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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
EU finance ministers in crisis talks
German finance minister Hans Eichel in Liege
German Finance Minister Hans Eichel studies his brief
As stock markets crash, major economies veer towards recession and the airline industry cries out for aid, European finance ministers are meeting in Liege in an attempt to hammer out ways to limit the damage.

The session, which will be joined by central bankers on Saturday, is charged with drawing up a report for a Brussels summit of EU government heads, which has been called to assess Europe's response to the US terror attacks.

The Brussels and Liege meetings are the first major gathering of European leaders since the attacks, which have thrown the already precarious economic outlook into confusion.

A key item on the agenda will be reaching some sort of consensus on aid for the airline industry, which has been demanding financial assistance as passenger numbers tumble.

The US government has provisionally granted aid to its airlines, and European policy makers are under pressure to follow suit.

Lots to do

Although the immediate priority is a report on Friday, ministers face a heavy workload during the three days of the meeting.

Their primary concern is to draft some sort of statement to calm the financial markets, which have gyrated wildly in the days since the US attacks.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders, who is chairing the meeting, said the group would have to come up with a "message for the markets and the people".

A key part of the reassurance, ministers say, will be a renewed commitment to the EU's Stability and Growth Pact, which aims to guarantee budgetary discipline around Europe.

There have been mounting rumours in recent months that certain countries were keen on making the pact less binding, in order to be able to give their economies a fiscal boost.

Airline help

On the subject of airlines, the ministers are likely to discuss alternatives to a simple grant of cash aid.

The most likely proposal, already plainly favoured by some governments, is support based on underwriting insurance for carriers, which now face spiralling premiums.

But some governments are insisting on a common approach, which could pose some problems.

Britain is also hoping to discuss ways to bring in new legislation to make money-laundering by terrorists, drug-dealers and other criminals more difficult.

See also:

21 Sep 01 | UK Politics
EU opens emergency summit
21 Sep 01 | Business
US slump could be 'steep but short'
20 Sep 01 | Business
EU considers aid for airlines
19 Sep 01 | Business
US airlines lose 40,000 more jobs
17 Sep 01 | Business
UK airlines 'need government aid'
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