European Union leaders have met in the Belgian capital, Brussels, to discuss austerity measures, the debt crisis and strategies to give the eurozone economy a boost.
Leaders on Thursday wrestled with German demands for strict austerity and a French-Italian push for growth-friendly spending at a summit amid fears that rampant unemployment was destroying the 27-member bloc.
Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, said the leaders meeting in Brussels had “reconfirmed our overall economic strategy”.
“There is still a long way to go to ensure our growth prospects, to revive our economy, to heal our banking systems, to create more jobs and to create welfare across our union,” Rompuy said.
Francois Hollande, the French president, said the “only priority” leaders had to face was finding fresh ways to boost growth and get people back working.
Outside the building where the meeting was being held, thousands of protesters rallied against austerity measures, demanding that EU leaders put an end to government spending cuts blamed for mass joblessness and growing social crisis in parts of Europe.
“Abolish all austerity and start listening to the people who are in the streets protesting all over Europe,” said one protester.
They held banners that read, “No to austerity. Away with governments. Jail the bankers” and “Education cuts never heal”.
Organisers said more than 10,000 demonstrators rallied near the summit site, and dozens were arrested after they broke into a building adjacent to the venue.
Budget cuts are the centre of the eurozone’s strategy to overcome a three-year public debt crisis but they may cause a damaging cycle in which governments cut back, companies lay off staff, and youth unemployment soars.
“The politicians have to put some money back into Europe to give young people a chance,” said Heidi Masschelein, member of Belgium’s Christian trade union movement.
Meanwhile, in Greece, thousands of students demonstrated, in the capital, Athens, against an austerity-driven overhaul of the number of universities and technical schools.
They also expressed disdain against youth unemployment in the country, which reached to almost 58 percent.
As thousands protested, outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti urged his peers at the summit to let Italy, and other countries facing public finance pressures, spend to create more jobs.
Flexibility as opposed to rigid austerity “would be the best message to counter the mounting wave of populism and disaffection with the EU,” he said.
Leaders of 17-member eurozone will meet on Friday to discuss a multi-billion-euro bailout for Cyprus – the fifth for an EU state since Greece first needed rescuing three years ago.