A crucial two-day EU summit opens in Brussels on Thursday afternoon, chaired by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, focusing on the economy, growth and jobs.
The 27 EU heads of state and government will also take stock of the situation in Libya and the EU's southern neighborhood and discuss assistance to bring relief to the affected population in Japan.
The leaders are due to agree on a comprehensive package of measures to safeguard financial stability and to promote sustainable growth and employment. This includes final approval of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a new fund which in 2013 will replace the present temporary one to support eurozone countries in the event of major economic difficulties.
The European Council is also expected to adopt the Pact for the euro, which will strengthen economic policy coordination with the aim of improving competitiveness.
As regards international issues, the summit will discuss the latest developments in Libya and, more generally, in the EU's southern neighbourhood. It will also consider the situation in Japan and the lessons to be learned in the field of nuclear safety.
According to the invitation letter sent by Rompuy to the EU heads of state and government, the leaders will begin the meeting on Thursday afternoon by addressing the economic part of the agenda.
"As an important step in the new framework of the European semester, we should give guidance for national economic policies with a view to implementing our Europe 2020 Strategy. The objective is also for the European Council to adopt the comprehensive package of measures that should allow us to turn the corner of the financial crisis and continue our path towards sustainable economic growth and employment. Much work has been invested into this package over the last weeks in different fora and I am therefore confident that we will be able to finalise it rapidly on Thursday afternoon," the letter said.
As for the traditional working dinner of the EU leaders on Thursday evening, the leaders will begin by "taking stock of the events unfolding in Libya and the Southern neighbourhood".
"We should agree on first concrete steps to bring rapid support to the countries of the region and ensure that the orientations we set on 11 March are implemented as swiftly as possible. Regarding Japan, it will of course be of crucial importance for our meeting to stress our determination to support our Japanese friends as they strive to overcome the challenges they face. We should also draw the lessons of these events, notably in terms of nuclear safety," Rompuy continued.
According to the itinerary set out in the European Council chief's letter, on Friday morning, the EU leaders "will go through and approve our draft conclusions".