Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday hailed a UK-led “unprecedented alliance” of EU nations as the driving force behind recovery in the wake of the economic crisis.
After the first EU summit for two years to focus on growth rather than gloom, he said a dozen nations were now steering an agenda for swift action to restore jobs and prosperity.
He said: “Today in Brussels we have made our voice heard. The (summit) communique has been fundamentally rewritten in line with our demands.”
On Thursday he complained that those demands – firm timetables for action on open markets, trade and slashing red tape hampering the ability of businesses to compete – were being ignored in favour of vague pledges on “fiscal consolidation”, a broader tax base, and a 2020 target for boosting employment to 75 per cent of the available European workforce.
After communique changes to emphasise the aims of the Anglo-Dutch lead alliance of 12 member states, the Prime Minister said there were now clear commitments on deepening the single market in services, opening up “regulated professions” to pan-European competition, setting targets for cutting red tape, particularly with targeted action to help “micro-enterprises” – firms of fewer than 10 employees.
UK-lead pressure had also prompted a June 2014 target date for completing the EU internal energy market – something the Prime Minister said could add several percentage points to EU GDP.
Mr Cameron added: “There was, incredibly, no mention of trade (in the original summit communique) – one of the great drivers of economic growth. Now there will be a special focus on trade, including trade deals, at our next meeting in June.”
These were not just British initiatives, he emphasised: “We were joined by a strong group of leading countries, all of whom spoke up very strongly.”
The group signed up to the “Action Plan for Growth in Europe” comprises the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Ireland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Poland.
A “rival” proposal to the summit, in the name of France and Germany, suggested differing priorities, but Mr Cameron denied the suggestion that he was fending off “a Franco-German stitch-up”.
He told a reporter: “I don’t see the EU, as you put it, as a ‘Franco-German stitch-up’.
“What I see it as is an organisation of 27 countries where clearly the bigger players, of which Britain is one, have a large influence but when you work together with like-minded allies, particularly when you can include allies from unexpected quarters – the fact that the Italians, the Spanish, the Portuguese and others are now supporting this approach – you make a real difference”
The focus on future jobs and growth had helped dispel the “air of crisis” that had hung over previous summits since the economic downturn began, he said.
“There has been an air of let’s get on and do things that will help the European economy to grow.”
Earlier 25 EU countries signed up for a new “fiscal compact” designed to impose stronger financial discipline on the eurozone, with sanctions for those countries breaching debt and deficit limits.
Mr Cameron and his Czech counterpart sat it out – the only two EU leaders not to be endorsing the move following Mr Cameron’s veto in December of plans for a 27-way Treaty change.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sounded sarcastic when he referred to the plans backed by Mr Cameron.
“What a tribute this is to Europe, to send Europe such a lovely letter” he told reporters.
“I take Mr Cameron’s letter, after his decision not to join this latest treaty, as a sign that he doesn’t want to get left behind, and I am delighted by that, because we need the British in Europe.”