British Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders of 11 other EU countries have called on the Union's institutions to stick to a liberal agenda for growth, bolder economic integration with the USA and deepening trade and investment relations with Russia, China and other strategic partners.
Ahead of the 1-2 March EU Summit, the 12 leaders wrote to Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso, calling for leadership and delivering on results to avert a "perilous" time for Europe.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by EURACTIV Slovakia, was signed by Cameron and the prime ministers of the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Ireland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Poland.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti recently joined Cameron in calling for accelerating economic growth and to not focus solely on austerity to bring down the debt levels.
According to diplomats, the letter has been circulated in wider circles, but those who signed it appear to be in favour of a more liberal and less protectionist agenda.
The leaders highlight eight priorities to strengthen growth:
- Opening up the services sector, which accounts for four-fifths of Europe's economy;
- Creating a truly digital single market by 2015;
- Establishing a genuine internal market in energy, by fully implementing the Third Energy Package and enhancing energy interconnection;
- Establishing the European research area and putting innovation at the heart of EU's research and development strategy;
- Opening to global markets;
- Reducing the burden of EU regulation;
- Promoting well-functioning labour markets, by fostering labour mobility and reducing the number of regulated professions;
- Building robust financial services, by abandoning the practice of "implicit guarantees to always rescue banks".
More trade with US, Russia
"We need to inject political momentum into deepening economic integration with the US, examining all options including that of a free trade agreement; seek to deepen trade and investment relations with Russia, following its accession to the WTO; and launch a strategic consideration of our trade and investment relationship with China, with a view to strengthening our economic ties and reinforcing commitment to rules-based trade," the letter reads.
The letter notes that in 2012, the EU is expected to conclude trade agreements with India, Canada, "countries of the Eastern neighbourhood" and a number of ASEAN partners. Ukraine is the only country of the Eastern neighbourhood close to signing such an agreement, but it is not named in the letter.
The 12 leaders also call for accelerating trade negotiations with Japan and the Mercosur bloc in Latin America, saying "deals that are currently on the table could add €90 billion to EU GDP."
"We gave it to many governments, including the French and the Germans, but our cooperation continued with those who showed an interest to go ahead," Enzo Moavero, Italy's European Affairs minister, told Reuters.
A German official said his country "basically shares" the proposals described in the letter. In contrast, France appears less comfortable with the liberalising agenda in the midst of a presidential election campaign.