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EU summit draft a damning critique of own growth goals

Friday, 24 February 2012 | 00:00
European Union leaders are set to issue a damning critique of their own flagship policy for economic growth, draft conclusions for a March 1-2 summit seen by AFP Wednesday show.
Almost two years after the European Commission unveiled the bloc's 'Europe 2020' strategy when the Greek debt crisis started coming into view, leaders are to slam progress towards five key targets they themselves set.
If the text of the conclusions survives talks among EU ambassadors on Thursday, leaders will say it is now "urgent" to start producing concrete results in areas identified as ripe for generating economic growth.
"Efforts undertaken to date remain insufficient to meet most of these targets," the prepared statement, always subject to last-minute changes, says of moves meant to create jobs, boost innovation and research, and improve education.
The strategy also rests on a commitment to meet climate change and energy objectives, namely a switch towards clean energy sources and away from fossil fuels, but leaders say it is now "urgent to concentrate on implementation."
They are to say that the EU should pay "particular attention to measures which have a short-term effect on growth," softening an across-the-board drive for austerity with "differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation."
A core goal of Europe 2020 was to boost employment rates among adults aged 20-64 from 69 percent to 75 percent, but officials preparing the summit for the leaders have concluded "reforms in certain areas are lagging and implementation is uneven."
Unemployment across the eurozone hit a record 10.4 percent at the end of 2011, with an estimated 23.816 million people out of work throughout the 27 EU states according to the latest figures released by Brussels.
In blackspot Spain, nearly half of all youths under 25 are officially out of work, for example.
Among changes to EU policy in a bid to reverse rising joblessness, assuming the debt crisis ever subsides, there is a call to act on macroeconomic imbalances, ahead of a Commission study on the dangers of consistent surpluses in Germany.
Perhaps the biggest change to the strategy -- although one certain to be voted down by Britain and others who refuse to give up certain competitive advantages -- they now want to accelerate a bloc-wide revamp of tax policies.
States should "review their tax systems with the objective to remove unjustified exemptions," they say, and "broaden the tax base, shift taxes away from labour, improve the efficiency of tax collection and tackle tax evasion."
They are in particular to demand "rapid progress" on legislative proposals for taxes on energy and savings, a bloc-wide corporate tax alternative for multinationals, a French-led financial transactions tax sought by nine states.
These nine countries say they are willing to create their own inner circle with a shared levy on the finance industry that would still hit the EU's biggest trading centre, the City of London, even though Britain wants no part of it.
The Commission will be tasked with exploring "concrete ways to improve the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion," including treaties with non-EU partners such as Switzerland and other neighbouring tax havens, the draft adds.
Other priorities set for action by the EU would see governments are urged to "rapidly complete" financial sector regulation, especially of derivatives and bank capital needs, as well as adopting legislation to create a single EU-wide patent regime by June.
Source: AFP
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