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EU Leaders Move to Strengthen Economic Reforms, Anti-Terrorism Cooperation - 2004-03-26

European Union leaders, wrapping up a two-day summit in Brussels, have put behind them past differences over the war in Iraq and an EU constitution and moved to strengthen their cooperation against terrorism and try once again to spur economic reforms. The renewed unity comes after the terrorist bombings in Madrid and political change in Spain.

Many of the leaders from current and future EU members came to Brussels after attending the state funeral for the victims of the Madrid blasts. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that inspired him and his colleagues to move to implement a raft of anti-terrorism measures, many of which they had approved after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States but never fully put into force.

"The most important thing is that we renew and deepen our sense of cooperation between the intelligence services and police services of the various countries," said Tony Blair. "And the fight against terrorism, issues of security, organized crime, is one area, actually, where Europe should probably cooperate more rather than cooperate less."

The mood of unity carried over into the leaders' commitment to find a compromise on the proposed EU constitution about which they had quarreled furiously three months ago. Then, Spain and incoming member Poland insisted on keeping voting strength disproportionate to their size. But incoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has signaled that he is willing to back away from that stance, and Poland, too, says it is open to striking a deal by the next EU summit in June.

The leaders also pledged to renew efforts to implement economic reforms so that the EU becomes the world's most competitive economy by 2010. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, says becoming more competitive is the only way to ensure economic growth and create jobs.

"If you're competitive, you generate employment," he said. "If you generate employment, you generate resources. If you generate resources, you can spend those resources and you can help people who need them."

But politicians in Europe fear voter resistance to structural reforms that may cost jobs in the short run and reduce generous social security and pension payments over the long run. So, lofty pledges about accelerating these reforms could, as European Parliament President Pat Cox put it, eventually cause a credibility gap.

Turning to foreign policy, the EU leaders called for an increased United Nations role in Iraq and promised to abide by the terms of any U.N.-sponsored accord to reunite Cyprus. That may entail dropping the EU's free movement of people principle to prevent a massive return of Greek Cypriot refugees to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.