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Social democrat leaders in Paris to map EU's future

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(PARIS) - French President Francois Hollande on Saturday welcomed more than a dozen Social democrat leaders from the European Union to Paris to discuss the migrant crisis and how to jump-start economic growth.

Those attending the informal gathering included Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who, hailing from the radical left Syriza party, was granted "observer" status.

Hollande was accompanied by French premier Manuel Valls, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Secretary of State for Europe Harlem Desir as the group discussed how to kickstart economic growth against a backdrop of rising populism.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also attended along with economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici and European Parliament head Martin Schulz, who urged the EU to find a way of fairly distributing the huge influx of migrants.

"If there are no solutions among the 28, we shall have to find a solution among those who want to participate," Schulz told French broadcaster I-Tele.

Schulz also took aim at France's far-right National Front, which he said preferred to seek out "scapegoats" rather than offer solutions or "concrete proposals" to social problems.

"The National Front is a party which identifies scapegoats -- immigrants, the government, Eastern Europe, Europeans, Germans, whoever.

"When you ask for solutions to, for example, job outsourcing or unfair competition then there's silence, nothing. Where are this party's concrete proposals?" Schulz asked of a party which scored a record number of votes in regional elections last year despite not winning control of any regions.

A source close to Hollande said Saturday's discussions also covered Britain's potential exit from the EU and the need to prevent this from "morphing into a general debate".

"Europe has spent much time on current issues -- Greece, migrants, refugees -- but it's time to put other issues back on the agenda," the source said, saying the group wanted to define a "growth agenda".

Hollande oversaw a similar gathering in 2014 and Saturday's meeting comes just ahead of an EU summit on March 17 and 18 in Brussels.

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