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Mirrored facade of council building in Brussels © EU

EU leaders agree to cooperate more on economic policy – part of a strategy to spur higher growth over the next decade.

The decision came at a meeting in Brussels, the leaders’ first formal discussions on the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy introduced by the commission last month.

In a joint statement, they said they had agreed on most elements of the proposed plan, including greater coordination of national and European economic policy. They said more economic cooperation was necessary to recover from the financial crisis and confront long-term challenges like globalisation, climate change and an ageing population.

They also accepted three quantitative targets for increasing employment levels, boosting spending on research and development and meeting the EU’s environmental commitments. Two other targets proposed by the commission – increasing education levels and social inclusion – will be fine-tuned at the June summit.

As the commission recommended, the leaders agreed that any EU-wide targets should be broken down into differentiated national targets, something that was not done under the EU’s previous 10-year economic strategy. The commission will contribute to discussions on these national targets, with EU governments having the final say.

The leaders said they would look at the numbers in June and consider EU-level action to close any gaps between the EU targets and the sum of the national targets.

EU governments are also being asked to submit detailed plans of how they intend to meet their targets. These ‘national reform programmes’ should also address fundamental obstacles to economic growth. Performance will be monitored, with annual reports issued at the EU level.

Following the eurozone’s agreement on a rescue plan for Greece, the council also asked the commission to come forward in June with proposals on how to improve coordination among countries using the currency. The euro has lost value in recent months, with investors worried about high national debt in Greece and other countries.

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