Business, Economics and Jobs

EU decides to wait for Germany

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European leaders certainly seemed happy as they wrapped up their last meeting before the long summer break.

"This was indeed a good summit for Europe," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said as the meeting closed Friday.

"Decisions have been made that will make a difference for our economy and the job prospects of our citizens, especially the young."

The presidents and prime ministers gathered for the two-day talk-fest hailed their agreement to set up a $10 billion package to counter the bloc's record youth unemployment. They also settled on new rules designed to prevent bank bailouts from dragging down national economies and a deal on the EU's $1.3 trillion budget over the next seven years.

They welcomed Croatia's planned EU accession on Monday and agreed to open membership talks with Serbia next year.

"Many of the problems have been overcome. Serbia has made remarkable progress," German Chancellor Angela Merkel pronounced.

After the fighting that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, the advances made by the Serbs and Croats is indeed cause for cheer in Europe.

Beyond the Balkans however, many of the summit’s headline decisions represent revamps and recycling of previous measures rather than a major breakthrough in tackling the EU's economic crisis.

The much-taunted youth employment fund is a refinement of a plan already agreed at a summit in February. The EU budget deal tweaks an agreement in December. And the banking arrangements are only a tentative first step toward a broader plan to protect fragile financial institution that was declared urgent more than a year ago.

In reality, the summit was a holding exercise that delayed many of the key decisions Europe needs until the pivotal moment in the continent’s political calendar this year: September's elections in Germany, which will decide whether Merkel stays in power and with which coalition partners.

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Merkel herself used the stage in Brussels to reissue her call for other European countries to follow Germany by carrying out reforms to make their economies more competitive. Without them, they won't achieve the growth needed to substantially tackle the euro zone's 24 percent youth unemployment, she cautioned.

"We have made headway, but the problems we face are long term and require patience," Merkel told reporters after the summit. "We are still a long way from the end of this road."