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Weighty Issues Topped Agenda Of European Union Summit

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Trying to get that cease-fire in place, that was a big part of the agenda as European leaders gathered yesterday in Brussels. Their summit also focused on terrorism and Greek debt. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Brussels summit began as all-night negotiations between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine for a cease-fire in Ukraine drew to a close. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande rushed from Belarus to Brussels to present the agreement to their colleagues. Poland's Donald Tusk presided over the European Council summit.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TUSK: This cease-fire must be respected. We must see a real de-escalation of the conflict. This is not just about the independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The whole geopolitical order in Europe from 1989 is at stake.

BEARDSLEY: Tusk said Europe stood united and would be ready to take steps if the cease-fire - the second in six months - fails like the first one. The EU has a Monday deadline on whether to add sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes on more Russian companies and individuals. But war in Ukraine isn't Europe's only worry. There's also Greece.

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PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: I'm very confident that altogether we can find a mutually viable solution.

BEARDSLEY: That's newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arriving at the summit. Tsipras and his radical left party want Greece's current bailout deal with the EU, which runs out at the end of the month, to be replaced by a new one with easier terms. But a group of eurozone countries led by Germany opposes such a plan. Alexander Stubb is the prime minister of Finland.

PRIME MINISTER ALEXANDER STUBB: I think in the past five years we've done everything we possibly can to keep Greece in the eurozone and we'll continue to do that. But commitments are commitments and we must all stick to them.

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TSIPRAS: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Tsipras told Europe's leaders that Greek society had been devastated and could not recover without help. He pledged that his government would launch further reforms against tax evasion and corruption. He asked Europe to trust Greece. Tsipras promised, we will not go back to the era of deficits. Philippe Marliere, professor of European politics at University College London, thinks eurozone leaders need to give Greece a break.

PHILIPPE MARLIERE: How can you expect Greece to pay back the vast amount of debt while at the same time its people are getting poorer and poorer if you don't find a more sustainable compromise? Grease to back the best amount of debt while at the same time its people are getting poorer and poorer. If you don't find a sustainable come from.

BEARDSLEY: Marliere says if a new deal is not reached, there will be a Greek exit from the eurozone. It already has a name here, a Grexit.

MARLIERE: If you kick out Greece of the eurozone, that would mean probably a kind of a threat to all the nations which are not doing well, which are been on the pond in the same situation as Greece. I mentioned earlier Spain, Ireland, Portugal could leave, you know, very quickly to the dismantling of the eurozone.

BEARDSLEY: But there was breakthrough Thursday as Greece and its creditors began talking about ways to lighten the load of the bailout. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was ready for compromise, and Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb changed his tune after listening to Tsipras.

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STUBB: That's the funny thing with human beings getting together in a room. At the end of the day, they end up getting along.

BEARDSLEY: As if this agenda weren't weighty enough, European leaders also put forth an ambitious range of proposals to fight terrorism. For the first time, they endorsed the sharing of airline passenger data and despite previous concerns over privacy, the possible creation of a EU no-fly list. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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