HIGHLIGHTS-Comments from EU leaders' Brussels summit
BRUSSELS, March 14 (Reuters) - European leaders gathered in Brussels on Thursday with differences over austerity and how best to tackle the social costs of the debt crisis set to dominate their two-day summit.
The meeting will give EU leaders a chance to discuss budget policies, with signs that France, Spain and Portugal could be given more time to meet their deficit goals as long as they maintain a debt-cutting trend.
Following are comments from EU leaders and officials ahead of the talks:
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON
ON ECONOMIC GROWTH, EU REFORM:
"This is an important European Council because -- as I said in my European speech -- we need a European Union that is about openness, competitiveness (and) flexibility.
"We need a European Union that does not over-regulate, but one that cuts regulations and that is what I am going to be pushing for at this Council."
FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
ON SYRIAN ARMS EMBARGO:
"We want the Europeans to lift the embargo on the weapons... Since we have to put pressure on and show we are ready to support the opposition, we have to go that far. That is what I will tell my European colleagues.
"Britain and France agree on this option."
GREEK PRIME MINISTER ANTONIS SAMARAS
"Europe turns its focus to growth, which is the number one European problem today because the lack of growth creates unemployment and especially youth unemployment.
"In Greece, this is even more severe because we suffer from the highest unemployment rate in Europe, the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe, and the highest unemployment rate in our history. So you realise this is an important meeting we have today."
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL
ON UNEMPLOYMENT AND GROWTH:
"Today we will talk about the general conditions concerning budgets, growth and unemployment. It is expected that there will be an emphasis on the fight against youth unemployment.
"We have decided on a growth pact in the summer of last year and now this growth pact has to be filled with life. The money is there but it has to reach the people, so the young people in Europe get jobs and we still do everything to become competitive and grow."
ASKED IF THE EU SUMMIT WILL ADDRESS A BAILOUT FOR CYPRUS:
"No, we will not speak about Cyprus because the (EU/IMF)troika has not yet finished its work. That's why it is important that apart from the growth questions we look towards the finance ministers who will speak about Cyprus, we will not do that here. It's completely impossible without a troika report."
CYPRUS PRESIDENT NICOS ANASTASIADES
ON TALKS WITH EU/IMF TROIKA ON A BAILOUT FOR CYPRUS:
"...We are looking forward to finding the best and most fair agreement. I am bound to implement even the last iota of this agreement and I do hope that by tomorrow we can negotiate and find a solution. But what we are looking (for) is not a pretty picture, but a fair treatment."
EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
"Despite the signs that the worst of the financial crisis is now behind us, despite these modest green shoots, there is still a long way to go to restore our growth prospects, to revive our economies, to heal our banking systems, to create more jobs and to improve welfare across our union.
"We need to remember that the economy reacts with a time-lag: once stability is back, it takes time before this is translated into more confidence, more investment and growth and jobs. And as growth returns, it takes time before the positive impact on employment starts kicking in."
EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
"The EU will continue to play its role in promoting jobs and growth but it is at national level that much work has still to be done to implement the changes that will make Europe more competitive and support sustainable growth. The reform effort should be spread fairly across society and social concerns have to be addressed, namely, the most challenging issue of unemployment."
EU ECONOMIC AND MONETARY AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER OLLI REHN
"I expect the European Council will endorse the (European) Commission's line on working towards sustainable growth and job creation and in parallel working to ensure consistent fiscal consolidation.
"There is no real contradiction between sustainable growth and the sustainability of public finances. It is, in fact, one of the preconditions of sustainable growth that countries can ensure sustainable public finances.
"We have to keep both objectives in mind and that is what the European Council today will, I trust, do."
FINNISH PRIME MINISTER JYRKI KATAINEN
ON JOBS, GROWTH AND AUSTERITY:
"There are no shortcuts to creating new jobs and growth in a sustainable manner. Structural reforms might not bear fruit overnight, but are the best sustainable economic stimulus. Accumulating excessive debt is not."
"The debate around austerity versus growth might have academic value, but it has little value for the growing number of Europeans who are struggling to find a job or keep one. Therefore we must do everything we can to minimise the social impact of the crisis."
"The future of our common currency can be guaranteed only if each member state keeps its fiscal house in order and takes the jointly agreed rules seriously.
"We have efficient mechanisms for economic policy coordination, and while new initiatives can be useful, our focus needs to be on the swift and full implementation of the current tools.
"The division of labour is clear: the EU sets the goals, monitors and provides guidance. The member states are responsible for the implementation. Until the confidence in the member states' commitment is restored, it will be very difficult to get out of this crisis."
ON IMF INVOLVEMENT IN A POSSIBLE BAILOUT FOR CYPRUS:
"We have to find a solution which makes it very clear that Cyprus will end up with debt sustainability and that we need the IMF there also.
"It is very essential that IMF is part of the package because if they were not, the question is 'why?' The main issue is that the solution must be a kind which makes it very clear that Cyprus will end up with a debt-sustainable situation."
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER ANDRUS ANSIP
"We will have these discussions (on growth and austerity)...I don't think austerity measures and growth are in contradiction, they are two sides of the same coin."
DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE
"We will discuss growth and employment and how to fight the present economic deterioration in Europe, at the same time creating a consensus on the fact that we need both to implement the necessary austerity programmes and also the structural reforms to improve our economies - that will be the main topic of the agenda."