A dozen leaders of European Union nations, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Premier Mario Monti, called Monday for an open-markets strategy to stimulate growth and jolt the region out of its economic doldrums.
The 12 leaders sent an open letter to Herman van Rompuy, European Council president, and Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, as Eurozone finance ministers met Monday to discuss a $170 billion bailout for Greece in exchange for harsh austerity measures.
Their intervention comes ahead of a summit of European leaders in Brussels on March 1 and amid growing concern in Europe that austerity aimed at cutting ballooning deficits may also be choking growth.
"We meet in Brussels at a perilous moment for economies across Europe," the leaders said. "Growth has stalled. Unemployment is rising. Citizens and businesses are facing their toughest conditions for years. "
The letter urges European nations to deregulate service, research and energy sectors, forge trade ties with growing markets such as China, Russia and South America -- and even contemplate a free-trade deal with the United States.
"We must act with urgency, nationally and at the European level, to remove the restrictions that hinder access and competition," the leaders said, adding, "Above all, we must reject the temptation to seek self-defeating protectionism in our trade relations."
It also suggested faltering banks could be allowed to fail.
"Implicit guarantees to always rescue banks, which distort the single market, should be reduced," the letter said. "Banks, not taxpayers, should be responsible for bearing the costs of the risks they take."
The letter is signed by the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.