MEPs disagreed with the Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Dimitrios Kourkoulas, for the Greek Presidency, that economic recovery was on the way, in Wednesday's debate on the last EU summit before the European elections. They criticized the failure to support SMEs, spur growth and fight unemployment and debated how to reconcile industrial competitiveness with climate targets.
Mr Kourkoulas, the Greek deputy foreign minister, said next week's summit would focus on growth, jobs and competitiveness. "We are approaching the end of an economic cycle. The consequences of the crisis are still being felt. Growth is fragile and uneven. But the worst is probably behind us," he said, stressing that "there can be no industrial competitiveness without a coherent climate policy and vice versa".
President Barroso was also optimistic, saying that economic forecasts had been revised upwards by 1.5% for this year and 2% for next year. "Growth is returning in Europe and this is also true for the most vulnerable member states," he said, stressing that the top priorities were still to fight unemployment, finalise the banking union and decrease energy dependency, especially in the light of the crisis in Ukraine.
Joseph Daul (EPP, FR) pointed to the importance of SMEs as the driving force of Europe's economy and warned: "Unless we have real tax, fiscal and social harmonisation, then we will continue to see SMEs going bankrupt." Hundreds of SMEs were disappearing every day, leaving millions of workers without jobs, he said. He added that while Europe was well ahead when it came to climate policy, unless countries such as China followed suit we would end up pushing European companies up against the wall.
Hannes Swoboda (S&D, AT) blamed the Council for its lack of courage, lack of vision and lack of guidance. The next summit would be "business as usual", with "vague commitments, looking for the lowest common denominator", he said. He stressed that there was an alternative to austerity: "a policy of growth, a policy of creating jobs, of creating incomes" and he hoped EU leaders would deliver a positive message to citizens for once.
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) said we were not in a period of growth but of economic stagnation. He stressed: "We shall not recover if we don't create, first of all, the banking union", as the first priority was to establish a system capable of transferring money from banks to the real economy.
Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE) said this should also be an opportunity to take stock of Barroso's achievements. At the end of two terms in office, we still had a "Europe divided between North and South", and Barroso should explain what had gone wrong, she insisted. She also pointed out that climate policy need not harm the economy: "Would you say that Germany is an industrial desert because it has an ambitious climate policy?" she asked, adding: "You cannot really support such stupid ideas."
SMEs are "strangled in red tape" because of EU rules to protect the environment, Jan Zahradil (ECR, CZ) said, who believed that "climate policy has been a complete fiasco", leading to a "20% rise in wholesale electricity prices and 17% rises for businesses".
Gabi Zimmer (GUE/NGL, DE) condemned the EU's failed crisis management. She said the brutal public spending cuts in EU countries "put the burden on those who have nothing to do with causing the crisis".
Nigel Farage (EFD, UK) said "The European dream is crumbling". He criticised the EU's "economic unilateralism on climate change". which was destroying jobs in Europe" and pointed to the extraction of shale gas in the US and coal extraction in China.
In the view of Andrew Henry William Brons (NI, UK), European Semester reforms would mean that "a relatively high-wage economy or group of economies embracing the ideology of globalism and the process of globalisation must drive down wages to compete with the emerging economies".