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News, March 2008


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Editorial Note: The following news reports are summaries from original sources. They may also include corrections of Arabic names and political terminology. Comments are in parentheses.

EU summit addresses economic cooling, global warming, and launching the Mediterranean Union with Muslim neighbors

EU leaders meet to address economic cooling, global warming 2008-03-14 01:03:56  

    BRUSSELS, March 13 (Xinhua) --

Leaders from the European Union (EU) member states opened a two-day summit here on Thursday to tackle economic cooling and global warming.

    The spring summit is usually dominated by economic issues. This time, the leaders will pay particular attention to the launch of the second cycle of the renewed Lisbon Strategy, a flagship reform project of the 27-nation bloc aimed at promoting economic growth and jobs.

    According to the EU's Slovenia presidency, EU leaders were scheduled to approve the integrated guidelines for growth and jobs and, at the same time, issue some important guidelines on the next cycle of the Lisbon Strategy.

    They will formulate the "fifth freedom" -- the free movement of knowledge, and stress the importance of creativity and small and medium-sized enterprises in the further development of the European economy.

    The EU leaders will also devote special attention to the concept of flexicurity, a combined word of flexibility and security, within the social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy.

    They hope reforms on the macro-economic level would put the EU in a better position to cope with the current financial turmoil and salvage the economy from cooling down in face of additional risks of rising oil prices and a strong euro.

    The European Commission last month revised down its economic forecast for the EU. According to the commission, the EU economy will grow by 2.0 percent this year, slowing down from 2.9 percent in 2007.

    The two-day summit kicked off at a time when European financial markets are still under relentless turbulence, triggered by the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

    Based on an interim report of their finance chiefs, EU leaders will endorse a series of lines of action in the financial sector for increasing the level of transparency and improving the functioning of markets.

    As clouds were gathering on the economic horizon of the EU, the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday the European economy is coping well in view of the turmoil on financial markets.

    "The European Economy is holding up very well," Barroso said ahead of the summit, "The European economy will not be completely immune to certain developments that are already taking place on financial markets."

    As regards the issue of climate change and energy, EU leaders will set political guidelines for further discussion of the legislative package and approve a work timetable leading to its adoption.

    One year after EU leaders agreed on an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions package at their last spring summit, they will turn to details this time, but analysts said they expect no hard decisions from the summit.

    Further, the summit is to review the progress made in the field of further liberalization of the internal market for electricity and gas. Differences were foreseen on the break-up of energy giants, the so-called unbundling.

    EU leaders will also discuss the role of sovereign wealth funds.

    Recent years have seen some eye-catching investments by the sovereign wealth funds, which aroused concerns of some EU member states.

    In line with the European Commission's proposal, EU leaders were expected to call for a voluntary code of conduct on the funds.

    Though economic issues will dominate their talks, EU leaders will use the opportunity to touch upon a series of international hot spots, such as Kosovo, Western Balkan, Iran and Middle East peace process.

EU summit agrees to launch Mediterranean Union 2008-03-14 09:47:10  

    BRUSSELS, March 13 (Xinhua) --

A European Union summit agreed here Thursday to launch a Mediterranean Union proposed by France to strengthen and further the Barcelona Process.

    The establishment of a Mediterranean Union "enjoyed support in the Council," Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told a joint press conference after the first day's session of the spring EU summit.

    "Today we recognized the need to upgrade the Barcelona Process," he said at the press conference, which was also attended by European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso.

    "When the Barcelona Process was launched, it was quite a different time," he said, "But now things have changed, we need to adapt."

    He stressed that the Mediterranean Union was not to replace the Barcelona Process but to upgrade it, noting the Process had produced positive results after it was first launched a dozen years ago.

    The Barcelona Process was started in 1995 to foster dialogue between EU member states and countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, including the Arab states (among them the Palestinian National Authority, but not Libya), Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey.

    The main aim of the process was to promote democratization, security and economic growth in the countries in Europe's south and east.

    The prime minister noted that all EU member states would be involved in the process and work would begin in relevant departments within the EU to see if anything should be added to the Process.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed in his election campaign last year to establish the Mediterranean Union stretching from Morocco to Turkey.

    But the proposal met with a cool reaction at Thursday's summit of the EU though leaders expressed their support for the strengthening of relations with countries in the Mediterranean region.

    "The European Union should increase its presence in the Mediterranean," Jansa told reporters upon arrival for the summit earlier in the day.

    "But we don't need parallel institutions, and of course we have to have all member countries and countries of the Mediterranean onboard," he added.

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