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Spain seeks binding economic goals for EU

By Jonny Dymond
BBC Europe correspondent in Madrid

Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. File photo
Mr Zapatero said Europe had to "unite in a globalised world"

Spain's prime minister has proposed radically deepening economic co-operation in the drive to overhaul the European Union's economy.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero suggested that new economic objectives - the 2020 Strategy - should be made binding on EU countries if they were to be realised.

He was speaking ahead of the formal inauguration of Spain's EU presidency.

Mr Zapatero's proposals are likely to alarm many states of the 27-member block.

"We need to have a vision, in which the European interest is the vision of every member-state," Mr Zapatero told journalists in Madrid.

"If Europe wants to keep its strength then it must unite in a globalised world. We need to change the direction the debate is taking."

The EU's so-called 2020 Strategy is to be thrashed out in a series of meetings over the next six months.

It is designed to take forward the Lisbon Agenda, a 10-year economic plan made in 2000 by the EU in an attempt to increase the bloc's competitiveness, stimulate job growth and boost investment in research and development.

'Incentives'

The Lisbon Agenda is widely believed to have failed. Mr Zapatero suggested this was down to the voluntary nature of the agreement struck in 2000.

The path ahead is of more economic union
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

"There is awareness of the need for more economic union," he said.

Mr Zapatero cited the Single Market and the eurozone Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) as examples of successful economic co-operation.

Both contain sanctions in case of transgressions, though the SGP has been progressively loosened and no financial penalties have ever been levied.

Pressed repeatedly for detail, Mr Zapatero remained vague about what sort of areas might merit sanctions.

But he suggested that if the EU agreed to make a major investment in information technology, for example, then member states would need "incentives" to make sure that objectives were met.

Such an idea would need unanimous approval to become EU policy, and would cause deep alarm in the governments of many members, which have in the past been concerned about any potential loss of sovereignty.

But Mr Zapatero insisted that there was an audience for his ideas.

France, he said, was in favour of binding objectives, and "those that are more reticent are more open [than they were] to the idea".

"The path ahead is of more economic union," he added.



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