Less than a week ago, the most earnest European Union wish was for an agreement on the stability and growth pact. The long-running stand-off over EU rules on economic policy was threatening to sour the atmosphere for this week's summit, and hamper the re-launch of the Lisbon Strategy for boosting Europe's economy. Finding an agreement on the pact came to be seen almost as a guarantee of a successful outcome for this week's Lisbon debate.

Now, after tense talks last weekend, the EU has its agreement on the pact even if the terms of the deal are deeply ambiguous. But already things have moved on, and the prospects for a successful outcome to the Lisbon debate are now clouded by another tough problem finding agreement on the proposal to liberalise the provision of services across the EU.

Such is life in the EU. Just when it looked like it was safe to go back in the watera

The rapidity of this reversal of fortunes was graphically demonstrated just hours before the opening of the summit on March 22. Europe's top trade union official emerged from the traditional pre-summit meeting with EU leaders and simultaneously complimented the EU on its success with the stability pact deal, and demanded that the EU withdraw the services directive. European trade unions are fortified by recent mass demonstrations...

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