EU wants Greece to stay in eurozone, says Van Rompuy

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Media captionEuropean Council President Herman Van Rompuy: "The eurozone has shown considerable solidarity"

EU leaders want Greece to remain in the eurozone but to "respect its commitments", European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has said.

He was speaking after a Brussels summit which exposed differences between France and Germany over measures to tackle the eurozone debt crisis.

The EU is struggling to revive growth.

The risk of a Greek exit from the euro loomed large, ahead of another Greek election on 17 June. Contingency plans are being made in some EU capitals.

Greece has been in recession for five years, crippled by a debt mountain, high unemployment and labour unrest.

There are fears that a Greek exit could trigger a run on the banks - not only there but in other eurozone countries.

The Brussels meeting was an informal dinner, not designed to bring concrete decisions, but the BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says the crisis gives EU leaders little time. There will be a crucial EU summit on 28-29 June.

Mr Van Rompuy said Greece must stick with "vital reforms" , while pledging that Brussels would mobilise EU structural funds and other investments to help the stricken Greek economy.

"We want Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitments," he told a news conference.

"The eurozone has shown considerable solidarity having already disbursed, together with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) nearly 150bn euros (£120bn; $188bn) in support of Greece since 2010."

Greece's caretaker Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos said "almost every" EU state had shown support for his country at the summit.

Opinion polls suggest that the leftist bloc Syriza, which came second in Greece's 6 May election, is likely to win the June vote. It opposes the stringent conditions imposed on Greece under its massive EU-IMF bailout deal.

Bond debate

On Wednesday, European stock markets fell about 2% amid anxiety that Greece might have to exit the euro.

Mr Van Rompuy said there was agreement at the summit on the need for economic growth as well as measures to restore financial stability, which he described as "two sides of the same coin".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said "there was complete agreement that dealing with deficits and getting growth are not alternatives, they go together."

The summit was the first opportunity for French President Francois Hollande to shift the emphasis from austerity to growth - a key message he gave to French voters, who elected him on 6 May.

There was some discussion of eurobonds - a tool for the whole eurozone to guarantee the bonds of weaker members and ease their crippling debts. But Mr Van Rompuy said that could only be part of a long-term solution.

Mr Hollande, firmly in the pro-eurobond camp, said that "for now, Germany's line of thinking is that eurobonds, if I give the most optimistic version, could only be an end point, whereas for us they are a starting point".

"It's true that there is a difference," he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bonds, pooling eurozone debt, would violate EU treaties and would "not contribute to kick-starting growth".

She said that for eurobonds to work there would first have to be "very much stronger economic coordination in the eurozone".

Mr Van Rompuy said his team would draft a report before the June EU summit outlining the "main building blocks" for closer economic union, "to make it commensurate with the monetary union".

The European Commission has announced an allocation of 230m euros (£185m; $290m) from the EU budget for "project bonds", aimed at speeding up investment in Europe's energy, transport and digital networks.

The initiative could trigger more than 4bn euros of private investment, the Commission says.

There is also talk of giving the European Investment Bank a 10bn-euro capital boost to help small businesses.

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