BERLIN -- German, French, and British leaders agreed yesterday on broad proposals aimed at making Europe the world's premier economic power this decade, but they drew criticism from representatives of countries who were left out of the summit.
Demonstrating unity after last year's divisions over Iraq, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, President Jacques Chirac of France, and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain called for a fresh push to cut red tape, promote new technologies, and avert a crisis in social programs that Europeans hold dear.
The summit at the chancellery in Berlin came at a crucial time for the European Union, deadlocked in efforts to give itself a constitution as 10 new members -- mostly former communist nations of Eastern Europe -- line up to join May 1, raising membership to 25 countries.
"Let's be frank about this: We came together after a very difficult period in international relations when we were on different sides of a particular issue," Blair told a news conference, referring to the Iraq war, which he supported and the two others opposed.
All three leaders emphasized the need for changes to make Europe more business-friendly and reduce unemployment -- but also to uphold welfare-state comforts financed by a shrinking pool of working people as Europe's population ages. Schroeder has faced stiff resistance since he launched limited welfare-state reforms last year. Chirac, whose country has seen massive protests against cuts to pension benefits, echoed the German leader's remarks.The three leaders offered few specific solutions but noted problems that have dogged Europe for years: too little spending on research and development, bureaucratic hurdles to launching businesses, and widespread early retirement.
Citing the EU's ambition of overtaking the United States as the world's leading economic power by 2010, the leaders acknowledged that "growth and productivity in Europe remain too weak."
Other EU nations such as Spain and Italy expressed worry that the three countries were forming a new, exclusive club to run Europe.