EU nations sign up to fiscal deal

David CameronTwenty-five EU countries are due to sign up for a new "fiscal compact" for tougher Brussels scrutiny of their economic plans.

The deal, the culmination of months of effort to demonstrate stronger financial discipline and calm market fears about the euro, was forged after David Cameron dramatically vetoed plans for a 27-nation treaty change to beef up eurozone discipline.
The resulting accord sees him sitting - contentedly - on the sidelines, with only his Czech counterpart for company as the pact becomes a fact at an EU summit in Brussels.

"The Prime Minister will be in a different room when the signing is done, but he'll be in the building," explained one EU official, neatly summing up what some see as the current state of UK relations with the rest of the EU.

At Thursday night's opening session of a summit focusing on jobs and growth after months of eurozone crisis talks, Mr Cameron complained that economic recovery plans he put forward with 11 other member states were being ignored.

The Netherlands, Italy and Finland also weighed in behind him to complain that ideas for swift action on cutting red tape, boosting businesses and opening up the single market were not reflected in draft summit conclusions due to be approved later.

A dozen countries signed up to the "Plan for Growth in Europe", set out in a joint letter initiated by Mr Cameron and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and circulated to all member states 10 days ago. A rival Franco-German letter has also set out steps towards recovery - and Mr Cameron said Franco-German ideas seemed to have been heeded more than those of a dozen other member states.

Subject to last-minute revision, the final summit document will commit member states to "fiscal consolidation as an essential condition of higher growth and employment"; a broader tax base; and a target of raising the employment rate to 75% on average across Europe by 2020.

Those are ideas set out in the Franco-German paper, but detailed plans set out in the Cameron-led paper are less evident - cutting business red tape, reinforcing the EU single market, particularly in financial services, opening up energy markets, and developing a single EU transport area.

However, an overnight revision expanded an earlier-three-line mention of the single market to 17 lines, emphasising plans to open up new single market growth areas, including completion of the digital single market by 2015, cutting the cost of broadband technology, and "minimising regulatory burdens" at national and EU level.
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