EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss new measures to encourage long-term economic growth. Hours into the summit Herman Van Rompuy was reappointed president of the European Council.
European Union leaders have opened a two-day summit in Brussels that they were expected to use to try to shift the focus away from the ongoing Greek debt crisis and onto measures aimed at fostering long-term growth in the 27-member bloc.
Among the measures up for approval is a German-backed financial regulation agreement designed to make sure that member states get their financial houses in order.
Speaking at a pre-summit meeting of conservative leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European politicians had little choice, if they hoped to create the conditions for sustained growth.
"I think we have to collectively work on the improvement of our competitiveness worldwide," Merkel said. "Only if Europe accomplishes that will we really have a future to reduce our budget deficits, and at the same time guarantee prosperity and jobs for the people in Europe."
All but two EU countries were expected to sign on to the pact by the time the summit ends on Friday
There were also a number of other issues on the agenda. Among the first was the reappointment of Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council. This extends his appointment, which had been due to expire at the end of May, by a further two and a half years.
The 64-year-old former Belgian prime minister announced his reappointment via the micro-blogging site Twitter.
"It’s with pleasure that I accept a 2nd mandate," Van Rompuy said. "A privilege to serve Europe in such decisive times; a big responsibility," he added in another tweet.
The 27 leaders also decided to appoint him to chair future eurozone summits. He has already chaired several such meetings on an informal basis.
New EU candidate
The leaders were also expected to formally grant Serbia EU candidate status. Serbia had hoped to be granted formal candidate status at an EU summit last December, but EU leaders balked in part due to sporadic outbursts of violence along Serbia's border with its former province, Kosovo.
Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers recommended that the leaders now go ahead with the move, following a deal between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at reducing tensions.
The deal provides a framework for Serbia and Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008, to cooperate in the management of their common border crossings. It also allows Kosovo to take part in international conferences, despite the fact that Serbia does not recognize its independence.
On Thursday, the last apparent barrier to Serbia's aspirations of becoming an EU candidate was removed after it signed a treaty meant to safeguard minorities in the country. Earlier in the week, Bucharest had indicated that it might bloc Belgrade's EU candidacy bid due to concerns about the Romanian minority in Serbia.
European finance ministers met ahead of the summit to discuss Greece's progress in implementing a series of austerity measures in return for the130-billion-euro ($173 billion) bailout agreed by EU leaders last week.
The head of the Eurogroup of nations that use the euro, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, told reporters after the finance ministers' meeting that Greece was well on its way to being granted the first tranche of that bailout. The funds are to be released after Athens passes the last remaining items in its austerity package and a writedown of bad Greek debt by private lenders is formally agreed.
pfd/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)