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Europe

Three Leaders Call for Serious Economic Reforms

The leaders of France, Germany and Great Britain urged Europe to adapt to the changing world economy and make the continent more investor-friendly.

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They have the same problems, and want Europe to share their solutions.

President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder spoke after a two-a-half hour meeting in Berlin Wednesday. As a sign of both the cordiality and the importance of topics on the table, the discussions will continue throughout the evening over dinner.

The focal point of the afternoon discussions were the need for the three nations and Europe as a whole to adapt their national economies and social security systems in the face of globalization and aging populations.

"Our own people and Europe as a whole know there is an economic world that is changing very rapidly, and what this means is, is that the response of government on the national and European level has to be quick and equally adaptable to changing circumstances," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Make Europe investor-friendly, dynamic

The three signed a letter which will be sent to current European Union President Bertie Ahern of Ireland. In the letter, the three countries urged the European Commission, which initiates policy in the EU, to play a stronger rule in urging economic and health reforms and making Europe more investor-friendly.

The three called for a new super commissioner responsible for economics to be added to the body as part of changes being discussed by the new European Constitution. The three said the EU should keep its goal of being the most competitive and dynamic economy on earth by 2010.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said the three had similar goals on investing in research, universities and innovation. The chancellor, whose country is one of many European countries experiencing a brain drain of good scientists to the U.S., talked about investing in the "fields of the future."

Similar problems, similar solutions

"We saw that there was a large amount of similarity in the types of problems we had," said Schröder.

Schröder and his Social Democratic Green Party coalition are experiencing plumetting popularity rates as a result of economic reforms that seek to dismantle the country's generous welfare system and rejig the labor market. Chirac and Blair are undergoing similar fights in their own countries.

Informelles Treffen, Schröder Chirac in Berlin

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (l.)and French President Jacques Chirac

Both France and Germany have been violators of the European Union's Economic Growth and Stability Pact, which sets public debt limits in EU member states. By refusing to trim public spending to keep their social systems afloat during sluggish economic growth, both governments ran afoul of EU monetary officials, who sought legal action.

"We need to change the system, without destroying it," said Schröder. "Only if we change it, can we keep it and can we afford it."

"Big three" meeting no cause for concern

The three leaders brushed back criticism that they were aiming to create an EU triumvirate that would block smaller member states. Blair pointed to the joint defense plan agreed on by the three countries last week and the efforts by German, French and British diplomats to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions as achievements that were good for all of Europe. "If these three countries, which comprise almost half of the population in Europe … work on clear agreements, then that is a good thing for our three countries but also for Europe and there shouldn't be any concerns about exclusivity," Blair said.

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