A spokesman for the European Commission has defended the approach that European Union leaders have taken to the economic crisis.

He said the conclusions of EU leaders' summits illustrated that they were focused on jobs and growth.

He was responding to a question about comments made by President Michael D Higgins in the Financial Times, criticising the response of EU leaders to the economic turmoil. 

President Higgins has said there is a need for a "radical rethink" of how EU leaders are handling the economic crisis.

He said the European Union faces a moral crisis as much as an economic crisis.

He also said that European leaders need to make up their minds on the type of union they really want.

President Higgins warned that the EU must drop its "hegemonic" economic model and reform the European Central Bank or risk social upheaval and a loss of popular legitimacy.

He told the FT that there would be no "glowing future" for an EU that allowed divisions to open up between states.

President Higgins said there was a need for "radical economics" and a "radical rethink" of how EU leaders were handling the economic crisis.

He said: "There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model.

"The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches."

He also criticised EU leaders for not separating bank debt from sovereign debt.

The President said: "It would have been of immense benefit naturally to growth, employment creation and investment if the . . . commitment of separating banking debt from sovereign debt had in fact been implemented.

"It would give you the opportunity to breathe and create growth in the economy."

President Higgins said Ireland had been unusual in accepting such a high level of austerity in Europe.

"The polite version is that we are pragmatists. What we really need now is something that goes beyond outrage and recrimination," he said.

Fine Gael MEP and former presidential candidate Gay Mitchell  said he agrees with President Higgins that Europe should not continue with just one approach to the economic crisis.

He said there was a need to create growth as well as financial consolidation.

Mr Mitchell said the President's comments had been helpful.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore also supported President Higgins' comments.

Mr Gilmore said: "He was not just reflecting the position of the Irish Government, but reflecting a decision made by the European Commission, when the European Commission decided last June the link with bank and sovereign debt should be broken."

He welcomed the fact that the President was reflecting "the priorities" set down for the Irish presidency of the EU on growth and job creation.

He described the President's comments as "helpful" to the Government's efforts on these issues.

EU leaders 'focused' on jobs and growth

The European Commission has said EU leaders have taken a very balanced approach in response to the economic crisis.

Spokesman Olivier Bailly said the conclusions of EU leaders' summits illustrated that they were focused on jobs and growth.

The journalist who interviewed Mr Higgins for the FT said the President made it clear in the interview that he was not speaking on behalf of the Government.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Jamie Smyth said he thought President Higgins's views would be another voice into the debate about Europe's response to the economic crisis.

Asked if he thought it would influence political thinking, he said that he did not think that the German government would do a "volte face" over it, particularly a few months before an election.

He said that it was just another voice of a reasonably influential person in the European debate trying to kick-start a more growth-led model.

Costello defends Higgins comments

Minister of State Joe Costello has said he is absolutely supportive of President Higgins's comments.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Edition, Mr Costello said the economic crisis is the central issue that affects Ireland and the EU.

He said the President referred to that in his recent address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Mr Costello said: "I think it's quite appropriate that he would refer to it [the economic crisis] in the context of Ireland as well, because it is the issue that affects the entirety of the Irish population.

"Therefore, from that point of view, the President of all the people, who is elected by the people, is entitled to comment on the welfare of the people."

Mr Costello said that while it is the Government that should be dealing with the details, it is appropriate for the President to state his concerns in relation to what is affecting the welfare of Irish society.

He dismissed a suggestion that the President was flying a kite for the Government, saying President Higgins speaks from the heart and is fulfilling his role for the country.

An attempt in the Dáil to discuss the President's remarks was ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald referred to the remarks in the course of a question about austerity policy.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett immediately warned her she was out of order.

"Don't go there with regards to the President, we don't discuss the President in Dáil Éireann," he said.