The EU is looking to turn the economic crisis around by looking for ways to boost growth. That's the main theme for leaders at the latest EU summit.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed his satisfaction at the end of the first day of talks in Brussels. "For the first time - and this is something new - we're not meeting to discuss how to tackle the crisis, but rather how to promote growth," Barroso said. The leaders had discussed structural reforms with the aim of boosting growth and creating more jobs, he added. In short, they were moving from "crisis mode" to "growth mode."
European Council President Herman van Rompuy added that they had discussed a range of options, from modernizing the pensions system, to introducing more flexibile support for the unemployed, to easing the tax burden - a suggestion put forward by the German chancellor.
Permanent bailout fund postponed
Decisions about the expansion of the planned permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechansim (ESM) were - as expected - pushed back till later in the month. The topic of Greece, however, still loomed large on the agenda: on Thursday afternoon, eurozone finance ministers decided that Greece had indeed met the criteria for the second bailout package.
Van Rompuy explained that the Greek government had taken decisive legislative measures in the last few days. "Eurozone leaders support the measures that Greece has undertaken, and the help provided by the European Commission," he said. He added that this decision strengthened the institutions, and their abillity to collect taxes.
Before taking over the role of president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz said he wanted to have the opportunity to speak eye-to-eye with European heads of state at EU summits. On Thursday, he told the delegates of his recent visit to Greece and his concerns over the massive problem of youth unemployment - which is currently standing at over 40 percent in Greece. The people of Greece, and other EU citizens, he said, felt that they had no future in the ultra-competitive EU. Schulz told leaders, "when we talk about growth and employment, the overriding concern must be tackling the issue of young people out of work."
Serbia awarded candidate status
There was drama for the Serbians right up until the start of the EU summit, as the country waited to see whether it would be awarded candidate status. EU leaders had planned to sign off on the deal, which would pave the way for official talks on EU accession. It seemed the application would be approved - until the Romanian government blocked the deal, demanding that Serbia recognize the Vlachs, an ethnic minority.
But by Thursday afternoon, it was all over: Romania withdrew its objections. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed his relief, saying that Serbia's candidacy was a positive development for the West Balkans. Austria strongly supports the greater integration of Balkan countries into the European Union. "And I'm happy, that Romania could also be persuaded to agree," Faymann said.
Martin Schulz also spoke in favor of granting Serbia candidate status. He explained that the EU was a community governed by the rule of law, which laid down critieria for European states to become members. "Serbia fulfills this criteria, and that's why the council should decide in its favor."
Indeed, Herman van Rompuy announced late on Thursday that Serbia had been awarded candidate status. "This is a real achievement, a result of the great efforts that both sides have taken in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina," he said.
This was also the summit at which Herman van Rompuy was, as expected, re-elected for a second term as European Council president. He will also take on the role of chairing the planned euro summits, at which eurozone states will meet at least every six months to vote on common budget and economic policies. At least that's how it's foreseen in the fiscal pact, which was also signed on Friday.
Author: Daphne Grathwohl / ji
Editor: Sarah Steffen