EU draft document urges more focus on growth, jobs

By Giselda Vagnoni & Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS/ROME - European leaders will consider calls for an interpretation of EU budget rules that gives more emphasis to economic growth, according to the draft of a document being circulated before a summit in Brussels this week.

The document, which European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is drawing up in consultation with Italy, the next country to hold the rotating EU presidency, marks a major effort to reset the EU agenda away from the budget cuts and tax squeezes that characterized the initial reaction to the eurozone debt crisis.

With much of Europe still struggling to return to sustainable growth and unemployment rates at record levels in many areas, pressure for a change of course and an easing in austerity was underlined by a surge in support for anti-EU parties in last month's European Parliament election.

The draft, which could still change before the summit on Thursday and Friday, calls for bold steps to create growth and jobs and to support deeper reform by individual member states. However it does not call for a change to the EU Stability and Growth pact or the bloc's 'fiscal compact' and contains few specifics.

"Given the persistently high levels of public debt, growth-friendly and differentiated fiscal consolidation must be continued,» the document says.

"Recovery remains fragile and uneven and efforts must continue and be enhanced in order to strengthen Europe's capacity to grow and create jobs,» it says.

The proposals form part of a wider deal under which center-left leaders agreed to support former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European Commission in exchange for policy agreements on growth and jobs.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, strengthened by a triumphant result in last month's European election, has been one of the main movers in the process.

His undersecretary in charge of European affairs, Sandro Gozi said there was broad agreement on Italy's priorities.

"We think there is an excellent basis for the next six months because I think there is very wide support for our priorities and our methods,» he told reporters.

He also said Italy would secure a «heavyweight» representative on the new European Commission which will be appointed later this year.

Renzi, a longstanding critic of rigid EU deficit rules who has called for renewal in both Italy and Europe, was a rare exception among government leaders, winning 40.8 percent of the vote, the best result for any Italian leader since the 1950s.

The draft also calls on the bloc as a whole to assume more responsibility for the southern Mediterranean migrant crisis faced mainly by Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain and step up measures to ensure energy security. [Reuters]