March 12, 2016 / 5:15 PM / 2 years ago

Social Democrat leaders press for EU drive on growth

PARIS (Reuters) - The leaders of France and Italy led European Social Democrats on Saturday in calling for a batch of EU initiatives to revive economic growth, create jobs and restore hope to Europe’s youth.

French President Francois Hollande welcomes German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel to a gathering of European Social Democrat leaders at the Elysee palace in Paris, France, March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Social Democrat leaders from across Europe, including German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and EU parliament head Martin Schulz, discussed challenges facing the bloc ranging from the migrant crisis to delivering sustainable growth.

“Social Democrats must respond to emergencies ... and prepare Europe’s future,” French President Francois Hollande said after hosting the informal meeting in Paris.

“There will surely be initiatives to take after the British referendum, whatever the decision is, even though we wish Britain stays in the European Union,” he added. Britain votes on its membership of the bloc in a June 23 referendum.

Hollande said the euro zone, of which Britain is not a member, must push for further harmonisation, boost investment in green energy and digital technology, and provide security for its citizens as well as hope for its people and its youth.

Much of the southern rim of the 19-member euro zone is blighted by high unemployment, particularly among young people.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the Social Democrat leaders would next meet in Rome after the British referendum.

“It seems to me that the climate is changing in Europe, and we have to keep working on this. For too long Europe has been perceived only as a place of austerity, a place without hope, without growth,” Renzi said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was granted observer status at the meeting, said: “The progressive forces have to promote the need to return to the fundamental values of Europe, which are solidarity, democracy, social cohesion, but also to build a wall against economic policies that prepare the ground for the far-right that today threatens the future of Europe.”

Hollande called for Europe to “take its responsibility” in world crises, without waiting for a new U.S. president to be elected later this year.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Andrei Khalip

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