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EU leaders meet for first summit of Polish presidency

October 23, 2011 - BRUSSELS

The summit of leaders of the 27-member European Union is likely to be dominated by the eurozone crisis. Other challenges include difficult negotiations over the block's long-term budget, due to start and be decided during the Polish presidency. Poland's new assertiveness in the bloc could prove inconvenient when the debate turns to the budget, subsidies and environmental issues. Net contributors to the budget such as Germany and Britain want to save money with cuts.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk promised "energetic engagement" as he took over the rotating EU presidency on Jul 1, adding that the bloc was facing one of its most difficult moments. A Reuters report describes Poland as Europe's sixth most populous country and a powerhouse of the central and east European economy. The report notes that Poland wants to strengthen the single market, press ahead with EU enlargement and deal openly with issues such as migration during its first presidency or the bloc. Speaking to the foreign press as he prepared to take the reins, Tusk conceded the EU, and particularly the euro zone, faced challenges in tackling the debt crisis that has struck Greece, Ireland and Portugal. He said he will use the role to ensure the next EU budget considers all 27 countries. One of the biggest challenges will be negotiating the bloc's 2014-20 budget amid conflicting national interests. The Greek debt crisis, which threatens the stability of the 17-nation eurozone, dominated the June EU summit. The euro is widely seen as living on borrowed time and borrowed money, and that Greece's recent second EU bailout only prolongs the agony. The summit statement noted that the EU heads of state reiterated their commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area as a whole. Poland, which depends on highly-polluting coal for almost all its energy needs, also upset Brussels recently by blocking an attempt by all other 26 member states to agree a more ambitious plan to curb the bloc's greenhouse gas emissions. Greece is now stigmatized as the potential cause of a euro-zone collapse. If it can't pull out of its downward spiral, vital investors could be frightened off. There is already high anxiety in their circles because of the financial crises in Portugal, Ireland and Spain. Their pullout could cause fear to spread through markets, triggering a credit freeze that sucks the rest of the euro zone or even the rest of the world into recession.

As Greece stares at an austere future, it's no day for celebration (SMH 2 Jul 2011)

Poland takes over EU presidency at time of crisis (Reuters 1 Jul 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-10-23