ROME -- Leaders of the four major Eurozone countries agreed Friday to push for a $163-billion growth package, a week before a planned European summit considered crucial to the future of the monetary union.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, newly elected French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also concurred on the necessity of greater integration between the countries that have joined in the euro, a process Monti called “irreversible.”
Monti, the host of the gathering in Rome focused on the economic crisis of the Eurozone countries, said at a news conference following the meeting that “the primary objective on which we concur is for the promotion of growth and investment and the creation of new jobs in Europe.”
The leaders offered no immediate details on what the growth package might include.
Merkel, who has steadfastly advocated fiscal responsibility and austerity measures ahead of stimulus spending, said the emphasis in handling the crisis had been on “budget consolidation” but that it was now the moment for measures in favor of growth and jobs.
Monti said that at the European Council summit in Brussels late next week, the four leaders would propose a growth package worth 1% of European gross domestic product, or roughly $163 billion, to address the stagnating or contracting economies within the 17 Eurozone countries, which share the euro currency.
He said that such a measure was necessary not only to convince markets of the durability of the euro system, but to reassure Europeans themselves of the worth of the euro project.
In an interview with five European newspapers published Friday, Monti warned that if concrete measures are not taken at the Brussels talks, “there would be speculative attacks against even those less weak countries, like Italy, that are in line with European parameters” and a risk that citizens begin reject the idea of the euro.
Hollande, who made an emphasis on growth rather than austerity one of the foremost themes in his winning campaign against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said that “we are all agreed on the growth package, which is indispensable.”
Merkel said that the leaders had agreed also on the need for taxation on financial transactions, also known as the Tobin tax.
Some analysts said that while Merkel’s adherence to the idea of a growth package was significant, many differences remained among Eurozone countries on how to resolve the acute crisis in crushing debt and joblessness.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti attend a news conference at the end of a meeting of four European leaders in Rome on Friday. Credit: Franco Origlia / Getty Images.