President. – The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the conclusions of the informal European Council meeting of 30 January 2012.
Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. − Mr President, over the last two years, European leaders have had to take difficult and sometimes painful measures to stabilise the euro area. Although this was necessary – and we are now starting to see that it was worth the effort – we recognise that financial stability is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for economic recovery. We must do more. We must do more in particular on economic growth and employment and that is why we put in place the Europe 2020 strategy, the Euro-Plus Pact and the European semester. Growth and employment were never out of our minds. The March European Council will focus on structural growth and, by the way, the economies in most of our countries were growing positively in 2010 and 2011.
The focus of Monday’s informal European Council was indeed on growth and jobs. The bulk of our discussions were on this, though we approved at the same time the final text of the ESM Treaty and put the final touches to the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.
You will have seen from the statement approved by the members of the European Council that we have called this ‘growth-friendly’ fiscal consolidation and ‘job-friendly economic growth’.
What do we mean by this? Slashing deficits, but not by cutting our investments for the future: investments in education, training, research and development, and green infrastructure.
Increasing the competitiveness of our companies, while making it more attractive for them to hire people.
A strategy for growth covers many aspects: the short term and the longer term; economic policy and competitiveness, but also specific employment policies; national competencies and those of the Union.
We focused on three priorities. Firstly, creating jobs, especially for young people. Last week, I received a letter from the European Youth Forum in which they wrote: ‘Young people, in times of crisis and economic austerity, do not need nice words but strong investments’. And indeed, that is why we have agreed to use available European funds to set up apprenticeship schemes and help young business starters. Stimulating employment is mostly a responsibility for the individual countries, but most of the work we can do together, as a Union, and we will do it. Each Member State must have a ‘Job Plan’ as a part of its national reform programme.
Second priority: helping small and medium enterprises to get access to credit, for instance by freeing up available EU funds to support employers and reduce red tape. The recent initiatives of the ECB are also helpful in avoiding a credit crunch and a further deepening of the recession.
Third priority: the single market. We are determined to get more out of it, for instance by finalising the digital market and the energy market. Priority must go to the measures which do most to stimulate growth and jobs. We decided upon a series of deadlines for opening markets.
A return of confidence – and now I am speaking in the short term – in the euro area can restore the confidence of consumers and companies quickly, as was the case in 2009 after the financial crisis. The recent lowering of exchange rates for the euro can boost exports. All this is helpful, as I said, in the short term. The aim is to provide prospects, to offer hope through the decisions of this Council and those of March and June. Results take time but there is no doubt of our resolve and that of the Danish Presidency.
Now over to the treaty, as I know this is of particular interest to you, and it closes a chapter that has been the cause of much debate for almost two years. As I have said many times already in this hemicycle, we have badly missed a governance structure since the launching of the euro. This treaty must be seen as just one element of the reforms to economic governance that we have achieved over the last two years, reforms which involve both responsibility and solidarity, and which include the six-pack, which remains the backbone of our new governance architecture.
This treaty is about more responsibility and better surveillance. Every country that signs it commits itself to bringing a ‘debt brake’ into its legislation, preferably at constitutional level. An automatic correction mechanism will re-enforce compliance.
Enshrining the debt brake in the treaty will enhance its credibility. This is important as a confidence-building measure. It represents a major step forward towards closer and irrevocable fiscal and economic integration and stronger governance in the euro area. It will significantly bolster the outlook for fiscal sustainability and euro-area sovereign debt and therefore enhance economic growth. Placing this commitment to self-control in the treaty shows our long-term and irreversible commitment to avoiding excessive deficits and debt.
The treaty also changes the majority required to initiate the excessive deficit procedure – something that could not be done through the six-pack legislation. This is particularly important for the credibility of that procedure.
This is not a commitment to austerity, but a commitment to financing public expenditure through revenue rather than through debt. There is nothing virtuous about excessive debt – it means that more and more of your public expenditure is spent on servicing your debt instead of public services and public investment. Excessive public debt is a threat to our social model.
Like most members of the European Council, and like Parliament, I would have preferred these issues to be addressed by changing the existing treaties rather than through a separate treaty. As you know, the necessary unanimity for this was not forthcoming. There was no choice but to go down this route. But in so doing, I was personally determined to keep the new provisions as close as possible to the EU Treaties. We were not setting up a separate organisation but the means of reinforcing our Union. I had endeavoured in the same way when setting up the Euro-Plus Pact. I hope that our successors will succeed in integrating this treaty into the EU Treaties.
Let me also emphasise that I was personally committed to keeping the Union together as much as possible, while recognising the specificities of the euro area. All the countries ratifying this treaty will participate in Euro summits when the architecture and fundamental rules of the euro area are at stake or the implementation of the treaty and the competitiveness of the contracting parties. I was happy to see that almost all countries will sign the treaty. It will enter into force as soon as 12 euro countries have ratified it.
We were helped in this by the efforts of Parliament’s three representatives, Elmar Brok, Roberto Gualtieri and Guy Verhofstadt, whom I want to thank for their efforts. Parliament’s insistence, along with others, on coherence with the existing treaties was particularly helpful and contributed to securing a number of key features of the new treaty.
Besides this Fiscal Compact Treaty, we also endorsed the agreement among the 17 on the Treaty for the European Stability Mechanism. It will be signed this week so that it can take effect from July 2012. The early entry into force of this permanent firewall will help prevent contagion in the euro area and further restore confidence. Its operation will also be subject to the scrutiny of your Parliament, as I have indicated already in my letter of 22 March last year to your rapporteurs.
As agreed in December, we will reassess the adequacy of resources under the EFSF and ESM rescue funds at the next European Council meeting – less than four weeks from now.
A final point. Although this was not formally on the agenda, we also briefly touched upon three urgent foreign policy issues, mainly along the lines of the good and strong conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 January. We endorsed the restrictive measures against Iran, including an oil embargo, as decided by the Foreign Ministers last week, and we expressed our outrage at the atrocities and repression committed by the Syrian regime, and urged the members of the UN Security Council to take long overdue steps to bring an end to the repression. These are good examples, after our joint actions in Libya, of a common foreign policy.
This concludes my report. Step by step we are making progress in the construction of an economic and monetary union, slower than hoped and expected, but reaching each time broad agreements among our Member States. This was the case also in the European Council of last Monday: a positive step on the road for more hope.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. − Mr President, President of the European Council, distinguished Members of the European Parliament, I would like to draw your attention to two main aspects of the informal European Council on Monday afternoon. Firstly, the European Council was a first but a significant step by Heads of State or Government in recognising that it is not enough to focus on financial stability and economic discipline alone.
By bringing to the table concrete proposals to tackle youth unemployment and to finance SMEs, the Commission broadened the perspective towards the issues that are of greatest concern to all our citizens – jobs and growth, sustainable growth. This is an approach that we have often discussed with this Parliament and I know you support the Commission’s outlook, rooted in the Europe 2020 strategy. Together we are moving. More steps are, of course, needed. We will continue in this direction.
The second issue that I wish to highlight is linked to the Commission’s determination to maintain the role of the European Union institutions and of the Community method in the new Treaty. We are now entering into a new phase of economic governance, based on the European semester, where governments recognise that even matters under their national competence, such as employment, should be dealt with at European as well as national level.
Due to the high levels of interdependence between our economies, we can no longer deal with economic and social matters solely at national level. When it comes to issues such as job creation, there is clearly a European dimension. National action, and indeed regional action too, should be supported and complemented by European action.
Europe’s economic problems are obviously not over. It will be a long road to recovery. I stressed the need for us to continue with the comprehensive approach to resolving the crisis that the Commission set out in its road map to stability and growth in October last year.
From this point of view, it was important that the Heads of State or Government agreed with our proposal to ensure that the European Stability Mechanism enters into force in July 2012. As agreed in December, we will reassess in March the adequacy of resources under the EFSF and the ESM.
One main message coming out of our discussion on growth and employment on Monday was the need to do much more to unleash the potential of the single market, Europe’s ‘crown jewel’. The Heads of State or Government agreed with the Commission’s proposal to fast-track the Single Market Act and complete the digital single market by 2015. I trust that we can rely on Parliament to make good progress on this growth package in the coming months, with the help of course of the Danish Presidency, and we all know how determined the Danish Presidency is regarding these objectives.
The Single Market Act can improve the framework for our companies, but there is also more we can do to create the conditions that will help these companies, namely the SMEs, to thrive. SMEs have created 80 % of all new jobs in the European Union in the last five years and are the backbone of Europe’s economy. We need to help them to take up the great opportunities being opened up by our trade agreements with growing economies outside Europe.
Last December, the Commission proposed using Structural Funds as guarantees for SMEs, to give them easier access to finance. We have also put forward a proposal to facilitate access to venture capital, which I would like to ask you to adopt this year.
On Monday I asked the Heads of State or Government to be even more ambitious in cutting red tape for small and micro enterprises. On youth unemployment, I called for an urgent response and made concrete proposals to halt this unacceptable trend. Each Member State will prepare a national jobs plan, centred on a youth guarantee, to ensure that all young people are either in a job, in training or in education within four months of leaving school.
The Commission will set up action teams with the eight countries that are most affected by youth unemployment. I have already written to the prime ministers of these countries proposing a concrete way forward. We will seek to redeploy EUR 22 billion of European Social Fund money to improve job opportunities in Europe. We will seek to maximise the European Union programmes we already have, namely Erasmus for studying, Leonardo for training and EURES for job vacancies. The national job plans will be brought into the European semester exercise so that, by the spring European Council in five weeks from now, we will be able to give concrete guidance to all Member States.
We will also continue the dialogue with the social partners, respecting their role to obtain the best possible solutions and to implement them smoothly. I personally met with the representatives of the social partners at European level and I know how committed they are to fighting the terrible scourge that is youth unemployment.
Another positive step in this informal European Council was the endorsement by the Heads of State or Government of the Treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism. This is a very important part of the global strategy to strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union. We are making progress, probably not as fast as most of us wanted, but we are making progress towards a fiscal union in our European Union.
Twenty-five Member States also reached agreement on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, which is an essential element in our efforts to regain stability and confidence. As you know, this Treaty was not the Commission’s choice, but rather the consequence of the lack of a unanimous agreement to amend the Treaty of Lisbon. But the fact that 25 of our 27 Member States have agreed to sign this Treaty, is a testament to the solidarity and determination within the Union to resolve this crisis together and to avoid a division between euro and non-euro area Member States.
From the outset of the negotiations on this Treaty, the Commission, together with this Parliament, defended a series of principles: namely the primacy of European Union law, the need to keep the proper role of the Union institutions, a spirit of inclusiveness with all Member States, and the need to integrate the agreement into the Treaty of Lisbon within five years.
In the final text, there are no new institutions that could weaken the role of the Commission and of this Parliament. The contracting Member States agreed to respect the Commission’s central role in delivering the Agreement’s objectives in line with the Treaty of Lisbon and the Community method. And they agreed to keep the Treaty open to all and compatible with the Community method, respecting this European Parliament.
In upholding the Community method, the Commission has acted in close cooperation with Parliament and I would like to highlight the important contribution made by Parliament’s representatives to the negotiations. You will recall that we acted in the same spirit of partnership during negotiations on the modification of Article 136 of the Treaty. Today I want to reaffirm, on behalf of the Commission, the content of the letter sent then by Olli Rehn to Elmar Brok and Roberto Gualtieri, ensuring the involvement of this House.
I would like to note that this was the first European Council at which Martin Schulz participated as President of the European Parliament. At the beginning of the Council he made an important political contribution on these points and I am grateful for his clear commitment in upholding the principles dear to both our institutions.
It is relevant that Member States welcomed the legislative proposals made by the Commission on 23 November last year – the so-called two-pack – within the framework of the Treaties, namely under Article 136, and also that they committed themselves to supporting further secondary legislation which the Commission will propose to strengthen further the Stability and Growth Pact, within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon.
This is a clear guarantee that the role of the European Parliament in economic governance will be ensured until this new treaty can be integrated into the European Union Treaties. Indeed, we cannot respond properly to our current challenges without democratic legitimacy. Cooperation between national democracies and European democracy – and European democracy is embodied in this Parliament – gives us the legitimacy we need to take the decisions necessary for the prosperity of the European Union.
Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on Monday, 25 Member States faced their responsibilities by agreeing to sign the fiscal treaty.
They decided to fight against the poor budget management which has left us without the necessary room for manoeuvre to stimulate growth and employment. They showed their ability to find European solutions to European problems, even though two Member States decided that they would rather go it alone, which they will live to regret.
I have, at this stage, three wishes. The first is that this treaty be ratified as quickly as possible, the second is that it be applied as quickly as possible and the third is that this agreement be fully integrated into EU law, as Parliament has called for.
Ladies and gentlemen, the economic crisis has forced us to rethink our bad habits. It has forced us to respect the rules of balanced budgets, which are obvious, yet so difficult to apply.
We must reduce national deficits, which also often cover up regional and local deficits. However, while the decision on this treaty is the correct decision and a positive one, the decision on growth leaves me rather disappointed. This is because combating deficits and stimulating growth are two sides of the same coin. One without the other will not help Europeans to escape from the difficulties they are facing, particularly the unemployed.
There are two ways of boosting growth: one is artificial and has no future, the other is structural and therefore sustainable. The first is to kick-start the economy through spending. That is what we have been doing for years and look where it has brought us. Never mind the fact that, today, spending is actually limited, as the time has come to repay our debts, and not to borrow.
The second method, the one recommended by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), is to make our economy more competitive. This could already be done, Mr Barroso, by finally completing the internal market. All the laws, all the texts were adopted long ago. The problem, once again, is that they have not been applied. I therefore call on the Commission to let us know as soon as possible which countries are not applying these rules and to fulfil its role as guardian of the Treaties by placing restrictions on those which do not apply them – perhaps even France, my friend, as I make no exceptions. All Europeans should know which States are playing the internal market game, and which States are slowing it down or standing in its way.
Increasing our competitiveness could also be achieved by reducing the charges that weigh heavily on entrepreneurs and by reducing the considerable discrepancies in charges between our countries, which harm competitiveness. This could also be done by getting as good a return as possible from European Funds that have been allocated to the States but have not yet been used. The time has come to make the best use of this – considerable – surplus by investing it in common projects to create growth and employment.
Finally, growth and job creation can be encouraged by turning public funds, which are not bringing in investments, towards research and innovation, or towards training. With a quarter of young people looking for a job, we must offer them the chance to acquire strong skills and to redirect them anywhere in the EU.
Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it has been made clear today in the media that the unemployment rate in the euro area has reached its highest level for 13 years. What is the Council offering us? A Treaty outside the normal community method with the wrong objective and with no certainty as to whether it will ever come into force. The divisions and the uproar within the European Union are continuing.
This is highlighted by the fact that someone came up with the crazy idea of appointing an EU commissioner or a national commissioner for Greece who would undermine Greek democratic institutions. My group is strongly opposed to the appointment of a commissioner who would weaken democracy and make decisions on behalf of the citizens of Greece. We need to make this clear.
However, the situation is also a consequence of the way in which Ms Merkel has misunderstood the leadership role played by Germany. I am in favour of Germany playing a leading role because it is a large and powerful country both in political and economic terms. However, this should involve bringing the EU together and not introducing further divisions. As the Handelsblatt, which really is not a left-wing newspaper, said: ‘The German way does not currently lead towards Europe, but it should do!’
I would like to give Ms Merkel one piece of advice. She should start looking around for a new partner, because the future President of France is François Hollande. We support the future president and we are particularly in favour of his intention to renegotiate this Treaty. Mr Sarkozy’s election campaign appearances are no longer helping him and are only causing further harm to Ms Merkel. We need a change of direction here.
However, the content is also causing problems. We only need to look at the most recent developments in Portugal. These Council resolutions are not helping to increase stability in the countries which are in difficulty or in the markets. We need to move money from the financial markets into the real economy, primarily by means of a financial transaction tax. We must give the European Investment Bank more opportunities for lending. We must also make more money available to people in the lower income brackets. They need the money and they would also be prepared to spend it. That is the direction we should be moving in.
Mr Van Rompuy, I do not deny that there have also been a few positive developments. You are finally getting to grips with unemployment, in particular among young people. However, can you explain to me why there are binding Treaties and sanctions for the Member States with high budget deficits? When it is a question of youth unemployment, you can only come up with feeble explanations and recommendations. We cannot accept an unbalanced situation of this kind.
Finally, I would like to give my sincere thanks to President Buzek for pushing to ensure that a team from Parliament was involved in the negotiations. I would also like to thank the negotiators. They have been able to prevent a few serious mistakes from being made. Above all, however, I would like to thank President Schulz. You have found the right words and the appropriate tone to ensure that we in the European Union are heard, as Mr Barroso has said. This will allow us to work together to prevent the mistake that has been made with this Treaty from becoming the general rule. If it is ever accepted and comes into force, it must remain an exception. Against this background, Mr Schulz, some people may be regretting who they voted for. Those people who did not vote for Mr Schulz may be regretting that they did not. A strong voice will enable Parliament to be heard more clearly in future.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE), Blue-card question. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Swoboda, I would like to ask you to take note of the fact that the same states which are currently in particular difficulties in the midst of the debt crisis are also the states with the highest youth unemployment levels. Please also take note of the fact that labour market policy is the responsibility of the Member States and that imposing sanctions in areas where companies have to hire people definitely does not make sense but simply aggravates the situation.
Please also take note of the fact that the citizens of France will elect their own president.
Hannes Swoboda (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (DE) Mr President, the answer to one question has already been given. The citizens will elect their president and it is quite clear who they will choose. As Mr Sarkozy is already speaking about what he will do in his private job after the elections, he has obviously realised what the result of the elections will be.
In answer to the other question, I would like to make it quite clear to you that, for me and for my group, youth unemployment is a European issue. We cannot tolerate it. Youth unemployment levels are so high because too much trust has been placed in market forces and no one has thought about the fact that sometimes active measures need to be taken. Look at the countries with low unemployment rates. I invite you to pay a visit to Austria. We have one of the lowest levels of unemployment, because, for us and for my colleagues in the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), unemployment is a disgrace. It is disgraceful that young people are beginning their working life with unemployment and we must not tolerate it.
Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the summit on Monday was about jobs and growth, but I must say that, in my opinion – and my assessment is the same as that of my colleague Joseph Daul – it has mainly produced words. Seven pages of words and seven pages of good intentions. I think what we need now in the middle of this crisis is not seven pages of words, but acts – acts of the European Union and acts of the European institutions.
Let me give you just three examples. The first is the European patent. It is a major instrument for growth in Europe, but, for more than a year now, its introduction – which is so needed – has been blocked. Why is it blocked? Because, for the moment, the big countries cannot agree on the seat: that is the reality in Europe for the moment. On the seat! This is completely ridiculous and I should say even tragic, because, in the mean time, our small and medium enterprises are paying eight times more for the protection of their innovations than their American counterparts do. So I ask the President of the Council and the President of the Commission: if Germany, Britain and France really cannot agree, why can the EU leadership not put the seat temporarily in Brussels? Why are they not doing that – as we did, Mr Cohn-Bendit, with the European Food Agency in 2001? I think it is a shame to have a Council summit about growth but not to be capable of definitely launching the European patent in Europe.
Let me give a second example of this, namely the project bonds. How many times have we already discussed the project bonds in this Parliament? We have been discussing them for years. My question is: why do we not start tomorrow with project bonds in the European Union? Why is it necessary to wait for two years of discussion inside the Council and inside other institutions?
Let me give a third example of this, namely the enormous amount of unused money in the structural and other European funds. We could change the regulation immediately. You know what the problem is – if you put in one euro from the structural funds, you also need one euro from the country in question, and these countries, for example Greece and Portugal, cannot do this at the moment. So why is it not possible immediately to change the regulation and immediately to use this unused, unspent money for countries in recession, such as Portugal and Greece? That is what we need today – acts and not words, not the seven pages we have seen up to now.
Finally, I think another problem we have today is the existential problem that we have in this euro crisis. We have now secured a new treaty. We now have fiscal discipline – let us be honest, a six-pack, a two-pack, a new treaty – but how will we now deal with the high interest rates we still have, even after the intervention of the European Central Bank, in countries such as Spain and Italy? Everybody here knows that an interest rate of around 6% is not sustainable for Italy. Whatever decision Mr Monti may take, it is not sustainable and Italy cannot recover with a 6% interest rate.
We have already put more than EUR 1 000 billion into the fight against this crisis – EUR 1 trillion of taxpayers’ money – and the end is not in sight. The reason for this is that we always take half measures. We need a structural solution to this crisis. In my opinion a structural solution means a mutualisation of a part of the debt in a disciplined way.
That is the proposal of the five wise German economists: to create a redemption fund. Let us be clear. My conclusion is a message to the German taxpayers. If the solution we opt for is a redemption fund, it will be the bond holders who receive lower interest rates: they are the solution to the crisis, and not the German taxpayers. So my message today to all of you is: let us take up that proposal of a redemption fund and let us in our legislative work bring it about as fast as possible.
Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, after the Summit I read in the newspapers that some people had described the Summit and the Fiscal Compact Treaty as a masterpiece. However, when I look at what really happened, my evaluation of it is completely different.
What did happen? We have a Treaty which is still being drafted and we will have to wait and see where it ends up. This is a Treaty which aims to ensure that existing European Union Treaties are complied with, but is positioned outside those Treaties. This new Treaty which lies outside the other treaties has succeeded in completely marginalising democracy.
If that is a masterpiece, ladies and gentlemen, I do not know whether I can still take Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso seriously. I believe that you are much wiser in political terms than the speeches that you have given today about this most recent informal summit and its results might indicate. I would like to say to you that I think this whole thing is a political charade. I do not believe that the citizens of Europe will be very happy about this. I believe that the citizens are increasingly realising that the charade which took place during the Summit is intended to deceive them.
What is the biggest problem? In my opinion, the biggest difficulty is the analysis that lies behind the Fiscal Compact Treaty which cites public debt as being the major problem in the crisis. However hard I try to understand this interpretation of the crisis, I cannot come to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, the fact that we are still only arguing about the restructuring of public budgets has been making the crisis worse over a period of years. Therefore, the subject that should really have been debated is the programme to combat recession in the countries which are in crisis. Where is it? You have been talking today once again about jobs and growth, but, as far as I can see, only passing mention was made of this whole subject at the Summit. I am still able to read and do sums. Where is the money to back up the announcements and promises that you have made, which are sheer invention? I do not know where it is.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we take a look at Greece and at Portugal, we must all be aware of the risk of infection. What does Greece need now? An austerity commissioner? Another instrument of torture, thought up by European technocrats who have already put in place a technical government, with a financial expert at its head, and now an austerity commissioner? In my opinion, what the Greeks need is an honest analysis at last and an honest commitment to a better future. A programme to combat recession is urgently required. We know that the programmes in the areas of general infrastructure and energy infrastructure had already been completed and we could have introduced them. There were European companies who would have invested in Greece. We are talking about an austerity commissioner instead of discussing with the Greeks what the Greece of tomorrow will look like and instead of giving the Greeks some encouragement. I thought that it was a particularly low point when Greece was discussed as some sort of side issue. Mr Van Rompuy, this Summit made me feel ashamed.
I would like to make one final point. We need to have a private talk about how the countries which have not yet joined the euro are being treated. How can you justify this? I am definitely not Mr Tusk’s closest friend. His political background is quite different to mine. However, when it is all about Europe and about the big picture and not about the narrow-minded interests of those European countries which are still wealthy, when we need to look at the situation as a whole, I think we should take Mr Tusk as our model. The dispute with him about a seat at the children’s table was a low point of European politics. For me a masterpiece is something quite different.
Martin Callanan, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, there seems to be some agreement in the House today that even if this pact is adopted and ratified – which of course is very far from a forgone conclusion if Mr Swoboda is right about what happens in France and other countries – it will do nothing to solve this current crisis. As a fiscal conservative myself, I should be delighted that we are enshrining fiscal discipline and balanced budgets within national laws and constitutions. However, as a democrat, what greatly concerns me is that an electorate’s ability to vote for a high-spending Keynesian economic policy is effectively being removed from them. We are making socialism illegal. This pact is effectively rendering all elections null and void across much of Europe.
Let me say this. As a free market conservative myself who finds much to admire in the German model of fiscal and monetary discipline, we cannot impose our vision by force of law; we must also use force of argument. We need to show that austerity is not forever, that there is light at the end of a tunnel but, as long as we cut off the possibility of a Member State leaving the euro, then we block that tunnel. We condemn many countries to years of deflation, of poverty and of emigration, with no end in sight. Recovery will not come to many of the countries in southern Europe, in my view, until they are free to reissue their own currencies and to price their way back into the market.
Nor of course can we preach austerity to them unless we practise it ourselves. Imagine how a European summit – with its banquets, its motorcycle outriders, the armies of hangers on – must look to a public sector worker who is facing redundancy because of government cutbacks. Imagine how taxpayers in our home countries feel when every pound or euro saved in domestic spending is swallowed up by higher contributions to the EU budget.
My group makes no apologies for being single-minded about the single market. We will continue to pursue this agenda of creating the single market, of further extending services and reviewing procurement rules to encourage innovation. We will continue to push for better implementation of existing single market rules. And of course opening the single market would be pointless unless we continue to open our markets to the rest of the world; the parts of the world, that is, where there is still growth happening.
But many of these actions are in the medium and the long term. There is one action, however, that we could take right here right now to show businesses our commitment to growth. Surely one of the best ways for the EU to speed up growth is to scrap the Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs in the Commission and repatriate its responsibilities to national governments. Then we could scrap the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs in Europe. We cannot create those jobs by talking about them; by passing resolutions. In fact, we Eurocrats and MEPs cannot actually create any jobs at all. What we can do is get out of the way and allow entrepreneurs to invent things, to make things and to sell things. That is where employment growth comes from and it is also where social security comes from.
When I was a new MEP we had something called the Lisbon Agenda. It was supposed to make Europe the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. As Sarah Palin might have put it, ‘how is that working out for you?’
Lothar Bisky, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the liberalisation of the financial markets has led to developments on the markets that have not yet been brought under control. Only radical measures to prevent speculation on the markets will be able to put a definitive stop to the crisis.
Instead of this, with the adoption of the Fiscal Compact Treaty we are seeing a further increase in the one-sided focus on austerity policy and the destruction of social cohesion. My group is strongly opposed to this radical approach of debt reduction and cuts in public budgets. It has even been criticised by the International Monetary Fund.
The financial guru George Soros says that this austerity policy has thrown Europe into a deflationary spiral of debt. The debt brake was laid down in the Treaty of Maastricht and its adoption in national law is now intended to force its implementation. If that does not happen, the Member States are to be penalised with the help of the Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. That is absurd, and it is also undemocratic, as the Member States will lose their most important right: their budgetary sovereignty.
Furthermore, it is totally unacceptable for the aid that is used to show solidarity with Member States which are in difficulty to be made conditional on signing up to the Fiscal Compact Treaty. This sacrifices the most important fundamental principle of the European Union on the altar of the financial markets.
The Left will work to bring about a reversal of this disastrous policy. We need a pact for sustainable growth and employment. We need public programmes for investment in the environment and education and, above all, we need the European Parliament and the citizens to have a say. The Treaty must be approved by referendum or by public consultation.
Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, first of all I would like to say: congratulations everybody! David Cameron had you worried for a bit, you even thought he was a Eurosceptic, but it is OK. You have had a quiet word with him and the real David Cameron is back. Whatever happened to the veto? No more vetoes any more. Indeed, Mr Cameron is now actively supporting this quite despicable pact, this plan to destroy and humiliate nation states that do not live up to a Germanic view of how economies ought to be run.
I must say I thought the weekend’s proposals from the German finance ministry suggesting that a European Commissioner and his staff occupy a big building in Athens and take over the running of the country – a Gauleiter, some might say – must be joke. Even this EU, I thought, could not possibly sink to those depths – but of course it was just a negotiating position and what we now have for Greece is diplomacy at gunpoint. It is the kind of strategy that Palmerston used against Athens back in the 19th century. Nobody can deny today that Greece is no more than a colony.
And this is all a terrible, huge mistake. Greece is not a failing subsidiary company where head office needs to come in and take control. Greece is a nation with a soul, a nation with pride, with history – goodness me, they invented democracy in the first place. They are suffering. They have youth unemployment of 50% caused, Mr Van Rompuy, because they are in the euro. You are causing the misery in these countries and you blather on about creating jobs and growth. None of this is actually going to happen.
And remember, these people are being driven into humiliation and desperation. Desperate people do desperate things, and I am deeply fearful for what will happen in Greece if we continue with this mad course. And of course, as Mr Barroso knows, it is going to be Portugal next.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Mr President, Mr Cameron said that he will not prevent EU institutions from being used to enforce the intergovernmental agreement on fiscal policy. It would appear that he is promising to refrain from doing something that he cannot completely prevent and in some areas would not need to prevent.
Article 8 of the draft agreement states that it will use Article 273 of the TFEU to enforce the agreement. It is true that Article 273 does say that ‘the Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction in any dispute between Member States which relates to the subject matter of the Treaties if the dispute is submitted to it under a special agreement’. However, whilst it can adjudicate on such agreements, it probably does not have the power to fine Member States for not complying with them. Furthermore, its jurisdiction does not extend to adjudicating on excessive budget deficits.
Article 8 of the draft agreement does say that the Commission can initiate any action, but I am afraid that the draft agreement is not a treaty and so cannot grant that power. Article 273 of the Treaty refers only to disputes between Member States and not to disputes with the Commission. It would appear therefore that the Commission does not have the power to initiate any action. In fact, it would appear that the Commission will have no role in this draft agreement at all. The Court of Justice will be able to say whether or not a country has broken the agreement but it will not be able to compel an erring country to obey.
If euro area countries want an agreement that can be enforced, they will need a new treaty which will have to be agreed unanimously. In my view it would be disastrous for Britain to agree to such a mechanism because it might be used today to enslave euro area countries but one day it will be used to enslave us.
Reinhard Bütikofer (Verts/ALE), Blue-card question to Nigel Farage. – (DE) Mr President, I would like to put a question to the preacher of hatred, Mr Farage. He spoke here of Gauleiter. As a German, I object to the democratic country of Germany being equated with National Socialism. I would therefore like an apology from this gentleman. No one in Berlin is employing Gauleiter anywhere in Europe. He is inciting hatred in the European Parliament, hatred between the peoples of Europe. He should take that back, or you should ensure that he does not say anything like that again.
Nigel Farage (EFD), Blue-card answer to Reinhard Bütikofer. – Mr President, I did not use the word ‘Gauleiter’, I said ‘as some might say’, and indeed the biggest selling Sunday newspaper in Britain used that word. If you want to talk about hatred, just look at what this European project is doing. We have German newspapers slagging off the Italians for being cowards, slagging off the Greeks for being lazy and useless, and we have Italian and Greek newspapers depicting leading figures in Germany wearing Nazi uniforms. Surely the whole point is that this project that was designed to bring us all together in peace and harmony is actually ripping us apart and bringing back nationalisms. And if there was one country I really had a go at in my speech, it was actually the United Kingdom because I admitted the way we behaved towards Greece in the 19th century was not acceptable.
President. − Nationalism is propagated in this House by those who place their flags on their desks in order to demonstrate their nationalism here. As far as I know, you are also among this group.
Elmar Brok (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, I would like to start by thanking Mr Barroso, Mr Van Rompuy and his staff for having cooperated so successfully with the negotiating team from the European Parliament.
Secondly, I have to say that we did not want this Treaty. We wanted a Community-based Treaty. However, this was not possible on account of the position of the United Kingdom, because it imposed the condition that we must not regulate the financial markets. We want to regulate the financial markets so that this casino does not destroy us, and that is why we had to reject the demands of the United Kingdom.
The language of the past is now coming from certain circles. This European Union has brought peace, freedom and prosperity to the people as never before in the history of this continent, and I will not allow the hatred of Mr Farage and others who have spoken here to destroy that.
This Treaty makes the debt brake, the reverse qualified majority and the Court of Justice of the European Union possible. These are not possible with the current Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. However, we ought to ensure that everything else falls within the framework of Community legislation, and we have managed this with a great deal of support. Community rules should apply and everything should be done within the framework of Community legislation, taking into account the European Parliament’s power of codecision. Mr Barroso, we ask you now to put forward proposals in this regard very quickly, and not just the two-pack, but also in other areas and in relation to the implementation of the growth package, so that we can do something tangible.
Greece and other countries need a light at the end of the tunnel. In reality, citizens need to see that the dredgers are operating and working for the future. We need fiscal discipline. We need structural changes in these countries in order to remove barriers to competition – these are mostly to do with national legislation. However, we also need to utilise the possibilities afforded by European instruments. When I see EUR 16 billion sitting in the account for Greece, but the Greek administration is not able to submit projects for this, then we need to help it. That is what is coming now, Mr Swoboda. We need to help Greece to take control of its administration so that it can generate growth. That is what it is all about. Chancellor Merkel is fighting for discipline, structural changes and growth. These are the three pillars. If we forget discipline we will destroy the future of subsequent generations. That, too, needs to be viewed in this context.
The Community method and the rights of the European Parliament are being maintained here. However, I believe that we need twice as much solidarity as Ms Merkel wants. Everyone is trying to put his house in order, and on this basis we will provide assistance. That is what this strategy is all about. The socialists should now please vote for Mr Sarkozy, as he has now proposed a financial transaction act. We should give this our support. François Mitterrand needed two years to abandon socialism because France was bankrupt. If François Hollande were to be elected – which I hope does not happen – he would have 14 days in which to change his views, from the day of the election to the day he takes office, otherwise France would be ruined.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
President. − Mr Brok, by way of an exception I have given you more than a minute’s extra speaking time because you were one of the successful negotiators in this House. That was the negotiation prize, so to speak.
Barry Madlener (NI), Blue-card question. – (NL) Mr Farage did bring up an important point, of course, because while Mr Brok may well say that Europe is a guarantor of peace, the way things are going, I fear that that will not last much longer. Now, to get to the point, does Mr Brok personally, and on behalf of his group, believe that it is normal for a country to be subjected to wardship without the population of that country being consulted in a referendum?
Furthermore, does he think it normal that Eurobonds may potentially be introduced without allowing your countrymen, the Germans, or the Dutch to vote or to choose whether that is what they want? It is clear that the boundary of what can be done within the limits of democracy has been exceeded.
I would therefore like to ask you, Mr Brok, do you not also think that the Greeks - and the Germans and the Dutch – should be allowed a voice, to establish via a referendum how they see the future of Europe?
Elmar Brok (PPE), Blue-card answer. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Madlener, first of all, we need to stick to our guns with regard to the fact that each Member State must comply with the rules, and care must be taken to ensure that this happens. If we accept rules, sign treaties and lay down legislation, we must ensure that these are applied. That is all we are talking about.
Secondly, all the measures that are now being decided on will only be taken as a result of decisions by the national parliaments, the parliaments in Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, but not the United Kingdom, because it is not involved in the solidarity measures for Greece. That needs to be said in this connection – also on account of your concerns about ordinary citizens, Mr Farage.
I believe, for that reason, we could only have such a Commissioner for austerity if there were a common set of rules with a legal basis which applied to all countries that did not comply with the rules. I therefore strongly reject the idea – and that is the position of the German Government – that there can be no special solution for Greece in this regard.
Stephen Hughes (S&D). - Mr President, the statement on growth and jobs agreed on Monday finally calls for ‘smart fiscal consolidation preserving investment in future growth, sound macroeconomic policies and an active employment strategy preserving social cohesion’. That is exactly what my group has been calling for since the start of the crisis.
The problem is that you have already made the choice of a dumb, rather than a smart, approach to fiscal consolidation. That dumb approach is embodied in the so-called six-pack and it is made even worse by this new international treaty. That framework prevents us from ‘preserving investment in future growth’ as the conclusion said.
If you really want to be smart, you can do much more. The Council could join this Parliament in seeking to put in place a real system of Eurobonds that would lower our interest rates on public debt and create room for manoeuvre for new investment. What is more, the Council could agree a more ambitious financial transactions tax, as we proposed, to generate up to EUR 200 billion of annual revenue. That would be smart. All that we can hope is that the inverse relationship between the Council’s use of the language of ‘smartness’ and the state of our economies will lead to a breakthrough soon for a true smart response to the crisis.
Finally, a word on Mr Callanan’s speech: he claims to deplore the fact that this treaty would make socialism illegal, but then he goes on to say that he would scrap all of the fruits of socialism. I would like to thank him for putting so clearly on the record the Conservative position.
Sharon Bowles (ALDE). - Mr President, jobs and growth have made it to the top of the agenda and action needs to follow. The other issue that has made the top of the agenda is the crisis for youth, but it is more than the fact that we just have devastatingly high numbers of young jobless. The ECB liquidity operations may have lifted the mood, but we should not be deceived. Potentially 2 trillion plus being sucked up by the banking system by next June should tell us that some kind of transfer already is going on. The question is: will this generation face up to it or foist it, along with joblessness, on to the younger generation? They face no jobs, no home ownership, and a financial system stuffed with the bonds of this generation’s failure.
And for those who try to lay the blame on the EBA for its bank stress tests, I would like to remind Member States that the deal was a combination of stress tests and firewall, and it is the constant delay in the firewalls that has made matters worse – among, of course, a few other delays.
Derk Jan Eppink (ECR). - Mr President, I would firstly like to welcome the fiscal compact. In fact it comes 10 years too late. A monetary union needs budgetary underpinning, without which it will crumble.
But the long-term objective does not solve short-term problems. Greece will not recover in the euro area, Portugal is a cliff-hanger, and Italy, Spain and France lost their competitiveness years ago, partly because of the euro. Transfers will not cure the loss of competitiveness. Nor will increased taxation, as Mr Sarkozy thinks. Every time he appears on television he proposes a new tax. I wonder why French socialists still need a presidential candidate because Mr Sarkozy is turning socialist by the day.
Now we also have a Brussels-based budget tsar. Mr Rehn is from a country that once lived under tsarist rule. He knows all about it, but in the end Moscow never succeeded in imposing policies on neighbouring states like the one of budget tsar Mr Rehn.
Mr Barroso, this is an important historic lesson to keep in mind – but Mr Barroso has gone.
Søren Bo Søndergaard (GUE/NGL). – (DA) Mr President, I would like to start by expressing my admiration for the result of the summit. It was truly unbelievable. If there are countries that have problems with their economy, impose a fine on them and – hey presto – that will solve the problem! Why could we not have thought of this a little sooner? It is so simple and so effective. Why not use this method to solve other problems? For example, a country that has far too high a rate of unemployment could simply receive a fine. Or what about a country that has too many poor people, what should we do about that? Combat poverty with fines! The Heads of State or Government did not want to go that far, however. Millions of people in the EU are poor and out of work. That may be acceptable without imposing fines, but if a country chooses to carry out massive public investment, for example by taking out loans to create green jobs in the solar, wind and wave energy sectors, thereby creating employment, the EU’s hammer falls. I am sorry, but is this not a very blinkered economic policy? I am very well aware that the summit was met with a general strike by Belgian workers. This is something we will see more and more often if this policy continues.
Niki Tzavela (EFD). – (EL) Mr President, the recent Council decisions will help to integrate the single market and economic governance. My question to you is this: is what we have witnessed here today a sign that we are indeed moving towards a single Europe. Are we aiming for a United States of Europe along the lines of the US? Have you ever seen an officer from Michigan attack over-indebted California, as various high-profile European citizens are doing? Basically, I believe that we are doing all we can to deconstruct the European construct with criticism, comments, stupid proposals and a lack of discernment which is imposing policies on countries and hence on people, on their citizens. We are witnessing procedures to circumvent democracy and democratic procedures and we are witnessing procedures to circumvent the laws of the International Labour Organisation.
As a Greek, I accept any constructive criticism of what my country has done and is doing. However, I believe that the whole of Europe is hiding behind one small country, Greece, as if Greece alone had all the problems from the crisis, as if we had built the euro on the right basis and as if no one had made any mistakes. As long as we have problems in Greece, we will have problems in Europe. We call on all of you to stop focussing on Greece, because we will do our job and we call on our German colleagues, because a divide is already emerging which has a name and a face: the face of Germany. The media in southern Europe are already calling Germany a ‘teenage hegemonist’. I am concerned and very fearful about what is happening. We all need to join forces if we are to make progress.
Barry Madlener (NI). – (NL) Mr President, the first European summit of the new year has once again come to an end. From the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV)’s point of view it was a totally superfluous summit, once more. Once again, nothing was decided. Vague plans were forged to limit youth unemployment in the euro area, while Greece was not even on the agenda.
Mr President, when will Greece leave the single currency? Even a 70% haircut will not bring its sovereign debt below 120% by 2020. You know that, I know that and all independent economists know it too. You are playing poker with taxpayers’ money, liars’ poker.
Then we have budgetary discipline – seemingly the magic word for 2012. Mr President, you also know, however, that a dramatically shrinking economy does not enable any rabbits to be pulled from hats. Mr Barroso, how can you defend tampering with the measly Portuguese pension of EUR 200 a month? It does not even make a difference, given the fact that Portuguese interest rates yesterday rose to a record high.
The markets do not believe in it. It is like asking whether water can burn. There is no chance, Mr President. Currently, 23 million Europeans are unemployed. In southern Europe, we will soon have a situation where more than half of under-25s are jobless. I thought that the EU promised to ensure people’s prosperity. Instead of that, the EU is providing us with a nightmare.
Finally, Mr President, I will turn to that awful European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty. We would have liked to have been able to inspect the approved new text, but apparently it will only be divulged when this Treaty is signed by the European Council. We would like to know where we stand, Mr President, as time is pressing.
President. − Mr Reul, the newly elected chair of the CDU/CSU delegation, now has the floor on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats). Congratulations on your election.
Herbert Reul (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think the solution we have found is a good one. I could have imagined better, but sometimes in politics there are times and situations when you have to try and achieve the best you can. You have to be satisfied with that and then continue to work, step by step.
Incidentally, what we have now achieved is along the same lines as what we decided six months ago in connection with the six-pack. I really cannot understand all the agitation here. We wanted the Member States to be more careful with their spending. We said ‘take care of your debt’. We said that we need to pay attention to growth. We have now done that – although not in the form or the manner that we wanted, that is true.
Our colleagues were involved in trying to improve on many aspects of the best solution and to bring it into line with Community law, as Mr Brok has just mentioned. Then we see such a display here from the chairs of the large groups, who are playing the worst form of party politics. I have to say that to make such a show here at a time when Europe is experiencing such problems is utterly irresponsible. I am appalled. I am truly appalled at how people are dealing with this issue. Mr President, how could they play such cheap party politics when we have issues like this on the agenda here!
They say that we need to bring Europe together, hurling accusations at others in this regard, and then spread hatred and division here themselves. Thus, if I were to use the sort of language that many fellow Members here have used – and these were the chairs of political groups – then I would have to now sit back with a certain amount of humility and say that this is no way to treat each other and this is not the way to find a solution for Europe as a community. That is not the way to go about it.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Rebecca Harms (Verts/ALE), Blue-card question. – (DE) Mr President, if I understand this correctly, the six-pack that we adopted with a majority here in this House – not the whole House, but a majority – is European legislation that is already working. When will the fiscal pact produce results, and in which countries will this fiscal pact also create stability? When will this start to happen, Mr Reul?
Herbert Reul (PPE), Blue-card answer. – (DE) Mr President, I cannot give you a specific date, but it will happen quickly, as you well know. You also know very well that all of the decisions we take here always require a certain amount of time to be implemented. The same applies in this case, and you criticised the content, not the timeframe. You criticised the substance and the procedure that was adopted here on Monday. I find that hypocritical.
Catherine Trautmann (S&D). – (FR) Mr President, I am not going to give in to politicking – I want to assure Mr Reul of that – because I believe that this treaty is setting us up for failure and I deeply regret it.
I regret it because it is inefficient in its response to the market in the face of the crisis as it does not rebuild confidence. We have seen the problems Greece and Portugal have had in the same period. We are seeing two countries, who are the greatest contributors to our budget, France and Germany, whose growth rates have been halved. We understand that it is the wording of this treaty which, normally, should have served to settle things and reassure everyone, including the people. In reality, it is the action of the ECB which has had a positive effect, by making over EUR 500 billion of liquidities available to the banks.
However, in Parliament, we must realise that we have to be consistent. We are elected by our voters; and our voters are the retired people who are in debt, the workers who marched through the streets of Brussels, the unemployed people waiting for work, and the young people who want to have a future. We cannot content ourselves with criticising a treaty which is based solely on fiscal discipline, on penalties, and which, even worse, introduces government by the judiciary to the detriment of the sovereignty of national parliaments. We, the Members of the European Parliament, should rise up against this outcome and put forward proposals.
I, for one, have proposals that I should like to put forward. This is not simply about criticising. I believe, Mr President, that what we can propose today for Europe is a virtuous circle, a European pact of responsibility, governance and growth. This treaty must be renegotiated, on a basis which allows for true coordination of economic policies, including industrial projects to provide work for our factories and our workers, projects in the fields of energy and the environment, the creation of Eurobonds, which have regrettably been forgotten about or crossed off the agenda, and financial regulation. We need justice, we need solidarity. That is what we must defend in Parliament.
Mario Mauro (PPE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank the President of the Parliament for the manner in which on this occasion he defended not only the powers of our Assembly but also the democratic nature of the decision-making process in the European institutions, thus underpinning the outstanding work of Mr Brok, Mr Verhofstadt and Mr Gualtieri.
Commissioner, the European strategy for growth is contained in those references in the Council results, which, as is appropriate, refer to proposals that the European Commission will be making. We wish to support the Commission in its efforts. Please therefore innovate the decision-making process, opening up not only downstream but also upstream of this process to the contribution of parliamentary committees. By doing so, we will make the process not only more transparent but also more efficient.
President of the Council, in the Chamber today you listened to the dull and gloomy echoes of nationalism which forgets that 65 years of peace and development for Europe are the exception, not the rule in our history. Please help us to make sure that this is fully understood by those Heads of State or Government tempted to give greater credence to the consensus of fickle public opinion than to the sense and beauty of the European project.
Roberto Gualtieri (S&D). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, commenting on the rather forgettable conclusions of the summit on 9 December, we said that this Parliament would watch and work to limit the damage of that unfortunate choice.
This has been the case. Parliament’s united commitment in the difficult negotiations that have taken place has definitely helped to prevent even worse developments. There was a real risk that the new treaty would seriously undermine the law and the common European institutions, by establishing standards, mechanisms and procedures external to the Union and in contradiction with its laws.
That is no longer the case. Parliament, the Commission and the President of the European Council have averted this danger. Now the treaty will have to be implemented through EU legislation. The parameters for defining deficit and debt levels have been substantially, although not completely, brought back into the context of the current regulatory framework, and the dreadful possibility of having a new parliamentary institution has been averted.
But even though we have significantly limited the damage, the fiscal compact is not an adequate response to the crisis. There are still unacceptable and unwise aspects, such as the limitations on the presence of Parliament at Euro summits. From a legal perspective, the Court’s power to impose sanctions seems highly dubious. Only if the proposals that Parliament put forward with one voice in its resolution – financial transactions tax, project bonds, stability bonds – are finally adopted, can Europe overcome a crisis that unidirectional fiscal discipline threatens to aggravate.
President. − Mr Gualtieri, you too deserve our thanks for your splendid work in the negotiations. I must apologise to Mr Verhofstadt. I have thanked everyone, Mr Brok and Mr Gualtieri, but I did not thank you. That is because you are a group chair and were there in a dual capacity. I think Parliament’s negotiators did an excellent job. Therefore, I would like once again to thank all of them most sincerely.
Constance Le Grip (PPE). – (FR) Mr President, I wanted to bring the support of the French delegation of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) for the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, as well as for the main conclusions reached by the Council. Let us not be mistaken. This treaty represents an important step in favour of greater economic and fiscal integration, and in favour of greater financial stability. Let us say it again. We cannot sustainably stimulate growth and employment without cleaning up our public finances. Of course, growth cannot be decreed; this is not a treaty which can stimulate growth on its own. However, a treaty, that is, a collection of rules and mutual commitments, can bring confidence and greater awareness of responsibilities.
Since the Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament thought it appropriate to introduce politicking into this Chamber by alluding to the upcoming French presidential campaign and mentioning the socialist candidate to this French presidential election, I wanted to respond. We in the PPE Group consider the declarations made by the French socialist candidate, who stated that he wanted to renegotiate the treaty concluded by 25 Member States, completely irresponsible. Renegotiate what and with whom? Such statements are totally irresponsible. They have little regard for the word of the French State and show no respect for its commitments.
President. − Mr Bullmann, who was today elected chair of the SPD delegation, has the floor. The Germans have election fever. Congratulations, Mr Bullmann.
Udo Bullmann (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let us take a quick look at the harsh economic reality. On the day of the summit, the markets rated Portuguese debt securities for 10-year bonds at 17% interest and for five-year bonds at 20% interest. So much for the question as to the extent to which the summit has helped to calm the economic situation, or the question of to what degree the new intergovernmental treaty has pacified activity on the market.
If anyone asks himself where the disquiet is coming from, then perhaps the answer is from the economic data and from the feeling that what we have done is not enough. President Schulz, I would like to thank you expressly for the courage and clarity with which you participated in this summit on behalf of this House in order to say that we will indeed defend the Community method and we certainly want consolidation, but we also need to invest so that Europe’s economies can flourish.
I believe that this is a line that this House will be able to agree on, and we will be able to continue to develop a common economic policy.
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PPE). - Mr President, let me mention one added value which we should exploit while looking at the implementation of the fiscal pact.
Our economic policies are facing credibility tests by financial markets and we have to act in a spirit of unity and solidarity with the Union and avoid unnecessary divisions. Those who are macro-financially healthier should provide credibility to those who are macro-financially weaker.
That leads me to two conclusions. First, we should share credibility via mutualisation of debt – being an added value added – in exchange for executable deficit and debt rigours. Second, given that 12 of the 17 euro area Member States exceed the golden limit of a 60% debt/GDP ratio, while only one of the eight future members of the euro area – non-euro area today – exceeds that limit, one could say that those healthier non-euro area countries provide credibility to the present members of the euro area, and not the other way round. It would be another added value for the euro area, and it would be in its interest, as a rule, to allow those countries to join euro area summits.
Elisa Ferreira (S&D). – (PT) Mr President, I might say that this treaty is useless. Unfortunately, it is above all dangerous. First and foremost, this is because it reinforces a prescription that does not work, with further punishments and stringent rules. The spiral of recession has started. Who could trust a doctor who cannot tell the difference between weight loss and anorexia? A doctor who, however weak the patient becomes, insists on applying a cure, while openly talking about the likelihood of the patient’s death? How many more countries have to go into recession for the Commission and the Council to realise that their diagnosis is wrong and, what is more, dangerous? Here we are representing the European public. There are 23.7 million Europeans unemployed. Almost 6 million young people have no hope of finding a job. Do the Council and the Commission not see that ignoring this fact and failing to give an adequate response reveal an insensitivity that is politically explosive?
Let us be clear. The great recession is not an inevitability, it is an ideological obsession. There is an alternative, but this must take the form of action, rather than words. Where are the project bonds to finance European investment? Where is the tax on speculative financial products, aimed at strengthening the European budget? Where is the barrier that should be protecting countries from the ruinous interest rates imposed on them by the markets, leading to their ruin?
The public demand options – proper options – rather than words.
Marietta Giannakou (PPE). – (EL) Mr President, the summit could be seen as a positive summit for development and job creation, but only at the theoretical level. Four years after the start of the crisis, there is still no definite exit strategy for Europe as a whole. The stability pact, as we all know, was not really necessary at the legal level, but was obviously needed as a lesson in discipline and/or as a threat to those who deviate from the rules. We should therefore accept that this is the solution, as all the other potential solutions will be worse for the strong Member States of the Union. The recession alone will not throw up a solution to the problem in any country, especially not mine. Fiscal prudence and the austerity programme are absolutely necessary but, without growth, they are a no-win policy that will have disastrous consequences both on the countries to which they are applied and to Europe as a whole.
Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE). – (HU) Mr President, I am glad that the choice for the central topic of the informal summit fell on economic growth and job creation. However, we cannot evade the fact that the process of harmonising an unsuitably prepared intergovernmental pact with Community law has been underway since December.
Let us be frank: it is no coincidence that several Members believe that this new draft intergovernmental agreement is unnecessary and contains nothing new compared to the six-pack adopted earlier. Although I do not share their opinion, I find it extremely regrettable that this content could not be incorporated already into the six-pack.
At the same time, I would like to stress that any agreement that facilitates common economic governance and urges common European action is an important one; not only on the level of words but also backed by deeds. Still, I am not fully satisfied because common action cannot be realised, as on the one hand, the pact was unfortunately not signed by everyone, and on the other hand, Member States from outside the euro area will not be invited to both events of the summit.
Of course all is well that ends well, and I am happy that the signing will bring the pact to a conclusion, and I hope that the time until the end of March will be sufficient to remedy any shortcomings.
Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, due to the alarming situation regarding the youth unemployment rate, the inclusion on the Council’s agenda of the debate regarding the stimulation of employment for this category of population was very beneficial. The future belongs to young people and they are the main beneficiaries of everything that is being built today, good or bad. For this reason, it is imperative that we take measures to improve their situation, both at EU and individual Member State level.
I believe that a basic tool to achieve the objectives proposed in this regard is the cohesion policy. The national programming processes of the European funds for the period 2014-2020 have now started. I strongly recommend the Commission and Member States to pay greater attention to youth and include in the structure of their national programmes well-financed axes, specially aimed at youth employment.
Anni Podimata (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, President of the European Council, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you do not endorse some of the extreme and problematic statements made by those permanently on a soap box here in the House on the subject of Greece. I do not think that there is any point either in addressing them or in commenting on what they say. However, I do wish to address the rest of the House and to ask them to take time to consider with us where stereotypes, derisory attitudes and statements about a country and an entire nation being severely tested by the crisis will get us. I wish to point out, even though Mr Brok has left, that I do not doubt the intentions of the overwhelming majority of colleagues here; but I do believe that, if we are honest about wanting to help a country to bring its efforts to a close, then we should not insult it because, as another German, Sigmund Gabriel, said: if you make a nation choose between its dignity as a nation and aid, then you are ignoring basic lessons of history.
Gay Mitchell (PPE). - Mr President, I think to some extent we have been lurching from one regulation to another and while I accept that it would be very difficult, if we did not have the institutions we have, to keep a grasp on the matter, I think it is time to move on. Mr Draghi said two weeks ago in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs that you can have fiscal rectitude without growth but you cannot have growth without fiscal rectitude. I support that. I think that is a fair definition, but please, more emphasis, more leadership, on growth.
As part of this we surely need some new definition of what the market economy is meant to stand for. We are in a situation, it appears to me, where the private sector is regulating the public sector and there is very little accountability. Oligarchs seem to be in charge of certain parts of the markets, so please, let us have more attention to what the markets are doing to the public sector and to us as parliaments and governments, and let us do more to give leadership, to try and bring about growth and jobs.
Zita Gurmai (S&D). - Mr President, like many of us in the House, I am somewhat torn. On the one hand, I can appreciate that the majority of European decision-makers recognise the need for immediate action in order to handle the crisis, which I agree is no longer solely economic.
On the other hand, I am convinced that our point of departure is not the proper one. Of course we cannot do without financial stability and strict rules but, in my opinion, the root of the problem is that there has not been enough attention paid to and emphasis on growth, employment and social inclusion. Understandably, the majority of the conservative leaders were too preoccupied with the austerity measures, which was a big mistake.
In addition, I am not convinced about the way in which the crisis is being handled. We should follow the Community method because we cannot let Europe diverge from what it represents – the foundation of European construction, a way of working together, irrespective of the differences between the Member States.
Apart from this, I underline an important point. The European Parliament is the only directly elected body among the institutions. Our President should fully participate in the Euro summits.
Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL). – (PT) Mr President, at the last meeting of the Council, President Barroso made a – somewhat didactic, it should be said – PowerPoint presentation and one of the graphs in this presentation showed the results of the survey of European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on the difficulties they face.
It is surprising – I too am surprised – that the cost of workers was only the fifth-most important of the concerns and difficulties raised by SMEs. Their major concern was the lack of customers, which is a feature of the recession, and in second place was the lack of credit; in other words, another dimension, another problem resulting from the crisis. I therefore do not understand; I confess that I am completely unable to understand.
If this is the case, Mr Van Rompuy, why are the governments only concerned with austerity? Why are the governments insisting on reducing wages as a solution? Seriously, what is wrong? Is it the survey? What is wrong? Is it your proposals? Is it both? We are here to solve people’s problems, not to deceive them. This is not a game of deception; it is not about throwing sand in people’s eyes. Please answer this question with more than just words. It is just a question, Mr President …
(The President cut off the speaker)
Jacek Protasiewicz, (PPE). – (PL) Mr President, this debate today and the opinions quoted from the European press show clearly that not all the expectations which were placed in Monday’s summit have been realised. This is a fact. It was, nonetheless, a summit of sensible and good compromises. As with every compromise, not everyone is happy with it. However, we have been given an instrument thanks to which, by applying greater discipline to public finances, we can revive the economy of the members of the euro area, but also and most importantly we have managed to avoid the appearance of institutions and political decisions which would cause the rise of two unions in Europe.
I would like to thank our negotiators for that second effort in particular, for that initiative in the form of support for the Polish Government’s political and diplomatic offensive. I would like to thank you for this, too, Mr Schulz, and for your clear voice in defence of the cohesion of the European Union, which was also heard during the summit. Thank you.
Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D). – (ES) Mr President, it is regrettable that this is not the first time we are hearing expressions of dissatisfaction in Parliament with regard to Council conclusions, but it is even more regrettable that it will certainly not be the last time, because, firstly, it has shown itself to be biased again. For it is biased to focus only on the deficit, and for the only stimulus to be the reallocation of resources which are entirely insufficient when it comes to fulfilling the objectives for stimulating growth and creating employment. However, it is also insufficient to use the term ‘fiscal union’ to talk about something that is only budgetary union, budgetary restraint, which, furthermore, is boosted only by sanctions and by no incentives whatsoever. It is also biased because it is side-stepping Parliament and, through an intergovernmental treaty, trying to avoid making the reform needed to turn the European Central Bank into what the European economy needs. Therefore, it is not going to bring the patient out of this coma; instead, it is going to make the patient’s health deteriorate even further.
President. − Ladies and gentlemen, I must just mention something to you briefly about the catch-the-eye procedure. This procedure was introduced – and I must ask the group chairs once again to consider this – so that we can allow Members to take the floor spontaneously at the end of the debate.
In reality, it seems that the catch-the-eye procedure is being used to try to introduce a second speaker list here in order to put pressure on the President to give certain people the floor. I will not do that. I will focus here on the spontaneity of Members and ask that, in future, at the end of a debate we actually give the floor spontaneously to those who are here and who ask to speak. Otherwise it is unfair.
(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, first of all I would like to thank the House for a very lively, interesting debate which raised a lot of new ideas. I think it underlies the clear sentiment that this summit was very important and crucial because, after a certain period of time, the primary focus was on growth. It was very important for us to address the greatest concern of our citizens, which is growth and employment, in this way.
Of course a very important element of the summit was to continue our work on guaranteeing stronger economic and fiscal governance. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Parliament’s negotiators, Mr Verhofstadt, Mr Gualtieri and Mr Brok, for an excellent job and for the good cooperation with the European Commission.
Coming back to the outcome of the summit – and I believe Mr Van Rompuy would testify to this – I think there was a consensual approach to the discussion on growth and to the importance of growth and of streamlining our policy to achieve that goal. I cannot agree with those who believe that we can create new jobs by dismantling the European social model. We had such a situation here in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries; let us not go back, please.
As regards the focus on youth, I think that the measures adopted during the European Council to help our young generation – those 7.5 million young people who are not employed, not in education and not in training – are absolutely crucial. Action on this is immediate: letters have been sent to the eight Member States, the joint action teams will meet in February, funds are mobilised and these new job plans for the young generation should be debated by the European Spring Council. I believe we cannot act any faster; what we need is your support and good cooperation from the Member States.
Turning to the very important issue of economic and fiscal governance, I think it was quite clear from this debate, and I think this is echoed by the European Council, that we cannot have consolidation without growth. Last year we were very much breaking new ground when we were trying to save the euro; trying to save the European monetary union. Now we are moving beyond that. We see a certain stabilisation. We can focus on growth, which will bring hope to many families in the European Union.
There is one thing which it is important to underline. When I was listening to the debate some of the speakers were describing the outcome in much bleaker terms than it really deserved. I think that Parliament and the Commission acting together have been instrumental in upholding the Community method and guaranteeing that the European Parliament would be involved in economic governance, that the European institutions would be central in economic governance, that we will have no new European institutions and that this treaty will be incorporated in European law within five years. I think these are very important positive gains and we should look at them in this positive light.
Some very quick remarks on the specific questions. I absolutely agree with Mr Daul as regards the importance of the Services Directive. The full implementation of this directive would increase trade in commercial services by 45%. It would increase foreign direct investment by 20%. It can bring about an increase of 0.5 to 1.5% in GDP. Where else can we find such an easy potential for growth? It is lamentable that this directive is not yet in operation; we have started infringement procedures against the remaining two Member States which have yet to transpose it correctly.
Mr Verhofstadt mentioned patents. I can assure you that this was highlighted very forcefully by me in the General Affairs Council and also by the President of the Commission in the European Council. It is true that, having the chance to decrease costs by 80%, we should do it as soon as possible. We have been discussing the patent for decades, and I am pleased that we now have a deadline and that we should definitely solve this issue before the June European Council. I would plead with the three countries which cannot agree where the seat will be to find a solution, because our innovation community, our scientists, are really waiting for it.
As regards Mr Swoboda’s comment on the financial transactions tax and Mr Verhofstadt’s comments on the Eurobonds, the financial transaction tax is a very important proposal. I would like to assure you that the Commission is not going to give up. We had one difficult political debate on this issue and it was definitely not conclusive but, if we gave up after each difficult political debate at Council level, there would be no European law. We are going to continue and we will need your support. I believe that in the end, in all Member States, they will realise how useful this measure can be, the kind of fair burden-sharing it could bring from the financial sector, and the kind of healthy regulatory effect it could have on the financial industry. I believe in rational arguments and these arguments are very rational. I believe they will prevail.
As regards Eurobonds and stability bonds, you know that the Commission believes that this is an excellent stabilising and investment tool and a very good instrument. I think this was clearly shown in our options paper and now we see that the discussion is ongoing. It is very difficult, but I believe that these new efforts in fiscal consolidation will actually increase mutual confidence among the Member States in how responsible we are in managing our public finances. I personally believe that we will see the day when we will use the Eurobonds, the stability bonds, as a very important financial and investment tool in the European Union.
Coming to the last piece of information: co-financing. I agree with Mr Verhofstadt that this is a very important tool in helping countries in distress. As you probably know, we have already increased the co-financing rate from 75% to 85% – at first temporarily for Latvia, Greece, Portugal and Romania and we did something similar for Ireland. Now we have increased it even further: 95% in the case of Greece. Moreover we are helping the Greek authorities to better absorb these funds on the ground.
Herman Van Rompuy, European Council. – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as I said in my introduction, the growth and employment policy is a policy with various levels. There is the short term, there is the long term, there is the economic aspect, there is the aspect relating purely to employment policy, there is what we can do at Member State level and there is what we can do at EU level.
With regard to the short term, I will be fairly brief; at least, I hope so. Firstly, we cannot forget that we are, of course, experiencing a period of stagnation, of recession, but that we are coming out of two years of positive growth of around 2% in the euro area and even throughout the EU. We tend to forget this and to believe that the period we have just come from was a period of recession. That is not the case, in spite of the consolidation efforts that have been made on average.
Of course, there are countries which are following programmes and those that are under pressure from the markets. However, generally speaking, on average, 2010 and 2011 were profitable years in terms of growth and employment. In a country I know better than others, Belgium, 100 000 jobs were actually created in 2010 and 2011. Over the course of the year of the crisis in 2009, 7 000 jobs were lost. Even this year, in 2012, growth is positive. I know that there are problems in many countries and many regions. What I should like to highlight, however, is that we have also seen positive changes over these last two years.
For short-term growth, the most important thing we can do – everyone agrees on this – is to promote fresh confidence in the euro area. If confidence returns to the euro area, consumers and companies will have greater confidence and this will lead us to greater economic growth. In 2009, once confidence had returned, once confidence in the banks had been restored, we saw renewed economic growth and increased employment. We must therefore work towards this.
The last few months have not been as disastrous as some people are trying to tell us. For example, Germany’s spreads have decreased substantially for Italy and Spain: 1.6 for Spain and Portugal compared to the highest spread level several months ago. I am not saying that we have reached our goals, I am simply saying that a positive turnaround is taking place. I have not even mentioned Ireland where there has been a decrease in relation to the Bund of around 7%. Is this enough? No. Has there been a turning point? Yes. I therefore hope we will continue on this path.
In the short term, spending more and increasing deficits is not a solution. That is not the solution; we have tried it and it has failed. Even outside of the European Union, those who have implemented this fiscal recovery policy are now having to return to a more orthodox policy. Even in the golden rule, if there is any kind of deficit that we can tolerate, it should be a structural deficit. That way, there is room for manoeuvre: it is structural, it is not nominal, nor is it a 0.5% deficit the whole time. There is an evaluation and there is this structure effect which must be taken into account. In the short term, every cloud has a silver lining: the recent depreciation of the euro will help our exports and there are even studies which prove that this can happen very quickly.
For the long term, we have the Europe 2020 strategy. We poke fun at it; we compare it to the Lisbon strategy. I believe that, now, it has been proven that it is no laughing matter and the Europe 2020 strategy has been integrated into the European semester and the six-pack. Parliament has also shown much stronger commitment to work towards it than in the past. There are also much stronger commitments towards employment in the Euro-Plus Pact. Of course, all of this has to be implemented. However, I believe that we have made all the necessary provisions for this long-term strategy to be a success this time.
As for the European patent, I share a certain disappointment with you. However, the way I look at it is that it includes positive elements, in spite of everything, but that is my nature. I started my political career with a prime minister, in the 1970s, who said ‘The European Council has not managed to reach an agreement on the European patent.’ That was in 1978. Here we are now much later and, under the Belgian Presidency, and even with a minister for economic affairs whom some people know better than others, we have managed to reach a breakthrough thanks to enhanced cooperation. Now we must complete the final step; this will take several weeks, but I am sure that the Danish Presidency – with our help – will find a solution to this problem.
With regard to the social aspect, the specific employment policy, we must realise that there are many measures we can take at European level. We can work on the single market. We can mobilise European funds, which is being done anyway: the cofinancing rate has, furthermore, been reduced and the Vice-President of the Commission was right to mention this. We can do all of this, then, and there are the project bonds, but, admittedly, most of the work has to be done at national level.
We can give incentives to national governments and parliaments. We can encourage them. We can ask them to make commitments. We can even sanction them, to some extent. All of this is provided for in the European semester. However, the bulk of the work must be done by the national governments and parliaments, otherwise we cannot explain the difference between Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and some other European regions in terms of unemployment rates. For example, the rate for young people can be quite low, around 8%, while in other cases it is close to 50%. There are huge discrepancies due to the policies implemented in the past.
What we will do now is encourage the national governments and Member States to follow the good example of countries such as Austria, through financial incentives and other means. The Commission’s recommendations will be very important and the conclusions we reached in the European Council are along these lines. I will not play them down as much as some others have done. Therefore there is this economic aspect and this social aspect and of course, as I have just mentioned, there is what can be done at EU level and what can be done at Member State level.
With regard to the treaty, ladies and gentlemen, when I compare all that was said about it before it was concluded with what is being said now, I believe that we have worked well. We have done some good work with the help of many people – including and even especially within this Parliament. We have worked hard to integrate this intergovernmental treaty into the philosophy of the EU Treaties. We must make an effort – this will be a job for our successors; at least, it will be for mine – to integrate this treaty into the Treaty itself as such, in a few years’ time. We have also ensured that there is more consistency within the European Union. At one time, some people had the impression that we were moving towards a two-speed Europe. We have reached an agreement with 25 States. Unfortunately, not 27, but 25: this means that there are eight countries outside the euro area which have shown solidarity with those using the single currency. We have reached an agreement so that those who do not belong to the euro area, but who ratify the treaty, can participate at key moments in the deliberations at euro area summits and of course be involved in all the subjects dealt with in agreements under the treaty.
We have thereby safeguarded the greatest possible consistency for the EU. Once again, when I compare what was said before the negotiations and what I am now hearing about the treaty, we have travelled an important and interesting path, and I am very glad about that.
President. − Two motions for resolutions have been tabled under Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure(1).
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Thursday, 2 February 2012.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. – (LT) The kind of message that we send the half a billion people living in the European Union (EU) is now more important than ever. In the European Parliament resolution on the conclusions of this week’s European Council meeting we must show a united front. I believe that we must speak in favour of smart savings and the effective use of EU funds, but it is very important to emphasise that savings alone will not help to overcome the crisis in the EU. We also need to recognise that major belt-tightening in some Member States in recent years has further increased poverty and social exclusion. In some Member States the response to this has been emigration, particularly among young people. In the European Parliament we have to underline that we can only overcome the crisis by boosting economic growth, increasing employment, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and using other specific measures. Unfortunately, at this week’s European Council meeting the declaration on growth and the creation of new jobs was overshadowed because most attention was focused on institutional matters and disagreements between certain Member States on an international agreement on the Treaty. We must speak out against the division of the EU into euro area and non-euro area Member States because that is how we shatter the Community and people’s confidence in the European Union as a united, responsible and cohesive community.
Nessa Childers (S&D), in writing. – Like many of my countrymen, like much of my S&D Group, like many commentators and citizens across the EU, I am wary of the need for this ‘Fiscal Compact’ treaty. That the smaller and indebted states need to show the larger and more stable economies that we are serious about reform is fully accepted in Ireland and elsewhere. Whether or not this should extend to a treaty which simply reiterates much of which was included in the recent six pack, and indeed the Maastricht Treaty many years before that, is more debateable. If this treaty truly helps Europe to get back on its feet, and produces a more fair and balanced union, then I commend its authors on a visionary text. If, however, it fails to achieve these objectives, it will be seen as a folly, and at this juncture it would be generous to suggest that it could equally go either way.
João Ferreira (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (PT) In this European Union, there is the fateful feeling and the irrationality and confusion that always precede the fall of an empire. It is increasingly clear that the workers and peoples of Europe cannot expect anything to come of these meetings. There is nothing that resembles a real solution to the crisis, which is becoming ever more severe. Not a word came out of this European Council on the intolerable and growing social inequalities, on development asymmetries between countries, on tax havens or on the unregulated and free movement of capital, which enables speculation, usury and the predation of national resources.
What has come out of this meeting is a veritable constitutional coup d’état. They want to impose and universally apply the policies of the IMF and EU programmes, the disastrous results of which are plain to see in Greece, Portugal and Ireland. They want to set these policies in stone; that is how they think, without realising that they are cheating themselves. Well into the 21st century, they want to curb the peoples’ right to decide their own path freely, turning sovereign countries into veritable protectorates. This path only leads to disaster. Social struggle, which is building throughout Europe, is the surest way of avoiding this path, and of paving the way for hope and confidence in a better future.
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), in writing. - (SK) The leaders’ meeting was essentially unnecessary. The Fiscal Compact will certainly not get the EU out of the crisis. It may even fall into recession, due to the cuts. Ultimately, on account of the economic downturn, it will then be even harder to pay back debts, and they will become an increasing burden. Moreover, the probable future president of France has now indicated that he wants to modify the Compact further before ratification.
The need to kick start employment growth, however, is still underestimated. Whereas cost-cutting measures are slowly becoming law, the growth and employment initiative has remained in the form of a general challenge. Sweden has also refrained from signing. From a European perspective, such behaviour is extremely unfortunate. The growth initiative is weak. The Fiscal Compact is being adopted outside the framework of European treaties, and without the UK and the Czech Republic.
The European Parliament’s role in negotiations over these matters is minimised. This should be completely changed. Europe must remain unified and stick to democratic principles and existing legal frameworks. Europe must stop thinking in terms of simplistic formulas such as ‘there are debt problems, so let’s make cuts’. No. We must look for resources that can be sensibly invested in economic recovery - unused resources from EU Structural Funds, the tax on financial transactions, a stronger EIB and European bonds. These are the issues that the summits should be addressing. They will be worthless if this does not happen, and the Union does not have much time left.
Kinga Göncz (S&D), in writing. – (HU) 23.7 million women and men. This is where the number of unemployed people in Europe stood at the end of 2011. The ink was still wet on the fiscal pact concluded at last week’s summit when the crushing statistics were published: there has never been as high an unemployment rate in the countries of the euro area since the introduction of the common currency as at the end of last year. Youth unemployment is reaching particularly distressing levels in Spain and Greece, where almost half of the people below the age of 25 are unable to find jobs.
I am glad that the Council has finally recognised what Socialist Members in the European Parliaments have been stressing for a long time, namely that this situation is untenable, and that Europe’s increasingly serious problems cannot be resolved solely through budgetary austerity measures. Despite the adoption of legislation after legislation and treaty after treaty on the tightening of fiscal rules, recession seems inevitable. Without economic growth deficit reduction cannot be sustained, new jobs cannot be created, the number of unemployed will not decrease but will in fact rise, and there will be a growing sense of hopelessness, accompanied by the proliferation of radical ideals and views.
The Council took the long-awaited first step when it put the issue of employment and in particular youth employment on its agenda. However, the measures that were decided on are insufficient and lack ambition. Immediate decisions and actions, as well as an increased, targeted use of the EU funds offered is needed to ensure that the young people of today do not feel as if they were ‘Europe’s redundant generation.’
Edit Herczog (S&D), in writing. – (HU) I definitely welcome the fact that the representatives of all Member States urge the strengthening of competitiveness, the consolidation of Member State budgets, and proposals for the creation of additional jobs.
There are three areas you intend to treat as a priority: the promotion of youth employment, the completion of the single European market, as well as an increase in the support to and a reduction of the burdens of the SME sector. Although I believe that these three directions are good, I find the measures they involve belated and incomplete. You still reject the possibility of introducing a transaction tax, even though it has become an economic platitude that the EUR 200 billion it would yield could give new impetus to the European entrepreneurial sector, thereby generating internal consumption for the EU.
The support provided by the new gap-closing, educational and grant programmes will undoubtedly aid the millions of unemployed youths, but as long as we do not ‘sanction’ employers, encouraging them to hire new, young workforce, we cannot expect a breakthrough in this field. The statements made at the Council meeting failed to calm the markets: the 17–20% interest rates on Portuguese government bonds, for instance, saw no decrease whatsoever over the past two days.
As a Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament I am of the position that the finalisation of the treaties on economic stability and consolidation does not adequately address the EU’s current economic and social issues, and does not serve the purposes of a united Europe. They say that good things take time. In our case, time is running out…
Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE), in writing. – (PL) On Monday, after long and difficult negotiations, it was possible to reach agreement over the fiscal compact, which was officially named the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. Although as is often the case in difficult negotiations the agreement is not ideal and does not fully satisfy all the parties, it has however achieved the support of 25 of the European Union’s Member States. This is without doubt an expression of the conviction that Europe does not need disputes, but quite the contrary needs swift and decisive action.
One of the key elements of the negotiations was the question of the participation in Eurosummit meetings by countries which are not part of the euro area. Although the provision which was negotiated introduces certain restrictions in access to these meetings, it was possible, thanks to the enormous determination of the countries from outside the euro area, to defend the institutional system of the EU and not cause a violation of the Community principle. The representatives of the EU institutions – Mr Barroso, Mr Schulz and Mr Van Rompuy – also rose to the task and unanimously defended the unity of the Union.
The reaching of this agreement does not however end discussion on the form of the Union or on the position in the new structure of countries which are not part of the euro area. We now face the very important task of the proper application of the provisions of the compact in practice. Particularly important for us will be how Article 12 of the agreement will be implemented, and, therefore, if the voice of the countries which have signed the compact but which are not part of the euro area will in fact be heard during Eurosummit meetings.
Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. – More Europe is the answer! Finally the Member States have taken their responsibility by signing the Fiscal Treaty. Strict rules and fiscal discipline and joint efforts as the whole EU are crucial. Signs of protectionism and egoism have no place if the European project wants to succeed. Completion of the single market – loosing barriers to cross-border trade and services, completing the single digital market – is the key for future success. Doing business, using services, getting a job should be equally easy and accessible in the whole EU. The strong language on this must be transmitted to the official Spring Council conclusions! SMEs as drivers and backbone of the European economy suffer the most under unnecessary burdens and rules. Simplified procedures and exemptions are needed to enable the SMEs to pursue and focus on their main business instead of filling in administrative forms. Easy access to financing both from public and private sources will ensure sustainable and competitive SMEs. Youth unemployment has reached more than 30% in eight Member States. We have to enforce measures to enable easy access to labour market and quality jobs, significantly increasing the offer for apprenticeships and internships for young people, working together with the social partners.
Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (FR) The Council has confirmed, without any consultation with the European Parliament or the national parliaments, that a new treaty which puts fiscal austerity at the heart of European economic policy has been put in place. This is a denial of democracy made all the more unacceptable by the fact that the budgetary thresholds which it will impose are completely new and have never previously been mentioned in any of the EU Treaties.
This treaty also interferes with national constitutions to an unprecedented extent, by forcing them to include an instrument to limit public spending. This new treaty also includes the Euro-Plus Pact, which constitutes a dismantling of social rights. We are calling for the European people to be consulted by referendum before any decision is taken.
Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) Twenty-five Member States have reached an agreement on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, which is an essential element in our efforts to maintain stability and an example of solidarity and determination that the Union is prepared to resolve crises. European leaders have been forced to adopt tough measures to stabilise the euro area.
Financial stability is an important, but not the only element in the effort to ensure economic recovery. We need discipline, structural changes, jobs and sustainable growth. The use of European funds must be optimised. There is a need for practical proposals to tackle the problem of youth unemployment and finance SMEs. We are entering a phase of economic governance based on the European semester, in which national governments recognise that areas of national competence must be approached at European level as well. The European economy must become much more competitive and this becomes possible only through the completion of the internal market. Therefore, the Commission must ensure that all laws regarding the internal market are applied in the Member States and must oversee their implementation. This Treaty is a big step forward towards fiscal and economic integration and towards a better governance of the euro area.
Véronique Mathieu (PPE), in writing. – (FR) The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is a much needed step forward. In the current crisis that we are experiencing, fiscal stability is an essential element which we cannot abandon. Clear, precise rules needed to be included in a treaty to guarantee that they would be respected. Of course, it is a shame that the treaty has not received support from all of the Member States. However, we cannot be anything but pleased with the final version which has been adopted. Significant advances have been set out in it, such as formal recognition of the golden rule, reverse qualified majority voting and intervention by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Furthermore, the final text has been made more consistent with European law, and particularly with the six-pack which came into force in December. Finally, we must not forget the difficulty of the European negotiations: managing to reach an agreement on such a text in such a short space of time is a real triumph. The treaty represents, first and foremost, a clear political will: it promotes responsible economic governance.
Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE), in writing. – (PL) From the standpoint of improving economic governance in the EU, a positive view should be taken of the fact that the fiscal compact introduces instruments of a new quality which will contribute to the pursuit of a more responsible fiscal policy in the future. The most important of these are the balanced budget rule, the obligation of the Member States which have signed the compact to implement this principle in their national legal systems and the increased jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The effectiveness of the fiscal compact will, however, be verified only in practice, when its provisions become binding on the Member States. This is because there is a risk that the introduction of statutory automatic correction mechanisms may force the pursuit of excessively pro-cyclical economic policy, which will exacerbate the debt crisis. Another source of doubt continues to be the question as to the frequency with which Member States that are not part of the euro area will participate in Eurosummit meetings. The international agreement states that countries whose currency is the euro will be able to hold meetings only amongst themselves when the subject of discussion is to be responsibilities with regard to the single currency or other issues concerning governance of and convergence in the euro area. In relation to the fact that the range of subject matter for closed meetings of Euro Group members can be interpreted very broadly, it is very important from the point of view of guaranteeing the priority of the Community method that in this case a literal interpretation be applied.
Evelyn Regner (S&D), in writing. – The fiscal stability pact fails to provide effective measures to tackle a major problem Europeans face as one of many consequences of the economic and social crisis. A main focus must be in the fight against unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which continues to increase. As this forms one of the rights of the EU and is enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, it is both unacceptable and irresponsible that this burning issue is so neglected. The focus in this time of uncertainty should be on solidarity and growth, to protect and support the Europeans most affected by the crisis. In Greece, for example, the ranks of those in poverty swell whilst the supply of social services is slashed – forsaking those in most need of help is not the way to induce recovery and growth. Moreover, it is not fair. We need to focus on the social consequences of the crisis; this involves giving hope and support to especially the younger generations. There are some positive signals, but they are negligible as methods to stimulate growth. Additionally, the pact is to be condemned as it represents an infringement of the Community method.
Kārlis Šadurskis (PPE), in writing. – (LV) I welcome the fact that at the informal European Council meeting the leaders of 25 states agreed on the fiscal compact, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. This is a precondition for better national budgetary discipline in the future and for economies to be knitted more closely together within the framework of a stronger system. It is also very significant that the issue concerning the participation of the states outside the euro area in drawing up this agreement has been resolved. States outside the euro area will shortly be able to stipulate which points of the agreement they will abide by even before becoming members of the euro area, thus fostering fiscal and economic integration. This decision by the European Council is a very significant step and a sufficiently flexible mechanism, in view of the introduction of the euro in Latvia, which is due to take place in the near future. The peoples of Europe must work together in a targeted, speedy and effective manner, in order to recover from the crisis in Europe and to ensure that it is not repeated.
Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE), in writing. – (PL) On 30 January, the Heads of State or Government adopted the text of what is known as the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, also called the fiscal compact. Positive amendments to the initial version of the text include the obligation to implement the compact in the treaty structure of the EU within a maximum of five years, the consistent relationship with the law of the Union and the prevention of a severe breach among the Member States. We have to remember that the treaty which has been adopted is just one of several elements of the fight to rebuild confidence. It is still an instrument which serves principally to increase fiscal discipline, whereas there are other causes of the current crisis in the euro area. Structural reforms are needed, which will restore the confidence of financial institutions and improve rating agency ratings. Changes in the European labour market are needed just as urgently as the setting in order of Member States’ finances. The labour market must be made flexible to enable a more effective fight against unemployment, particularly among young people. Work on the system of financial surveillance needs to be completed. The small and medium-sized business sector should receive additional support, because it is in fact this sector which has created 80% of the jobs in Europe in the last five years. Despite the fact that the European Parliament has opposed the international agreement in every form, preferring EU secondary legislation instead, we cannot allow ourselves to voice severe criticism of the fiscal compact. In supporting this document we will give a clear signal to those outside the EU that the Union is determined to eliminate the causes of the current crisis.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), in writing. – (RO) At the European Council of 30 January, 25 Member States signed the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The new Treaty makes it compulsory for Member States to have national budgets that are balanced or in surplus, otherwise an automatic mechanism will be triggered to take corrective action. The Treaty will be signed in March and will enter into force after being ratified by at least 12 Member States of the euro area. Within maximum five years after entering into force, the Treaty must be incorporated in EU law.
The Treaty represents the signatory states’ firm commitment to strengthen fiscal discipline. Austerity measures, however, do not guarantee economic growth. Through the deterioration of the quality of life of many European citizens and the increase in the share of population at risk of poverty, austerity measures have created real social crises in some Member States, and have led to the deterioration of the European social model.
We regret that at the European Council of 30 January Member States did not make a similarly firm commitment to stimulate employment, especially among young people, to finalise the single market, increase competitiveness in EU, and stimulate the financing of economy, in particular that of SMEs. These are essential for maintaining the European social model and for implementing the Europe 2020 strategy.
Rafał Trzaskowski (PPE), in writing. – (PL) Let us start by saying that from the outset the idea of the fiscal compact itself was liked by very few. We may go further and say that the compact is in fact of no use to the European Union. Apart from the obligation of the Member States to incorporate the deficit thresholds into their constitutions, there is nothing new in the agreement. It is, however, worth pointing out that the negotiations were about something much more important than the budgetary commitments of the Member States – they were about the future of the European Union. During the negotiations we were answering the question about whether the unique Community method would be rescued, and also about whether decisions on EU economic policy were to be made exclusively by way of selfish negotiations between Member States on principles known to us from the congresses of the 19th century. We were also answering the question as to whether new intergovernmental institutions were to be established which would compete directly with the EU institutions. Finally, we were faced by the real possibility that sanction would be given in the Union for a division into the equal and the more equal. For the time being, we have managed to put that grim scenario behind us.
Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D), in writing. – (NL) This intergovernmental treaty is not just unnecessary, it is also undesirable. There are actually two key reasons for this.
The first is that it is undemocratic. The European Council is creating a legal tangle because the mutual agreements between the Member States are outside European legislation. In the first instance, the role of the parliaments will be reduced to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the European legislative procedure, on the other hand, account has to be taken of the European Parliament’s position, as a fully-fledged co-legislator.
Secondly, with this treaty, Europe’s Heads of State or Government are laying down in stone a medicine for the wrong ailment. The fact that Christian democrats and liberals have now been preaching for three years that only blind cuts can get Europe through this crisis is no longer newsworthy. However, the idea that this ideological agenda should now be laid down in constitutional terms is beyond belief.
Quite how far out of touch this is with citizens’ worries only gets more striking if you make a comparison with the growth strategy that the same Heads of State or Government put forward barely a couple of years ago, the Europe 2020 strategy. That strategy remains empty rhetoric for the time being and any form of enforceability of the objective of reducing poverty or getting more people into work is a long way off.
Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D), in writing. – (FR) Following the example of all the French socialist Members, I abstained on the vote on the Council agreement on the draft intergovernmental treaty adopted by the Heads of State or Government on 30 January. This agreement is not only legally questionable, as it flouts the role of Parliament, but also harmful, because the budgetary restrictions imposed will not resolve the crisis but, on the contrary, can only aggravate the recession. The renegotiation that we are calling for is a logical consequence of that. We must create growth in order to come out of this crisis: this is an economic necessity, and the dogmatic view imposed by Merkozy is not remotely adapted to this. We must restart a virtuous circle by coordinating our economic policies with major joint industrial projects, particularly in the fields of energy and the environment, and by boosting major infrastructure. This can only be achieved through the creation of Eurobonds, which are completely absent from this text, and true regulation of the financial markets, which we have long been calling for. Mr Sarkozy and Ms Merkel’s obsession with strict austerity is becoming dangerous for the whole of Europe.
Iuliu Winkler (PPE), in writing. – (RO) The political developments recorded at the European Council in December 2011 reasserted the priorities of the EU consolidation process, namely the resumption of sustainable economic growth and job creation. The expression of solidarity is the most important of these priorities. We must continue on the Euro-Plus Pact path and consolidate solidarity between Member States in and outside of the euro area. The process of integration of Member States’ sovereignty must continue in order to ensure solidarity. We, the politicians, the MEPs, must explain to our voters why integrating sovereignty does not mean surrendering it, and must rebuild their trust in the Community’s future. Thus, they will be more confident in developments that will take place in the near future and in our approach to build a new Europe, more united and coordinated under the democratic primacy ensured by the European Parliament, the only European institution whose members are elected directly by citizens. I support the idea that the European Parliament should gain a more important role in decision making, and that the President of the European Parliament should attend all meetings of Member States leaders. I also believe that the incorporation of the new Stability Pact in the Treaty on European Union must remain a major goal.