EU leaders gather to talk Egypt, euro, energy

EU leaders gather to talk Egypt, euro, energy

European Union leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday were expected to call for a democratic transition in Egypt, draw up a "global" package of measures to shore up the euro and discuss how to improve energy policy, DPA reported.

The informal one-day summit had originally been intended to debate energy and innovation issues. But the euro's ongoing credibility crisis and the surge of anti-government demonstrations across the Arab world have forced themselves onto the agenda.

The summit is set to "deplore the degradation" of the situation in Egypt and call for "substantial democratic reform with full respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and ... free and fair elections", according to a draft statement obtained by the German Press Agency dpa.

EU leaders are also set to criticize last year's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, stressing that the bloc is "ready to consider" expanding its sanctions against the regime if necessary.

Diplomats said that little debate is expected on the question of Belarus, but that Poland had insisted it be mentioned.

The leaders of the 17 countries which use the euro are expected to approve a separate declaration setting out the ground rules for a "global package" of reforms to the currency, with the final details to be hammered out in March.

The reforms should include budget and economic reforms in euro nations, measures to make the current, three-year eurozone bailout system more flexible while designing a permanent replacement, and a review of the rescue loans already paid out to Greece and Ireland.

The loans are hugely unpopular in the two countries, with Greece pushing for a longer repayment period and Ireland expected to demand a less punitive interest rate after elections on February 25.

Leaders are also expected to discuss how they can make the EU energy market more efficient and climate friendly and less reliant on foreign suppliers, especially Russia.

Diplomats said that leaders were likely to clash over the questions of who should pay for the major overhaul of the EU energy grid which is likely to be needed, and how to improve the bloc's muscle in energy negotiations with Russia.

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