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Union chief urges bigger EU pledge

By Laurence Peter
BBC News, Brussels

John Monks (file pic)
John Monks attended pre-summit talks on growth and employment

One of Europe's top trade unionists, John Monks, says EU leaders ought to heed the US call for extra state cash injections to ease the pain of the economic crisis.

"I think the EU should be more responsive to the US call for more economic stimulus," Mr Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), told reporters in Brussels.

He was speaking before the opening of a two-day EU summit dominated by the crisis, which has already led to widespread plant closures, soaring unemployment and growing labour unrest.

The French and German leaders, along with the European Commission, are reluctant to boost the EU's existing 200bn-euro (187bn; $262bn) stimulus package for 2009 and 2010.

EUROPEAN UNEMPLOYMENT
Spain 14.08%
Latvia 12.3%
Slovakia 9.8%
Lithuania 9.8%
Cyprus 4.3%
Denmark 4.3%
Austria 4.0%
Netherlands 2.8%
Source: Eurostat

They argue that Europe's "automatic stabilisers" - social welfare payments such as unemployment benefit - add at least another 200bn euros to that package.

Before pledging more funds they want to see the results of that stimulus, and of the hundreds of billions of euros poured into troubled banks.

The Czech Republic will host an EU summit focusing on jobs in May. The emphasis will be on improving the mobility and skills of workers, technical innovation and reducing administrative burdens.

'Action days'

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has dismissed simple comparisons between the EU and US economies.

"Let's concentrate on implementation," he said. "You can't compare the situation of an unemployed GM worker in Detroit with that of a Saab worker in Sweden."

But Mr Monks said a bigger EU fiscal injection "might avoid a big rise in unemployment".

People queue outside a Job Centre in Bristol, UK (18 March 2009)
The jobless rate across the 27-member EU in January was 7.6%

"We'll keep pressing for them to put more resources into the European economy," he said, announcing that trade unions would stage three "European action days" on 14-16 May.

Big marches are planned in Madrid, Brussels, Berlin and Prague.

He warned that "there is plenty of bad news in the pipeline if it doesn't get better soon," pointing to big loans taken out by private equity companies.

"We're calling for greater guarantees for workers. A greater role of the state is needed to ensure that short-termist speculative activity is controlled," he added.

He was speaking as striking workers marched through several French cities in a day of action expected to cause severe disruption.

Mr Monks attended pre-summit talks on growth and employment with business leaders, the European Commission and the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain. The three countries are the current and next two holders of the EU presidency.

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