EU leaders reach agreements, with U.S. in their sights

Economic pre-eminence by 2010 is their goal

March 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BARCELONA, Spain - European Union leaders ended a two-day meeting in Barcelona yesterday with an agreement to increase competition in energy markets and to press ahead with economic reforms, with the goal of overtaking the United States and making Europe the most dynamic economy in the world by 2010.

The summit, heavily policed for fear of protests by anti-globalization groups, also approved the creation of Galileo, a European satellite network to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System.

The meeting's host, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, hailed the agreement to open up energy markets for nondomestic consumers, a compromise reached because France is opposing complete liberalization of the sector in an election year.

"We have taken a fundamental step," he said at a news conference, adding that the deal would cover almost 70 percent of European energy consumers by 2004.

Talks on extending the agreement to domestic consumers will continue after the French elections.

"This is an excellent opportunity for economic growth," said Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission.

French President Jacques Chirac, who is running for re-election against his prime minister, Lionel Jospin, said his country had received guarantees to protect traditional public services from full market competition. He added, "We are naturally in favor of free competition because it is good for a dynamic economy."

Prodi said an agreement to look at the issue of public services in 2003 was "not any sort of handout to France."

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who was criticized by British unions that are close to his Labor Party for his enthusiastic support of American-style reforms, said the summit meeting, which was supposed to push forward reforms begun two years ago in Lisbon, had produced "limited but solid achievements."

A draft document approved by the 15 member states noted that progress since Lisbon "has been too slow" in some areas. This time, the leaders also agreed to reforms aimed at consolidating a single market in financial services by 2005 and creating a more flexible job market.

"The process of economic and social reform is irreversible, and that is good news for all our countries," Aznar said. "We want to create more than 20 million jobs this decade."

The leaders reiterated their criticism of the Bush administration's decision to impose tariffs on imported steel but said they would respond through the World Trade Organization.

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