Hollande made clear his Syria position had hardened in his remarks heading into the summit
Will a debate on Syria hijack this seemingly uneventful EU summit? That is certainly the Anglo-French plan. Foreign ministers discussed it only a fortnight ago and there was no mention of Syria on today’s formal summit agenda. But Paris and London have nevertheless decided to bounce their counterparts into a potentially fraught review of the sanctions regime.
Although Britain has been pushing the line for weeks, it France’s president François Hollande who fired the opening shot at the summit, making clear his position had hardened. The message: it is time to change the sanctions regime to allow Paris and London to arm Syrian rebels fighting the the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Read more
European leaders arrived in Brussels on Thursday for a summit where the intensifying debate over the austerity-led response to the eurozone crisis was moving to centre stage even though the gathering was not expected to change the EU’s economic policy course.
Finally the Socialists are talking. Most of the early arrivals to the pre-summit gathering of the Party of European Socialist in Brussels said next to nothing. The only statement from Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was a striking neon apricot jacket. Joaquin Almunia, the EU competition commissioner and former Socialist candidate for Spanish prime minister, just gave a “buenos Dias” to the throng of journalists.
So it was with some relief that the newly elected Joseph Muscat of Malta broke the silence with a call for “common sense” on economic policy. On the day to his first summit, he said the magic balance was ensuring that “good economic governance” does not “stifle growth”. It is hardly controversial. But the tone and indeed the arrival of a newly elected socialist gives a small taste of the shifting political mood in parts of Europe. Read more
Nicos Anastadiades, Cyprus' president, talks to reporters in Brussels ahead of the EU summit.
One of the first leaders to arrive at the pre-summit gatherings of centre-right leaders was Nicos Anastadiades. In brief remarks to reporters in English, he said he hoped a Cypriot bailout deal could be reached at a meeting of finance ministers Friday night.
“We’re doing our best to reach a fair solution and agreement,” he said. “I hope everyone is going to be fair.” Read more
Finland’s prime minister Jyrki Katainen is standing firm. As he arrived in Brussels on Thursday the 41-year-old centre-right leader made it clear Europe had to maintain the tough austerity course if it wanted to survive.
In a thinly veiled jibe at Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who criticised the pro-austerity policies set by the European Commission’s economic chief and fellow Finn Olli Rehn, Katainen said that the debate around austerity versus growth might have academic value, but it has little value for common people.
“There are no shortcuts to creating new jobs and growth in a sustainable manner. Structural reforms might not bear fruit overnight, but are the best sustainable economic stimulus. Accumulating excessive debt is not,” said Katainen.
He added: “The future of our common currency can be guaranteed only if each member state keeps its fiscal house in order and takes the jointly agreed rules seriously.”
After the jump, you can find the Finnish leader’s full remarks: Read more
Germany's Angela Merkel at Thursday's cabinet meeting, where new budget targets were decided.
After last month’s tension-filled EU summit – an all-night affair to agree the EU’s €960bn seven-year budget – the two-day gathering beginning today is expected to pale by comparison to a considerable degree. “A bit boring is not a bad thing on this occasion,” said one senior diplomat involved in pre-summit negotiations.
Although Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán is expected to address the international press today following his government’s controversial passage of constitutional amendments which critics claim may violate the rule of law, the only real issue that could potentially generate much heat inside the gathering is the ongoing austerity versus growth debate that has been swirling since last month’s Italian elections.
There has already been some shadow boxing on the issue between France’s François Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel ahead of the summit – with Hollande making the case for France to get a one-year pass on its EU deficit targets, while Merkel conspicuously announcing her own intention to get to a balanced budget a year earlier than required. Read more
Peter Spiegel is the FT's Brussels bureau chief. He returned to the FT in August 2010 after spending five years covering foreign policy and national security issues from Washington for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He first joined the FT in 1999 covering business regulation and corporate crime in its Washington bureau, before spending four years covering military affairs and the defence industry in London and Washington.
Alex Barker is EU correspondent, covering the single market, financial regulation and competition. He was formerly an FT political correspondent in the UK and joined the FT in 2005.
James Fontanella-Khan is FT's Brussels correspondent, covering media, telecom and internet regulation as well as justice, employment and social affairs and its impact on eastern Europe. He was formerly an FT correspondent in India. He joined the FT in 2006.