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US stimulus is the road to hell: EU presidency

world Updated: Mar 26, 2009 11:04 IST

The head of the European Union slammed President Barack Obama's plan to spend nearly $2 trillion to push the US economy out of recession as "the road to hell" that EU governments must avoid.

The blunt comments by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to the European Parliament on Wednesday highlighted simmering European differences with Washington ahead of a key summit next week on fixing the world economy.

It was the strongest pushback yet from a European leader as the 27-nation bloc bristles from US criticism that it is not spending enough to stimulate demand.

Shocked by the outburst, other European politicians went into damage control mode, with some reproaching the Czech leader for his language and others reaffirming their good diplomatic ties with the United States. The leaders of EU's major nations - France, Britain and Germany, among others, largely ignored Topolanek and his remarks.

Obama pays his first official visit to Europe next week, aiming to thrash out reforms to the global financial system with the Group of 20 nations and call on NATO allies to commit more troops to the US war in Afghanistan.

Europeans leaders hope the new US administration will agree with them on tightening oversight over the global financial system, which they see as crucial to fixing the global economy. Instead, the United States is focusing its efforts on economic stimulus and plans to spend heavily to try to lift itself out of recession with a $787 billion plan of tax rebates, health and welfare benefits, as well as extra energy and infrastructure spending.

To encourage banks to lend again, the US government will also pump $1 trillion into the financial system by buying up treasury bonds and mortgage securities in an effort to clear some of the "toxic assets," devalued and untradeable assets, from banks' balance sheets.

Obama insisted Tuesday that his massive budget proposal will put the ailing US economy back on its feet. "This budget is inseparable from this recovery," he said, "because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity." But Topolanek took aim at Washington's deficit spending. "All of these steps, these combinations and permanency is the road to hell," Topolanek said. "We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the (EU) is the refusal to go this way."

"Americans will need liquidity to finance all their measures and they will balance this with the sale of their bonds but this will undermine the liquidity of the global financial market," Topolanek said.

Topolanek spoke the day after he was ousted by his own parliament. The Czech Republic holds the six-month rotating EU presidency but its leadership is in question, with Topolanek hanging on to a caretaker government at home after losing a "no confidence" Tuesday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said he did not expect the Czech political turmoil to affect Obama's upcoming trip to Prague because the president was traveling to attend an EU event.