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EU leaders at odds over bid by Italy, Belgium, others to ease bloc's budget, debt rules

Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Friday June 27, 2014. European Union leaders are set to nominate former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker to become the 28-nation bloc’s new chief executive despite strong British opposition. The leaders at their summit Friday in Brusssels planned to elect Juncker with overwhelming majority as the candidate they will propose to the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

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Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Friday June 27, 2014. European Union leaders are set to nominate former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker to become the 28-nation bloc’s new chief executive despite strong British opposition. The leaders at their summit Friday in Brusssels planned to elect Juncker with overwhelming majority as the candidate they will propose to the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

BRUSSELS - European Union leaders are clashing over whether to loosen the bloc's rules overseeing national budgets and limiting how much debt governments may take on.

Italy, Belgium and others are arguing more flexibility is needed to foster growth but the more hawkish northern European nations including Germany reject easing the rules limiting deficit and debt levels.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said Friday at a meeting of EU leaders there needs to be "more flexibility, specifically for certain countries seeking to balance their budgets a few years later."

But Finnish Prime Minister Aleksander Stubb said at the summit, where leaders will determine the 28-nation bloc's strategic priorities for the coming five years, that stability was paramount to avoid another financial crisis. He insisted the rules "need no more flexibility."

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