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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 08:11 GMT
EU struggles with reform task
Flags outside the summit venue in Barcelona
French and German elections could hinder progress
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BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris
By Chris Morris
BBC Europe correspondent

Leaders of the European Union are gathering amid unprecedented security in Barcelona for a two-day summit which is supposed to focus on economic reform.

They will also discuss a range of international issues from the Middle East to the Balkans to Zimbabwe, while hoping that their political discussions will not be overshadowed by violent protests on the streets.

There is still a gap between making policy declarations and turning them into practice

Romano Prodi
On the eve of the summit there were some positive signs to cheer the hoards of European officials and diplomats who have descended on this city.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana has helped to broker an agreement between the presidents of Serbia and Montenegro to avoid the break-up of Yugoslavia.

And EU member states have agreed to boost development aid to the world's poorest countries.

Political infighting

Making similar progress on economic reform in Europe will not be easy.

Two years ago in Lisbon EU leaders launched an ambitious programme of structural reform designed to make the European economy the most competitive in the world by 2010.

We don't want the American model, we want the European social model

Trade unionists
That, they argue, would make Europeans in general more prosperous, but political infighting and competing national priorities have frustrated hopes of rapid change.

"There is still a gap between making policy declarations and turning them into practice", said the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi.

France is resisting efforts to liberalise energy markets, while Germany has failed to endorse new company take-over rules which would apply across the European Union.

Both the French and German governments face national elections this year, and they are wary of agreeing anything which could upset voters back at home.

There are also plenty of opponents of unfettered economic liberalisation in Barcelona.

Tens of thousands of trades unionists from across Europe marched through the city streets on Thursday, calling for "a more social Europe" which protects its workers, and maintains the traditional European emphasis on welfare and regulation.

"We're opposed to a deregulated Europe where workers' rights are pushed to one side", said Tony Young, the President of the British Trades Union Congress.

"We don't want the American model, we want the European social model."

Exclusion zone

The 15 EU leaders will also discuss the prospects for economic reform with the heads of government from countries which want to join the Union in the future.

Up to 10 new members could be invited to join at the end of this year - a potential turning point in the EU's history.

This is not the kind of Barcelona I want them to remember

Barcelona Mayor Joan Clos
An enlarged EU will need to reform the way it does business, and the summit will see discussions about streamlining European instututions and making the EU more relevant to the concerns of its citizens.

In that context, no-one is particularly happy about the image that the summit itself presents.

Europe's leaders are meeting amid the biggest security operation Barcelona has ever seen. More than 8,000 police are on duty, and a heavily protected exclusion zone has been set-up around the summit venue.

Nearby roads and transport links have been closed down, jet fighters and helicopters are patrolling the skies, and the Spanish navy is on alert.

The authorities are concerned about possible terrorist attacks, and the threat of violent protests from radical anti-globalisation activists.

"We need to think about what is not working properly in our society that means we need to protect our leaders with fences," the Mayor of Barcelona Joan Clos told the BBC.

"This is not the kind of Barcelona I want them to remember."

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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