EU chief says Europe will speak with one voice at G20

LONDON Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:40pm GMT

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) greets European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London March 16, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) greets European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London March 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Hird

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LONDON (Reuters) - European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso voiced confidence on Monday that Europe would speak with one voice at a crucial financial summit in April despite divisions between some of the continent's main players.

European leaders meet in Brussels this week to agree a joint position on tackling the financial crisis before the G20 summit of advanced and developing countries in London on April 2.

"Europe must speak with one voice in London and I think we will do that," Barroso told a news conference after talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"It is critically important not only for Europe, but for the world, that we have this success here in London."

Separately, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the European Union must resist U.S. protectionism at the summit.

Topolanek, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told the German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it looked as if Washington was increasingly handling the financial crisis by passing the bill on to other countries.

"The different bailouts and protectionist appeals to buy American goods, the nationalisations that are being called 'pre-privatisations' of late -- all this points to America fixing its problems at the expense of the rest of the world."

"We (the EU) need unity because U.S. measures are making markets nervous. If things don't get better in the United States and China, then little can be done for global demand, and fiscal stimulus in Europe will have little effect," he said.

G20 finance ministers promised at a meeting in Britain on Saturday to rescue troubled emerging market economies, and said they would use their full fiscal and monetary firepower to combat the worst downturn since the 1930s.

But in the run-up to the summit there have been divisions between key players. France and Germany have rejected U.S. demands to spend more to help break the recession, and said that the G20 meeting should focus on tighter regulation.

Britain has tended to side with the United States.

"FALSE CHOICE"

Barroso urged countries to "avoid the false choice between fiscal stimulus or improved regulation. The reality is that we need both and I believe we are seeing convergence within Europe and with our international partners on this."

Both leaders stressed the need to resist protectionism, and Barroso said Europe should focus on implementing stimulus packages already approved rather than drawing up new ones.

"The EU and its member states are injecting at least 400 billion euros (367 billion pounds) into the economy in 2009/2010, at least 3.3 pct of GDP ... This matches up well to other contributions," he said.

"Our priority must be to push forward with implementation. Let's not get distracted by comparisons with other economies. Our focus must be on delivering on our promises," he said.

"Of course we will keep the situation under review and we should be ready to take additional measures as needed."

Asked if he felt as optimistic as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said there was a reasonable prospect that the recession would end this year, Barroso said: "I basically agree but ... the question is not to be optimistic or pessimistic, the question is to be realistic."

If the G20 summit could send a clear message that countries were acting together, "we can get out of this recession earlier, but at this moment the situation remains serious," he said.

Brown said conditions were being put in place for the banks to function well, for the stimulus to the economy to be effective and for interest rate cuts to work.

"I've always said the speed at which we recover will depend on the international cooperation we can achieve. A lot therefore depends on what we can achieve in the G20, and at the G8," he said. The G8 groups leading industrial countries and Russia.

Brown also endorsed Barroso for a second five-year term as president of the EU's executive arm. France, Italy, Finland and Spain have already publicly backed Barroso to stay on.

(Additional reporting by Keith Weir and Kate Kelland, editing by Kevin Liffey)

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