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Divisions Emerge As Two-Day EU Summit Begins

European Union leaders pose for a photo at the EU summit in Brussels on October 18.
European Union leaders pose for a photo at the EU summit in Brussels on October 18.
By RFE/RL
European Union leaders have been holding their first summit since the summer amid divisions between France and Germany on moves toward greater economic and monetary union.

The two-day summit, which began on October 18, is focusing on Europe's debt crisis and efforts to set up a banking union across the eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin earlier on October 18 that the EU commission should have the power to veto member states' national budgets.

But after talks with French President Francois Hollande in Brussels later that day, Merkel said she would not be pushing for a vote on the issue at this gathering.

"This is not a summit for decisions," she said. "We will prepare for decisions in December [during the final EU summit of the year], but we have to put things on the right track here."

Meanwhile, Hollande brushed off suggestions that the EU should be given veto powers over the national budgets of individual EU member states.

Hollande also intimated that Germany and France must continue to work together on the basis of steps already agreed on toward resolving the eurozone crisis:

"France and Germany have a common responsibility, which is to get the eurozone out of a crisis that has been going on for two and a half years," he said. "To be sure, the best way to do that is to respect the decisions we have taken together."

Multiple-Speed Europe

Hollande also said the only decision that should be made in Brussels this week is to confirm that a banking supervisor will be in place by the end of 2012.

European parliament President Martin Schulz said on October 18 that the EU needs to remain unified in order to resolve the debt crisis.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a two-speed Europe but a Europe of multiple speeds already for a long time and in my view that is not a solution to the problem but rather the source of it. What we need in Europe is more unity."

Britain, the EU's main financial hub, has expressed concern along with nine other non-eurozone member states about voting rights in a future banking union.

As EU leaders were gathering in Brussels for the start of the summit on October 18, the troubled economy of Greece was paralyzed by a 24-hour general strike against austerity cuts that were imposed as a precondition for assistance in servicing Athens' debt.

Greece is preparing budget cuts totaling 11.5 billion euros to meet the requirements of the "troika" of lenders -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund -- and secure the next installment of its 130-billion-euro bailout.

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities on October 18 to protest the imminent budget cuts. Clashes erupted in Athens between demonstrators and police.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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