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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 03:25 GMT
World crises loom over EU summit
Protesters carry a banner with political leaders caricatured
Trade unionists demonstrate for more workers rights
European leaders are gathering in Barcelona for a summit on economic reform that threatens to be overshadowed by foreign affairs, and street protests.

The biggest security operation the city has ever seen is under way, with Nato Awacs warning aircraft on patrol and jet fighters on alert.

At the last minute, the presidents of Yugoslavia and Montenegro have been invited to attend the first day of the summit on Friday, following their agreement on the restructuring of Yugoslavia on Thursday.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
Spain's prime minister is among those pushing for economic liberalisation
A draft declaration on the Middle East has also been prepared, voicing support for Wednesday's UN Security Council resolution, which refers for the first time to the existence of a "Palestinian state".

The host country Spain, together with the UK and Italy, is keen to see the summit take big steps along the path of economic liberalisation agreed at the so-called summit in Lisbon two years ago.

The goal is the creation of a truly common market, with increased cross-border competition in energy, transport, financial and postal markets.

France and Belgium are among the less enthusiastic countries, which fear that the drive to cut business costs could erode Europe's traditional social safeguards.

France has blocked full liberalisation of energy markets, and an agreement is now expected that would open markets for business users only.

Thousands of trade unionists marched through Barcelona on Thursday to voice their concern at the prospect of US-style economic liberalism spreading to Europe.

International concerns

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana played a major role in brokering the Yugoslavia restructuring agreement, and the European leaders will be keen to celebrate his success.

Mr Solana will also be delivering a report on the Middle East - a region where the EU would like to play a bigger peacekeeping role.
A Spanish soldier stands guard at the warship Vencedora in Barcelona port
It is the biggest security operation in Barcelona since the 1992 Olympics

Europe's response to the prospect of US military action against Iraq, and its assessment of the elections in Zimbabwe, are also likely to come up in Barcelona.

Spanish authorities have been sealing off the summit site from the rest of the city, using cement and steel wire barricades.

Spanish news reports say that police uncovered an plot by the Basque separatist group ETA to attack the meeting.

There have also been reports that hardline German and East European anarchists are heading for the city, leading to fears of violence at the biggest planned demonstration on Saturday afternoon.

The BBC's Patrick Bartlett
"Some are calling this a make or break summit"
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"There will be a set agenda"
See also:

14 Mar 02 | Europe
Protesters rally in Barcelona
13 Jul 01 | Europe
Flashback to summit flashpoints
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