Kenny: Growth agenda takes centre stage at EU summit

Kenny: Growth agenda takes centre stage at EU summit

European leaders have dismissed reports that eurozone members have been instructed to detail their contingency plans in case of a Greek exit.

At an EU summit in Brussels last night, officials insisted that Greece would remain within the eurozone as long as its government respected the bailout.

Meanwhile France's newly elected President Francois Hollande got a chance to put his plans for growth on the table, including his ambition to see eurobonds introduced in the future.

Speaking to reporters in the early hours of this morning, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted there would be no amendment to the treaty facing Irish voters one week from today.

And he said a focus on growth and employment was the main agenda at last night's summit.

"The mood was very positive and upbeat, in the sense of at long last, here is a real focus on a growth agenda for Europe," Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach also ruled out any change to the treaty that is being put before Irish voters in next week's referendum.

"What the people will vote on next Thursday will not be changed," he told reporters in Brussels in the early hours of this morning.

"Anything in respect of a growth agenda is additional to that (the treaty)."

Also speaking after the meeting, David Cameron called for a “lasting solution” to the eurozone crisis after enduring 18 EU summits on the subject since he became British prime minister

He voiced his frustration to fellow EU leaders, arguing for a once-and-for-all sweeping change of policy priorities to deliver growth across Europe – but without giving up on tough austerity measures.

The talks ended after more than a six hours with declarations of renewed pledges on austerity coupled with growth and a repeat pledge to do everything to keep Greece in the eurozone – as long as the country keeps its agreement to impose strict austerity measures in return for continued bailouts.

One EU official commented: “You could not expect any decisions that can resolve this crisis overnight. We have been holding talks on the key issues - jobs and growth but we are not today saying much different from what we were saying at the G8 summit in America.”

Earlier Mr Cameron emphasised that Greece had to stick to its debt and deficit reduction commitments in return for bailouts – but other countries facing difficulties should be given more central support and longer deadlines to meet austerity goals.

The UK Prime Minister said every EU summit since he took office – 18 in all – had been about the crisis...bailouts, new financial mechanisms, new eurozone economic rules and recently a new “fiscal pact”.

But now EU leaders had to address the “real issues” behind the euro crisis, he said.

He called for a range of growth-producing policies, with support for energy and transport and digital market strategies – all of which would deliver jobs and revitalise economies. The EU single market needed reinforcing and completing, to boost trade across Europe.

“There needs to be decisive action soon that delivers a lasting resolution to this crisis” Mr Cameron insisted.

The talks over dinner reached no conclusions on calls from France and the European Commission for setting up eurobonds in the 17-nation eurozone to raise money to take the pressure off indebted countries – an anathema to Germany, which would see the cost of its borrowing rise.

And there was no agreement on the balance between austerity and growth.

New French president Hollande, attending his first summit of EU leaders since his election, pressed his case for more emphasis on growth in animated exchanges with German chancellor Angela Merkel. And he backed the idea of a Financial Transactions Tax despite British rejection of the idea as a non-starter.

Afterwards officials said the summit had been an “informal” gathering with no official results and no advanced expectation of firm decisions.

“We are talking about the issues, coming at them from all sides and working through the options.” said the EU official.

Markets closed down last night in anticipation of no advances in the crisis, but at a post-summit press conference EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy, who chaired the talks, said the momentum was building up towards proposals at the next summit at the end of June on deepening economic and monetary union.

The issuance of eurobonds to bolster future bailouts had been discussed he said, but that could only take place, if agreed, in the framework of deepening economic and monetary union.

“This will take time and we must consider the implications of such a process,” he said.

On Greece, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: “There is a democratic process taking place in Greece that we respect.

“Let’s wait for the people of Greece to have their say on June 17. We will not let ourselves be derailed by those who want to promote speculative scenarios.”

A summit statement on the Greek economic crisis said EU leaders were “fully aware” of the “significant” efforts made by Greek citizens.

It said: “The eurozone has shown considerable solidarity, having already disbursed, together with the International Monetary Fund, nearly €150bn euros in support of Greece since 2010.

“We will ensure that European structural funds and instruments are mobilised to bring Greece on a path towards growth and job creation.”

The statement added: “Continuing the vital reforms to restore debt sustainability, foster private investment and reinforce its institutions is the best guarantee of a more prosperous future in the euro area.

“We expect that after the elections, the new Greek government will make that choice.”

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