EU focus on growth, jobs is refreshing, says Monti
First time after 'two years dominated by financial crisis'02 March, 18:41
(ANSA) - Brussels, March 2 - Italian Premier Mario Monti hailed the fact that Friday's summit of European Union leaders focused on economic growth and job creation for once rather than the financial crisis.
"It's pleasing that for the first time in two years a European Council was not dominated by the financial crisis, but was finally devoted to growth and employment," Monti told a press conference. The eurozone debt crisis is in a period of relative calm after the recent bailout deal to stop Greece defaulting, so the union's heads of government were able to turn their attention to other issues. Monti's emergency government of technocrats is trying to practice what the former European commissioner preaches about boosting growth on the home front.
After passing a 30-billion-euro austerity package of tax increases and spending cuts in December, it is now trying to push measures through parliament to revitalise the Italian economy, which has suffered low growth over the last decade and recently slipped into recession.
It is in talks with unions and business associations over labour reforms to make it easier for women and young people to find jobs, with over 30% of 15-to-24-year-olds out of work in Italy.
A series of economic liberalisations has moved to the House, meanwhile, after winning approval in the Senate on Thursday.
Some commentators have said these reforms have been rendered ineffective by amendments made in the House, but Monti said this was not true.
"We acted realistically," Monti said. "Realism does not mean giving in to pressure. We stood our ground and I would have been worried if we backtracked".
Monti, who replaced Silvio Berlusconi as premier in November, also called on greater cooperation from Switzerland to help countries like Italy fight widespread tax evasion and ease the pressure on the state coffers in the process.
He stressed, however, that Italy was waiting for the European Commission to reach an agreement with non-EU Switzerland, where many tax dodgers take their money, rather than seeking a bilateral deal like the ones Germany and Britain have signed with Bern.
He also reiterated that he would not stand as premier at elections in Italy next year.
In addition to looking at measures to boost growth, Friday's European Council also gave Serbia candidate status for EU membership and reappointed former Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy as its president for a second term.
Leaders of 25 of the 27 countries also signed a fiscal compact treaty to enforce EU budget regulations more strictly to protect the euro.
"It should be a pact to benefit European citizens," said Monti.