The upcoming EU summit on 1-2 March must address growth, said MEPs debating with Council and Commission in Strasbourg this morning. Many MEPs across the political spectrum expressed scepticism and concern regarding the latest wave of austerity measures in Greece, initiated by a European Commission, ECB and IMF "Troika".
"The March summit will not be business as usual", said Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen. He said that the European semester and recently adopted 'six-pack' for economic governance should accelerate structural reforms and create "competitiveness, employment and a greener economy".
Representing the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič warned, "Growth is at a standstill". He paid special attention to youth unemployment and said the Commission would visit the eight most affected countries to see how to make better use of EU funds.
Confidence is the foundation of both financial markets and the EU itself, said EPP Group Chairman Joseph Daul. Tax burdens on businesses should be relaxed in return for commitments to recruit more young people, he suggested. "We need better Euro governance and to avoid contradicting declarations", he said, referring to Commissioner Neelie Kroes' recent statement that the Euro would survive without Greece.
Challenged on the Commission's position, Mr Šefčovič said "The Commission is Greece's best ally" and underlined "We want Greece to remain a member of the Euro area".
"The Troika is aggravating the situation in Greece... and leaving no room for social dialogue", said S&D President Hannes Swoboda, who warned that cuts in the minimum wage will mean more recession and more poverty.
"The Greek government promised much but delivered little", said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE, DE). He called for reforms to the tax system and for ports and the energy sector to be privatised because "the Greek state is just too big".
But Greens/EFA Co-President Daniel Cohn-Bendit rejected the suggestion that Greece had been inactive, given the previous waves of austerity measures. He compared the Troika to a "neoliberal Taliban" and criticised that it had insisted on cuts to pensions instead of to the defence budget, as proposed by the Greek government. The Commission's 2020 Strategy, in his view, is beginning to look like "a fairytale".
"EU summits are becoming a political ritual", said ECR President Martin Callanan, who believes that austerity is failing to win confidence of economists or markets. He said nobody believed the measures in Greece would work, even the members of parliament who had voted for them last Sunday. He argued that economic reform in the long term is essential but that in the short term only a default and devaluation would salvage something from the Greek economy.
Imposed cuts and financial speculation are worsening the situation, said GUE/NGL Group President Lothar Bisky. "We need sustainable growth", he said, and called on the ECB to allow countries to benefit from more favourable interest rates.
Greece is run through the Troika, not a democracy, said EFD President Nigel Farage. He pointed to the contracting Greek economy in a "death spiral" and said that far from addressing key problems such as youth unemployment, the Troika's policies were driving Greece towards a revolution. Greece should get the drachma back, he concluded.