BRUSSELS — European Union officials Tuesday pressed political leaders to turn their attention to promoting growth, amid signs that a recovery will take longer than anticipated.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, urged government leaders who will meet next week in Brussels to investigate “concrete measures to stimulate growth and employment.”
Such measures are essential to “create the conditions necessary for hope in the future of Europe and also a better life for all our citizens,” Barroso said.
At the close of a two-day meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon, other officials kept up the pressure for a quick deal on refinancing Greek private debt.
Olli Rehn, the European Union’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, suggested that time was running out on an agreement between creditors and the government in Athens that is aimed at lowering Greece’s debt burden to a sustainable level.
Greece must pare debt to levels where the country can conclude a bailout with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that would enable it to repay loans coming due in March and, officials hope, allow Athens to finance its needs through 2013. Without such a package, Greece faces the prospect of a chaotic default that would further destabilize the eurozone.
Early Tuesday, ministers backed efforts by Greece to keep the interest rate on newly issued bonds below 4 percent, which is less than what bondholders want in exchange for their existing Greek debt securities.
Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, warned that “we are still some way” from a deal between the private creditors and Athens. Schauble also raised concerns about the commitment of Greek political parties to changes that could remedy the country’s fiscal situation and enable it to pay its debts over the long term, particularly as elections drew near.
Under current circumstances, “it would be irresponsible for me as finance minister to sign” a deal with Greece on further aid, Schauble said.
The two-day meeting did bring some progress on shoring up the eurozone. Finance ministers took further steps toward establishing a new, permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, as the IMF has urged. That fund could be operating by July once member states give it final backing.
One of the main obstacles to establishing the fund was cleared late Monday when ministers found a way to ease the concerns in Finland, one of the contributing nations, that it would not incur additional liabilities without prior consent.
Leaders still are tussling over whether the fund should have 750 billion euros to 1 trillion euros ($971 billion to $1.3 trillion) at its disposal. Schauble has suggested that 500 billion euros is sufficient.
Finance ministers also reached a deal on how much power regulators should have over the clearinghouses that handle over-the-counter derivatives.
Britain, which zealously protects its financial industry, appeared satisfied that the rules would not be used to pressure clearing firms based in Britain to move part of their business to the eurozone.
The rules still must be voted on by the European Parliament and given final approval by member governments before they can take effect.