Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his British counterpart David Cameron bluntly called on European leaders to take decisive action Thursday in order to avoid a second recession and ease the debt crisis.

The two Conservative leaders made the joint pitch first in an open letter signed by other world leaders, and later in the day during Cameron's brief bilateral visit in Ottawa.

When Harper introduced Cameron in the House of Commons, he used the opportunity to talk about the challenges facing both of their countries because of the global economic turmoil.

"Neither of us will be accused of exaggeration if we acknowledge that the most immediate test confronting us all is to avoid the devastating consequences of a return to global recession," he said. Governments must commit to cutting their debts and deficits and to resisting protectionism or a recession won't be avoided, he warned.

In his speech, Cameron issued similar warnings and said Canada and Britain must face this year's biggest challenge together: securing global economic growth.

"We're not quite staring down the barrel. But the pattern is clear," the British prime minister said during his address. Advanced economies are still struggling with the effects of the 2008 recession he said and are now dealing with debts not experienced in decades.

"This is not a traditional, cyclical recession, it's a debt crisis," said Cameron, explaining that traditional fixes therefore can't be applied. The fundamental problem is households and governments that have sunk themselves in debt and the solution is not to borrow more or to spend their way out of a crisis. 

Cameron, who was elected in 2010, said his country has taken some tough decisions to tackle its deficits and debt. The global crisis will not be solved by countries acting alone in a global economy, he said, and different countries need different economic policies.

He said he will never be in favour of Britain joining the Euro but that it has a vital interest in the Eurozone's success. Then he warned of the dangers it is posing.

"The problems in the Eurozone are now so big that they have begun to threaten the stability of the world economy," he said. "Eurozone countries must act swiftly to resolve the crisis."

In his speech and in the joint news conference with Harper afterwards, Cameron said Greece and other Euro nations must stick to the commitments they've made to resolve their massive debt problems.

"What's required is a political will and a plan," said Cameron.

The uncertainty in the global markets is getting to "extremely dangerous" levels, Harper added, saying that he and Cameron are both encouraging European leaders to face the debt problems head on and to "act decisively."


British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the House of Commons on Thursday, Sept.22, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"I know it's not simple but it has to be done," Harper said. "This is the most immediate and pressing problem facing the globe and it is at a perilous point and it does have to be dealt with." 

On Thursday, the two leaders joined other world leaders in signing a letter to French President Nicholas Sarkozy about the threats posed by the ongoing economic volatility. The letter, addressed to Sarkozy as chair of the upcoming G20 meeting in Cannes, called on world leaders to take decisive action at the meeting to solve persistent debt problems.

Harper and Cameron praised each other for their leadership and said several times they are on the same page when it comes to how to deal with the global economic turmoil.

The two leaders issued a joint declaration making renewed pledges to work together on economic, security and other issues. Cameron, who called for more global free trade and bilateral trade with Canada as a means for economic growth, also announced that Britain's trade office in Calgary is being upgraded to a consulate to facilitate even greater ties.

His speech to Parliament, the first by a British prime minister since 2001 when Tony Blair visited Parliament Hill, touched on a range of other issues.

He lauded Canada for its "moral clarity and political leadership" as well as its multiculturalism. He said Canada has been self-effacing and self-sacrificing in its contribution to the fight for a better world.

Cameron paid tribute to Canada's military, past and present, and noted how Canadian and British troops fought together in Afghanistan and now in Libya. He also said it was a fitting tribute that Harper recently ordered the re-naming of the army and navy to once again include "royal."

Also on foreign affairs, Cameron said that despite financial challenges, the international community needs to keep its aid commitments. He suggested that it's better to act and help mend broken states to stop problems before they become threats to national security.

Harper and Cameron were expected to focus heavily on the global economy during a bilateral meeting that was to follow Cameron's speech. Cameron said he would also bring up Syria, and he wants the United Nations to issue a "no-nonsense" resolution that might include sanctions.

Cameron's visit in Ottawa was a brief one. He arrived shortly before 4:30 p.m. ET, and met up with Harper at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa just down the street from Parliament Hill. He was officially welcomed with military honours and he performed the ceremonial inspection of the honour guard. Cameron was scheduled to depart Ottawa in the late evening.

It was his first bilateral visit to Canada though he and Harper have met several times before at international meetings, including the G8 and G20 gatherings hosted by Canada last summer in Toronto and Muskoka.

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