensure the proper functioning of the common market and avoid repercussion on the (European) Union," the letter said.
The informal summit will also address the responses of EU member states to the recession and the pressure the downturn is placing on their finances. Several key member states, including France and Spain, breached the bloc's budget deficit limit last year.
"Our citizens expect us to take into account the interests of future generations. We must affirm our commitment to a return to the sustainability of public finances," Merkel and Sarkozy wrote.
Topolanek talks down Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested pulling French car factories out of Czech Republic
Talk of an emergency meeting took place against the backdrop of a widening rift among some EU governments over their handling of the economic crisis and concerns that member states may be tempted to raise barriers in order to protect domestic jobs.
Last week, Sarkozy, whose country formerly held the rotating EU presidency, infuriated his Czech successor by suggesting that French carmakers Citroen and Peugeot should relocate their Czech factories to France. But Topolanek countered that such a position was incomprehensible.
"Attempts to introduce such protectionism and defenses during the financial crisis could threaten to slow any revival of the European economy," the Czech prime minister told a news conference in Prague on Friday.
Urging EU leaders to gather for special talks later this month, Topolanek said Sarkozy's attitude risked casting the 27-nation bloc into a vicious circle of "beggar-thy-neighbor" actions to protect national economies.
"We can come out of (the crisis) more powerful only if we follow the rules, we respect the rules of the internal market," Topolanek said. "The last impulse was the really selective and protectionist steps and statements of, among others, President Sarkozy, led me to the intention to call this extraordinary council.
"It is these kinds of statements, made by some European statesmen, that will lead to a higher level of protectionism among individual states, which will absolutely, undoubtedly lead to an escalation of similar actions and in the end only extend the crisis," he said.
Slovaks wary of French pullout
Slovakian leader Robert Fico says Europe must remain united
In Bratislava, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico also chided Sarkozy for his remarks.
"I do not think this is fortunate behavior," Fico said. "Europe can handle this crisis (if it is) united, but it cannot handle it individually. Calls for such brutal protectionism are not helping anyone."
PSA Peugeot Citroen has a factory in Slovakia, the government of which said it had the capacity to take retaliatory measures if it sees protectionist measures being put in place elsewhere.
"If one country starts behaving like this, for example France, then we will send Gaz de France home," Fico said. "We can use the money Gaz de France is getting as a shareholder in (Slovak gas company) SPP."
Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker said recent developments in Europe's handling of the crisis had been worrying.
"I'm a bit concerned that member state after member state is arranging their own plans and programs," said Juncker, who is also premier and finance minister of Luxembourg.