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EU Leaders Meet With Economy Topping Agenda


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, attends a round table during an EPP party meeting ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, 16 Dec 2010

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, attends a round table during an EPP party meeting ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, 16 Dec 2010

European Union leaders are expected to approve a permanent bailout fund for debt-strapped eurozone members during a summit in Brussels.

Debt-strapped members Ireland and Greece are struggling to get their financial houses in order after receiving bailout packages. Portugal and Spain are also on financially shaky ground. Earlier this week, ratings agencies warned they may downgrade the credit ratings of Madrid and Belgium.

And the wave of fiscal austerity packages adopted by a number of EU members have sparked protests across Europe, with Greece hit by riots on Wednesday.

The general secretary of the Brussels-based European Trade Union Confederation, John Monks, said Europe should spend more, not less, to emerge from its fiscal problems. "The message is to change course. You need some good news for Europe, not just a Europe that is punishing, penalizing countries that get in trouble - which is certainly the impression in Greece and Ireland at the present time," he said.

EU leaders are expected to approve a permanent bailout package for indebted countries using the euro currency to replace an interim mechanism that expires in 2013. But they are do not agree on other key issues.

Euro bonds, a mechanism to allow weaker members to borrow at lower rates, is one divisive issue. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker champions the idea, but European heavyweights Germany and France have ruled it out.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said euro bonds would make indebted countries less responsible for their fiscal problems.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also ruled out discussion of euro bonds. "Eurobonds are in themselves an interesting idea," he says, "The Commission itself put the idea forward back in 2008, when assessing the first 10 years of the EMU [European Monetary Union], but we are in a crisis situation and we are already have financial mechanisms to address that crisis like the European financial Stability facility."

Analysts say the current lack of unity on the fixing the eurozone's problems has been the theme of the European Union during this difficult economic year.

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