The European Union's bid to boost living standards and quality of life should get new impetus this week, at the Spring Summit that takes place on Thursday and Friday.

But it is going to be an uphill struggle to meet the designated goals of economic growth and job-creation.

"The pace of reform needs to be significantly stepped up", starkly admits the report that EU leaders will discuss.

And almost on the eve of the Summit, other challenges are emerging to what has often been only a grudging European acceptance of the need for reform.

Regional elections sent a message of discontent to the centre-right government in Paris last weekend.

Spanish voters' decided only a week earlier to swap their centre-right government for a centre-left manifesto from the PSOE.

And where centre-left governments have dared to flirt with reforms, electoral realities are already asserting themselves - notably in Germany. In the face of the growing threat from federal elections later this year, embattled Germany chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seems ready to further dilute the reform package that has cost him so much popular support.

The EU debate is of course far more nuanced than a classic...

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