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Protests Against Austerity Measures Greet EU Members in Brussels

January 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now to Europe, where, on the streets and in a high-level summit, there’s pushback against the bite of austerity measures.

Margaret Warner reports from Brussels.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s their 17th meeting in two years, trying to tame an economic crisis that threatens to ensnare Europe in another recession.

Leaders of the 27 E.U. member states arrived in a Belgian capital nearly paralyzed by a general strike. The union-led protests targeted austerity measures in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe, like raising taxes and retirement ages and slashing government spending to reduce deficits and crushing debt.

But now, with unemployment rates rising and growth rates declining in many countries, E.U. leaders are reaching beyond the idea that austerity alone is the answer. Today’s summit credo instead was jobs and growth.

British Prime Minister David Cameron instituted a cuts-only agenda at home, but the British economy has been reeling.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: We need to get really serious about the growth agenda in Europe. That means completing the single market. It means signing trade deals with the fastest-growing parts of the world. And it means a serious effort at deregulation, particularly for small businesses, so they can create the jobs and the growth that we need.

MARGARET WARNER: Which may be easier said than done.

With large debt loads in many countries, the economic arsenals available to European nations are severely depleted. And many of the measures discussed today, like funding apprenticeships and training for unemployed youth, would do little to improve growth in the short term.

At the same time, austerity remained part of the picture. The leaders today signed off on a fiscal pact first outlined in December that would impose much stricter budget discipline and potential sanctions on those who sign up. Today, all 17 Eurozone countries did and eight of the 10 outside the common currency.

There was no action on the euro nation in most serious jeopardy, Greece. It remains in talks to restructure its private debt, a precondition to get the next installment of E.U. bailout funds. And doubts about the Greek effort to reform had some leaders echoing a mandate from another era of summits — trust, but verify.

FREDRIK REINFELDT, Swedish prime minister: They’re not delivering on their own promises when it comes to reforms. We’re all in this together, but we need to ensure that we all do what we promise others.

MARGARET WARNER: What also wasn’t agreed today was increasing the size of the European-backed bailout fund for countries that do get in trouble. But that is sure to be on the agenda at the next E.U. summit in March.