European summit opens in the UK

British Prime Minister Tony Blair opened a Thursday to persuade EU leaders to commit to economic renewal and overcome the bloc's sense of drift following the collapse of the EU constitution.On the summit's eve, Blair stressed the need for the EU to face the challenges of globalization.

But several European leaders questioned a proposal from the European Commission for a multibillion-euro (dollar) "solidarity fund" to help workers who lose their job as a result of global competition. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip - whose Baltic state has a flat tax rate to attract investors - said it was "pretty difficult to understand why we would need this globalization fund."

The proposed fund has been received coolly in the Netherlands and Sweden, two countries that argue for austerity in EU spending in the years ahead, the AP reports.

The summit aims to end a sense of stagnation that descended on the EU after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the European constitution in May.

"There is a crisis," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said on arrival at the summit. "We have had four months of silence. It's time we discuss" an economic strategy to respond to "problems caused by globalization."

Addressing the European Parliament on Wednesday, Blair said Europe must focus on better and more education, crafting a common front against terrorism and getting a handle on globalization to restore public confidence in the EU.

His message - especially to France and Germany - is that red tape and generous social benefits now hamper growth, and that there is a need for free-market liberalization and more spending on education, research and development.

Blair has found allies in free trade-oriented EU capitals. Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said Europe should not blame globalization "if our industry has not taken care of competitiveness."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants the one-day gathering to focus on the 'challenges of globalization' and to avoid getting into a new haggle over EU budget plans which helped wreck the June summit, according to Forbes. A.M.