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EU leaders' summit stirs hope in Brussels

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Sunday Observer staff reporter matthewsk@jamaicaobserver.com
Sunday, July 01, 2012

BRUSSELS, Belgium — She stands by a busy roadside in Brussels metres away from one of the most well-known heritage sites in the country — La Grand Place.

Playing her flute effortlessly, Kaisa Majchzak sways and manages a weak smile while the sorrowful song from her instrument echoes throughout the street and draws the attention of passing tourists.

The Pole, who gives her age as 29, stands in a section of the busy town where the rays from the sun dance across the facades of several manor-type buildings that line the roadway.

The sun shines brightly despite the fact that the time on a clock in a nearby shop shows that it is close to 9:00 pm.

Unlike Jamaica, Brussels benefits from longer daylight hours. Here, the sun sometimes sets close to midnight.

Majchzak plays her instrument in this serene setting, but is not happy.

"I am a student here. I attend a music school here in Brussels," she tells the Jamaica Observer, pausing as a tourist stops to drop a euro into a container she has placed close to her feet.

"This is what I do to raise money to send myself to school," she said, a frown of discomfort etched her face.

It is evident Majchazak does not love the fact that she has to live this way to survive.

"This is what I have to do. I cannot find a job and I came here to make life better," she told this reporter.

But experts here in Brussels say what is happening to Majchazak is nothing new.

In fact, European leaders spent last Thursday and Friday at a summit trying to find a solution to the bloc's spiralling debt crisis that has pushed some members nations to the brink of financial collapse.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, coming out of the summit Friday, said Euro-zone leaders had agreed on important short-term measures to ensure the stability of the eurozone.

The leaders, he said, had also agreed that a longer-term vision on the way forward to strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union will be fleshed out before the end of 2012.

Maria Laura Francoisi, one journalist who has been living and working in Brussels for over 25 years, believes that what the leaders are trying to do in this latest attempt will provide hope for Europeans.

"I have to be optimistic. If not, what else do I have? What do we go back to, small states? Francoisi asked, making reference to the fear of the EU falling apart.

She paused as she made the statement and sat at her desk at the European Council with her hands pressed against her face, a worried look erasing the smile she wore at the start of the interview.

"Small states in front of globalisation, what can small countries like that do?" asked the elderly but very energetic woman.

A day before, Francoisi pointed out a statue as she played tour guide to a small group of Jamaican journalists.

The statue stands in front of the Lex building, located along Rue de La Loi, (which means the street of the law, which is the main thoroughfare). It depicts a man stepping off a foundation made of stone into empty space.

"You know, while I walk past this statue it reminds me of Europe," she said. "When I first saw this statue, I said to myself it looks like Europe; it knows where it started, but doesn't know where it wants to go."

Mass Baup, a Senegalese journalist who has worked in Europe for over 10 years, was another among the hopefuls wishing that the EU can turn the corner away from disaster.

Baup watched nervously as the EU leaders met.

"The days at the meetings were very important," said the dark, slender man, his thick accent dissecting some of the words.

"The meetings were very crucial, for not just Europe but for the world, the Caribbean, and even in Africa," said Baup.

For him, it was critical for the EU to work out a solution to the EU crisis, not only for itself but for other countries that depended on aid from Europe.

"If the EU fails, other countries who depended on it would also suffer," said Baup.

After several unsuccessful prior summits, on Friday leaders of 17 countries that use the euro agreed to:

* Allow two European bailout funds to pump money directly into troubled European banks, rather than make loans to governments to bail out the banks;

* Use bailout money "in a flexible and efficient manner to stabilise" European government bond markets;

* Let countries that have made economic reforms as required by EU authorities tap the European rescue funds without submitting to stringent bailout programmes; and

* Tie their budgets, currency and governments ever tighter in a vast new economic union down the line.

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