President. – The next item is the joint debate on the three reports on the subject of the Annual Growth Survey and employment:
- the report by Marije Cornelissen, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on employment and social aspects in the Annual Growth Survey 2012 (COM(2011)0815)-(2011/2320(INI)) (A7-0021/2012),
- the report by Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the contribution to the Annual Growth Survey 2012 (COM(2011)0815)-(2011/2319(INI)) (A7-0018/2012) and
- the report by Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on the proposal for a Council decision on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (COM(2011)0813)-(C7-0500/2011)-(2011/0390(CNS)) (A7-0011/2012).
Marije Cornelissen, rapporteur. – Mr President, if there is one lesson that we could learn from the past few years, it is that our economies are totally intertwined. Yes, we do need to coordinate. Yes, we should let the Commission look over our shoulders. This coordination adds necessary powers at the European level but, unfortunately, without adding necessary democracy at the European level too.
We as a Parliament do not accept such a limited role. With my report and the report of Mr Gauzès, we are presenting Parliament’s view on what is currently most needed. Although the Council is not legally obliged to take account of it, I feel that it most certainly is morally and democratically obliged to do so. Parliament’s main message to the Council is this: we need far more coherence between fiscal and budgetary policies, on the one hand, and social and employment policies, on the other hand. It is a tremendous mistake to ignore the social consequences of badly-aimed austerity policies or to forget that a currency is there to serve the people, not the other way round.
I really hope that, at the Spring Council, one government leader will stand up and say:
Dear colleagues, just hold on a minute. Do you remember we had a meeting about two years ago where we set our goals for 2020 and, among other things, planned to increase labour participation, lift millions out of poverty and invest heavily in innovation? I am getting quite worried that, if we go on like this, we will not attain any of these goals.
Correct me if I am wrong, but if we all cut social benefits to get under the deficit ceiling, will that not actually push rather a lot of people into poverty instead of lifting millions out? If we cut down on things like labour activation measures and child care, will that not really mean that labour participation will diminish instead of grow and that rising unemployment will, in turn, increase our budget deficits?
Furthermore, of course my calculator could be at fault, but is it not the case that if countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal are not given any hope for recovery, their debt will rise even as they are paying it off, because it is a percentage of their GDP and not actually a flat figure?
Perhaps what we should be doing is discussing how we can cut wisely in some areas and also invest in others. Perhaps we should look further to the future and prepare ourselves for an ageing society by investing in education, innovation and youth employment. Perhaps we should make our EU 2020 goals binding: as binding as the budgetary ones.
I know that I am probably complicating things quite a bit by pointing this out, but as I was reading the European Parliament’s contribution to our discussion I thought, by golly, they are absolutely right’.
Well, any government leader who is courageous enough to point out the pain is very welcome to borrow that speech, and I am very sure that tomorrow’s vote will show that any such courageous leader would have the full backing of the European Parliament.
Jean-Paul Gauzès, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, every year, the Annual Growth Survey allows us to define the European Union’s economic and budgetary priorities and actions.
I should first like to thank the Commission for having published its report before the end of November, thus allowing Parliament to carry out, in good time, some painstaking work. We would like this schedule to become permanent, so that Parliament has time enough to express its views before annual economic guidelines are decided upon by the Spring European Council.
This year, on the occasion of the review of this report, Parliament wishes to strongly urge Member States to implement effectively those measures required by the policies that they themselves have undertaken to pursue. Obviously, the primary aim of these measures should be to find a way out of the sovereign debt crisis. They should go hand in hand with a growth strategy based on improving competitiveness. It is clearly also important to promote a sustainable economy which creates jobs.
Parliament agrees with the Commission’s analysis that efforts at national and EU level should concentrate on the following five priorities: pursuing differentiated growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, while ensuring economic recovery and job creation; ensuring long-term financing of the real economy; promoting sustainable growth through more competitiveness and investments; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis, and, finally, modernising EU public administration and services of general interest.
As regards fiscal consolidation, Member States should pursue differentiated strategies according to their budgetary situations and keep their public expenditure growth below the rate of medium-term trend GDP growth. Member States must prioritise, on the expenditure and revenue sides of the budget, growth-friendly policies, particularly in the areas of education, research, innovation, infrastructure and energy, and ensure the efficiency of such expenditures and revenues.
As regards ensuring the long-term financing of the real economy, Parliament welcomes the determined efforts by Commissioner Barnier to overhaul the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. If investor confidence is to be restored, the banks’ capital positions must be strengthened and measures must be taken to support their access to funding.
Thirdly, the promotion of sustainable growth presupposes an increase in the competitiveness of investments. In this respect, Parliament is worried by the macro-economic imbalances within the EU and the fact that many Member States are falling behind in terms of productivity. Enhanced coordination of economic policies as well as structural reforms are needed to tackle these problems in both deficit and surplus countries in an adequate way.
Modernising EU public administration and services of general interest is also a determining element of competitiveness and an important productivity factor.
In future, Parliament wishes to be more closely involved in drawing up the main political and economic guidelines. It should be noted that the European Semester is now part of EU secondary legislation. The economic governance legal framework provides the tool of economic dialogue to enhance the dialogue between the EU institutions and to ensure greater transparency. We are anxious for this to be so, and I shall conclude shortly after the various speeches to be made, in the two minutes that remain to me, Mr President.
Pervenche Berès, rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, Ms Vestager, Commissioner, this is the fifth year running that the Spring European Council is to be held in an atmosphere of crisis.
This is the fifth European Council held in an atmosphere of crisis and where, clearly, the logic is that out of austerity will come growth. I think that it is clearly time to take stock and admit that what comes out of austerity is recession and not growth.
However, we have come together today to talk of a document that the Commission is adding to the work of the European Council, which goes by the name of the Annual Growth Survey. You must admit that there is something not quite right here and that it is high time to change our approach.
First of all, in the name of our institution, the European Parliament, let me just say that we in this House are in total denial of democracy, because what is going on? The Spring European Council is adopting guidelines which are then going to be imposed on the Member States to define their economic policy strategy. On what basis is the Spring European Council going to reach its decisions? The Commission is trying to make its contribution in a direction that does not suit us, and yet it is tabling a Community document entitled Annual Growth Survey. Meanwhile, the Council is going to draw up the Euro Plus Pact on the basis of a scribbled note written by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, and then endorsed by the other institutions.
In a democracy, the way in which broad economic policy guidelines are drawn up is the foundation of the social pact. That is why we have been fighting for this Parliament to have a say in the matter. We intend to do this on the basis of what the Commission persists in calling an Annual Growth Survey – we are calling for this to become annual guidelines for growth.
We are calling on the Commission to face up to reality. Will this Annual Growth Survey enable the potential contradictions between the Stability Pact and the Europe 2020 strategy to be ironed out?
Both Mr Gauzès’ and Ms Cornelissen’s reports – I should like to thank our two fellow Members for the spirit of cooperation that has marked our work – invite you to walk on two feet and, if you want to walk on two feet, you may at times have to turn your back on austerity and the Stability Pact. Otherwise, we shall never manage to implement the Europe 2020 strategy.
We are also calling for a balanced approach to economic situations. That means that, when there are imbalances within the European Union, you have to look at both deficits and surpluses.
Ms Vestager, as I have already said, for us, the Euro Plus Pact is not a basis for negotiation. Madam, just look at the figures. Today, everybody in Europe is in difficulties. Have you seen the OECD’s figures for Germany’s growth prospects for 2012? 0.4%. That is proof enough that even the most virtuous economy in the European Union cannot withstand the situation of recession into which the policies of this five-year term are leading the euro area and the European Union as a whole.
Furthermore, look at the way that you are managing the EU’s tools. The European Social Fund is being used for anything and everything. On the one hand, you would like it to be a tool to apply macro-economic sanctions and, on the other, when it comes to creating jobs for young people, you want to mobilise the European Social Fund. These contradictions must be resolved and, to do this, I suggest you look at the reports that this Assembly is offering you as the European Parliament’s contribution to the work of the Spring Council.
I hope that, via our President when he comes to talk to you, these guidelines, whether in economic or employment matters, will improve your road map because, if they do not, democracy and the European people will find themselves in a jam.
Margrethe Vestager, President-in-Office of the Council. – Mr President, I am honoured to be allowed to speak here today and have been looking forward very much to a focused debate on growth and employment. I hope you know that one of the main priorities of the Danish Presidency is implementation, to ensure that the good decisions that have been taken are carried into effect. We hope that, in this Presidency, we can both take decisive steps out of the crisis by supporting responsible national economic policy, and prevent new crises.
The European Semester was kicked off by the Annual Growth Survey at the end of last year, leading to the economic policy guidance to Members to be adopted by the European Spring Council meeting. I do not have to explain to this Parliament why this is important: the unemployment figures speak for themselves; the number of young people unable to find a job speaks for itself. Growth is slow, as the rapporteur, Mr Gauzès, has already stated. There is no expectation of growth; half a percentage point is the general expectation that we have in prospect for 2012.
I think it is important to focus on the five priorities set out by the Commission in the Annual Growth Survey. First, pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation. Second, restoring normal lending to the economy. Third, promoting growth and competitiveness, for today as well as for tomorrow. Fourth, tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and fifth, modernising public administration. In particular, growth-friendly consolidation and reforms that increase labour supply, productivity and competitiveness are of the utmost importance to restore confidence. And if we do not restore confidence, we will never be able to fight and tackle the problem of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which is at an historic high in many Member States.
I have read your report and draft resolutions with interest and taken good note of the key messages that you wish to send to the Spring European Council. The various concerns expressed have been confirmed here today and will be at the centre of the debate we will have. I will, of course, refer to the work of Parliament when introducing the subject at the coming Ecofin meeting on 21 February, when we will adopt Council conclusions on the Annual Growth Survey as an input to the Spring European Council. I think it is very important to ensure that the debate here in Parliament, and the debate in the Council, together shape the Council’s conclusions.
At national level, we need, as Mr Gauzès’s report stresses, to pursue differentiated growth-friendly fiscal consolidation. With regard to structural reform, it is vital that all Member States pursue reforms that increase the labour supply and employment – such as pension reform and labour market reform – because those reforms strengthen both public finance and growth. But, of course, a number of these reforms will have medium-term and long-term effect, and we have to focus on the short term as well. That might mean focusing on the flexibility of product markets and competition or maybe, most importantly, on the growth drivers which are essential at EU level.
A more efficient EU single market, as per the Services Directive, is a growth driver with great potential. But we also need to combine consolidation and growth measures with green measures: for instance, a tax reform that shifts taxes away from labour towards energy consumption and pollution, thus having the potential to stimulate economic activity while greening the economy.
I shall, if I may, conclude my speech with the issue of unemployment, because that issue must be at the centre of our debate. Unemployment is one of the most devastating consequences of any economic crisis because it has such a direct effect on citizens, and youth in particular. I welcome the emphasis Ms Cornelissen put on tackling youth unemployment in her report. I think it is very much in line with the Commission’s ‘Youth on the Move’ initiative and its proposal to use available EU funds to fund training and work experience, which were mentioned in the conclusions of the European Council meeting in January. It is obvious that we owe it to our young people to ensure they can enter the work force – and the labour market – by getting a job and by getting training.
A key word is implementation. Implementation is what is needed, both to show that Europe works – and is at work – and also to restore confidence in political leadership in the European Union. You are all well aware of the European Semester, the ‘six-pack’ and now the ‘two-pack’ that we have ahead of us. I hope that we can work swiftly, and in a focussed way, on getting these things passed in cooperation. The European Parliament and the Danish Presidency have a number of important things to do not only in terms of implementation, but also in terms of making sure that we get things done.
I have come here to take on board your remarks and the debate ahead of the European Council, and therefore I will rest my case with these few comments. I am very much looking forward to hearing your views and comments, and thank you for your attention.
IN THE CHAIR: GIANNI PITTELLA Vice-President
László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I am very pleased to be here today to discuss with the Members of the European Parliament the Commission’s 2012 Annual Growth Survey. I am responding to the three rapporteurs who spoke before me and I will start with the Gauzès report and take the Cornelissen and Berès reports afterwards.
I am very pleased to see from the report by Mr Gauzès that there is considerable convergence of views between what the Commission has proposed in terms of key policy priorities for 2012 and the thinking in this House. Such a broad convergence of views is an important signal, particularly in times of crisis. And, of course, the severe crisis of confidence that we are still facing is the background to the horizontal policy priorities that the Commission has proposed in this Annual Growth Survey.
At the heart of this crisis of confidence lies the potential negative feedback loop between financial sector vulnerabilities, shaky confidence in sovereign debt sustainability, and weak growth prospects. Continued fiscal consolidation will be important. However, without stronger growth prospects, it will be much more difficult to put public debt on a sustainable path. Growth-friendly consolidation and employment-friendly growth are therefore essential elements of our crisis response, which will be important for the guidance of Member States’ economic and employment policies, to be issued on 1 March.
To achieve all this, the Commission and the European Union are pursuing a number of avenues that together form a comprehensive strategy. It includes a solid solution for Greece, strengthening the financial sector, effective financial backstops, and stronger economic governance.
On all these elements, we have made considerable progress in recent months. In the area of economic governance, the role this House has played has been particularly significant. Strengthening growth prospects has become ever more crucial for breaking the vicious circle that threatens macro-financial stability and the recovery at the same time. This is one of the key messages of the 2012 Annual Growth Survey. It has therefore set out the five priorities that you know and which your draft report endorses.
The AGS has set out in concrete terms how the Single Market, the EU budget and specific EU initiatives, including project bonds, can contribute to bolstering our growth potential. Wherever accelerated treatment of legislative proposals is involved, we certainly count on the support of the European Parliament.
Let me just mention the proposed unitary EU patent, agreement on the revision of the Roaming Regulation, the pending revisions of the directives on annual accounts, and increasing cofinancing rates for programme countries. These and other pending initiatives would certainly go a long way in boosting growth. As stated clearly in the AGS, the Commission considers that mobilising employment for growth, employment of young people and protecting the vulnerable are key priorities. Our recent initiatives on youth unemployment and SME financing are fully in line with these priorities.
While structural reforms achieve their ultimate objective only over the medium to long term, a firm and committed implementation certainly sends out a strong signal to the market and contributes to building confidence already today. There is an urgent need for full implementation of the measures already launched during the first European Semester. I am glad that the European Parliament supports this message from the Commission. This is crucial.
Strong implementation of structural reforms is all the more important today as the scope for macro-economic stimulus, in particular fiscal stimulus, is very limited at this point in time. That is the reason why differentiated and growth-friendly fiscal consolidation and employment-friendly growth are at the core of our strategy.
There is no doubt that this is a difficult path. But if we show discipline and resolve and strong reform implementation, we will be able to turn around the potential negative spiral and work to propel ourselves forward and pull ourselves up. This is the path that the Annual Growth Survey has charted for the 2012 European Semester.
Let me thank the European Parliament once more for showing the resolve Europe needs in the role it has played so far in strengthening the Union’s economic governance.
Let me turn to the Cornelissen report – which I warmly welcome – concerning the employment and social aspects of the Annual Growth Survey for 2012. I agree with your analysis and the key message that it contains. Firstly, I strongly support your call to the European Council to integrate, in its policy guidance, messages on the need to increase ambition to achieve the EU 2020 objectives and to support sustainable job creation with investment and tax reform.
You stress that budgetary, growth and employment measures need to be taken together as they are all interdependent; I fully agree with that. The focus needs to be simultaneously on measures having short-term effect and on the ones advancing towards the right growth model in the medium term, which is smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The guidance on Member States’ employment and economic policies should reflect this balanced approach.
Secondly, I am pleased in particular to note your call for the European Council to tackle youth employment as a priority and for the Member States to develop comprehensive strategies for young people who are not in employment, education or training.
In December, as you know, the Commission adopted a youth opportunities initiative to prompt action in fighting youth unemployment. The initiative lays special emphasis on making greater use of the Structural Funds, an approach endorsed by the informal European Council meeting on 30 January.
Action teams will this month visit the eight Member States with the highest youth unemployment rates – namely Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia – to identify the necessary elements for youth employment plans. In particular, they will look at how to step up the use of the Structural Funds and especially the European Social Fund, but also how to make best use of other EU tools such as EURES. In my view, this working method can also be seen as an embryo of an excessive unemployment procedure that would deploy and coordinate the national- and EU-level instruments in a more effective way.
Thirdly, I fully support your call to tackle poverty and social exclusion by laying the emphasis on groups with no – or limited – links to the labour market.
The Annual Growth Survey also sends strong policy messages to the European Council to make social protection systems more effective and implement active inclusion strategies that entail labour market activation measures.
Lastly, I support your call for greater democratic legitimacy, accountability and ownership.
Ownership of Europe 2020 in the context of the new governance is crucial for consensus, and consensus is critical to the strategy’s success. That is why Parliament needs to make its voice heard in the process. I therefore appreciate the effort the House has made to adopt these reports in time to contribute to the discussion ahead of the Spring European Council.
I would now turn to the Berès report and thank Ms Berès. I welcome your decision to approve the Commission proposal to carry over the guidelines for the Member States’ employment policies – being a core element of the European employment strategy – and leave them unchanged for 2012. The present employment guidelines meet their purpose in today’s very difficult economic environment. They are broad and comprehensive enough to cover the priorities identified in this year’s Annual Growth Survey and, in particular, the need for growth-enhancing reforms and job-rich recovery. They also provide the policy framework needed to address some of the social consequences of the economic crisis.
The Commission believes that the emphasis must now be on implementing the employment guidelines and pushing ahead with the growth-enhancing reforms they advocate. They provide the overall policy framework for any country-specific recommendation from the Council to the Member States under Article 148 of the Treaty.
Jan Kozłowski, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (PL) Mr President, Ms Vestager, Mr Andor, I would like to thank the rapporteurs, and I would like, in particular, to thank Ms Cornelissen, with whom it was my pleasure to work in my capacity as shadow rapporteur. I think the comprehensive nature of the reports presented today shows clearly that the European Parliament is an active and very good partner in work related to the European Semester.
Increasing fiscal consolidation is, of course, of fundamental importance. However, in order to lift ourselves out of the crisis, it is also imperative to take coordinated action to increase employment and, in particular, action intended to help young people, whose situation is particularly drastic. In December, the average level of unemployment among young people was over 22%, and in some Member States it was even over 40%, while at the same time – which, on the other hand, seems surprising – since 2009, the number of unfilled jobs has been rising. It is therefore vital to take decisive action at national and European level which will foster the adaptation of systems of education and lifelong learning to the requirements of the labour market and the growth of entrepreneurship.
I think a thorough assessment needs to be made of the work of employment services and of the effectiveness with which European employment instruments are being applied. The main objective of administrative and economic reforms should be the creation of new jobs, support for enterprise and development of the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. These measures should also be reflected in national reform programmes. I hope, too, that implementation of the measures proposed in the initiative to increase young people’s chances, in particular, by making it easier to start and develop businesses and the emphasis on practical training in the workplace, as well as better use of the European Social Fund, will bring about a genuine improvement in the situation of young people.
Elisa Ferreira, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, I wish to congratulate the rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, but I would also like to say that there have been enough well-meaning speeches on employment and growth. Today, with the first results on macro-economic imbalances in Europe, the veil is being lifted on why, in the EU and the euro area in particular, some countries are growing while others are withering and dying.
Europe is becoming less competitive in external markets and this agenda needs to be revised because it gives rise to much of the lack of internal growth. However, to focus on the internal market, four countries, including Germany, are accumulating successive surpluses year after year, while 20 countries – I repeat, 20 – are accumulating deficits, also year after year. As deficits build up, the external debt of these countries increases unsustainably.
Obviously, this process must be controlled. Obviously, what is needed is discipline. However, today it is important to ask some questions. In this context, is the solution of crushing the weakest with recessive policies the only possible solution? Will the tax competition within the internal market, from which there are a few winners, continue to be tolerated? Will the EU’s largest economy be able to keep developing common policies that favour it and internal economic policies that, as they are right for its economy, soak up the majority of the profits from the internal market? Will the Commission and the Council be able to keep imposing recessive policies that further squeeze the economies of the weakest countries, openly discussing the possibility of default by sovereign Member States in the euro area, when they know that the ‘firewall’ will never be anything more than an intention?
Are the Commission and the Council fully aware of the massive political and economic risk for Europe caused by discourse like this? Yes, revenue needs to be reviewed in a radical way. However, political will is required for this to happen. Until that will exists, out of respect for the public, let us refrain from saying that we advocate growth and employment, as it is not true. The public cannot go on being deceived.
Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, in the first debate here this morning on the European Council meeting, a very dark picture was painted of a Europe that is blindly marching to the drumbeat of austerity and more austerity without any real hope or a convincing vision for the future.
As my colleague, Sylvie Goulard, said, we are trying to impose stability by force. Up to now, the buzz-word in the EU has been solidarity. Right now, solidarity means mutual self-interest, because a failure by any one country will have a massive and incalculable impact on all of us. So as we try to grapple with the unthinkable, sometimes it is easy to forget the day-to-day and to overlook the steps that we must take today and tomorrow to ensure that we achieve the targets set in the EU 2020 strategy.
This very good report by Ms Cornelissen provides us with a road map from the perspective of employment and social affairs. Indeed, these are words we do not hear often enough – employment and social affairs – because they are words that directly impact on the lives of citizens.
There are some matters in this report that may cause certain problems for members of this House, such as the financial transaction tax. I support the FTT, but it should be on a Europe-wide basis and, ideally, it should be global. Another issue which may cause concern and has been alluded to by many Members here this morning is the call for Member States with a current account surplus to contribute to a reduction in macro-economic imbalances by increasing internal demand. Part of the problem here is that we tend to be very black and white, and we tend to define deficit as bad and surplus as good. But the reality is they both cause imbalances, and while there is a difference, we cannot concentrate on one aspect only.
In the last debate, the Danish Presidency said that growth and employment were top priority; they also said that austerity is top priority. Again and again, that is the message we are getting, but this report helps to redress the balance.
Finally, this morning we heard many criticisms of the Troika. Paragraph 48 proposes a solution: that the ILO should be involved in the financial assistance programmes. I hope both the Council and the Commission will take that suggestion on board.
Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Mr President, firstly, I should like to welcome Ms Vestager. You present a face of Europe that we would like to see more often and I would also like to say a special thank you to Mr Gauzès who, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (PPE), led the work in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON). I got the impression from the PPE that there was a will to bring together all those who believe in European integration. We have not been indifferent to that and it is the direction in which we must continue to work.
The 2012 Annual Growth Survey, which I think is very poorly named, is undoubtedly an improvement on the 2011 version. I would like to draw your attention to two items which were particularly welcome in our view. Firstly, on the one hand, the fact that the report draws attention to the negative consequences in terms of social justice of some of the austerity measures that have been taken. This concern is timely in this document.
The second item to be welcomed is the greater emphasis placed this year on fiscal concerns. Here I mean the issue of tax revenue. A very good job has been done here. You get the impression that people have been working more closely together within the Commission.
However, I would like to say that we are well aware that the consequences, the monitoring of the Annual Growth Survey, are in the hands of the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN) and we all know its pathological obsession with preventing public spending as such and with driving down wages. I will not return to this point; let us simply agree that there is ‘distrust’. We shall clearly continue to keep a close watch on the way in which you use this Annual Growth Survey.
All I would like to say is that this survey must become legislation for us. It is the Commission’s broad economic policy guidelines document. That is all well and good. It must be endorsed by the Council and Parliament in order to give you the democratic legitimacy you need to carry out the measures that you will recommend to the Member States following this Annual Growth Survey. I believe that the Commission will come out of it stronger than before and that, in any case, we shall make proposals of this nature in the future.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Alejandro Cercas (S&D), Blue-card question. – (ES) Mr President, I would like to ask Mr Lamberts whether his group would be willing to join forces with ours to offer young people assistance in finding a job, but a decent job, because if they go from being young and unemployed to being poor workers, we are still not going to be providing them with hope for future. Such hope would allow them to integrate appropriately into society.
Philippe Lamberts (Verts/ALE), Blue-card answer. – (FR) I think that the question is fully justified. I should like to support what Ms Vestager has just said. I think that the best way of guaranteeing sustainable employment in Europe is to go down the route of green transformation as soon as possible – I am sorry to use that adjective, but that is what it is – the ecological transformation of our economy. That is certainly the route to take. If Europe can become the world champion in energy efficiency, in resource efficiency, in terms of raw materials, I think that that is the best way to guarantee sustainable employment both for current and future generations. This, in any case, is what we will work towards.
Milan Cabrnoch, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (CS) Mr President, I would like to inform you that the European Conservatives and Reformists Group have decided to support this report, despite having many reservations. We agree with the set objective of increasing participation on the labour market, reducing structural unemployment and increasing the number of qualified workers capable of responding to demand on the labour market.
We firmly believe in particular that the exchange of proven approaches between individual Member States and a certain level of coordination may be beneficial in encouraging flexibility on labour markets, flexibility of employment law relationships and greater economic freedom. We stand together for economic innovation, education and social mobility, and we understand that it is not states but entrepreneurs who create jobs, and that they take on this role with a considerable level of risk and responsibility.
I firmly believe that it is time to stop talking about theoretical aims and to start taking concrete steps today and tomorrow to support the private sector with growth and investment, and on the path to prosperity.
Mara Bizzotto, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (IT) Mr President, this plenary session should have just one item on the agenda – to rethink the way the European project has been managed to date. The reason for this lies in the data published by Eurostat last week – 24 million unemployed people in Europe and 115 million people heading towards poverty, of which one in three is a young person under the age of 18.
No one has a recipe for solving the crisis. The European Commission wants to convince people that it has one, by forcing Member States to introduce austerity measures in order to reduce their public deficit, while continuing to waste millions of euro, for example, by maintaining two bases at Brussels and Strasbourg.
Cuts to the social state and hidden manoeuvres to impose technocrat governments, which nobody wants to discuss openly, totally undermine democratic institutions as they remove any opportunity for citizens to have a dialogue with politics. In order to regain its sense of responsibility, Europe needs to distance itself from financial lobbies with hidden powers. The identity relativity approach and false myth of the free market leading to greater wealth have failed. We need the type of democracy that will give a voice back to local areas, districts and citizens.
Franz Obermayr (NI). – (DE) Mr President, if the rapporteur, Ms Cornelissen, believes that the countries with surpluses should be called on to increase demand internally in order to compensate for economic imbalances within the Union, I would like to know how she thinks that can be achieved. For example, should we be asking all German citizens to stock up on Greek olive oil?
The consequence of the economic imbalances should, in fact, be the creation of a hard and a soft currency zone. All the citizens of Europe are already being forced to tighten their belts, because the entire euro area has been discredited and the bankrupt states are having to be rescued. The problem that I believe is particularly dramatic and very serious is youth unemployment. The average figure in the EU is 20%, but in some states it is over 40%. The quality of jobs is also a major concern. It is unacceptable that some young academics are in their third unpaid internship and still have no job security. The Commission must submit its promised quality framework for internships as a matter of urgency, otherwise the best people will emigrate to the United States and Asia and the EU will be left with an influx of unqualified migrants.
Csaba Őry (PPE). – (HU) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as coordinator for employment of the Group of the European People’s Party, I welcome the report drawn up by Ms Berès on employment guidelines. Of course, one of the reasons I do so is that back in 2010, I was the rapporteur of the initial report myself. At that time, we believed that we were drafting guidelines that would remain unchanged until 2014. We believed that we would follow the usual schedule of reviewing it annually and extending its validity. I was secretly hoping that this would not be so. I was hoping that perhaps in the light of the results, we would have to amend the goals we had set and maybe replace them with more ambitious ones. Unfortunately, this did not come true. The 2010 guidelines still remain relevant.
Our unemployment data are still bad; they are dramatic, and, in a certain sense, they are even showing an upward trend. As we know, the unemployment rate has climbed from 9.5% to 9.9%. There are nearly 24 million unemployed people, as already mentioned by others. What is even more dramatic is that out of this figure, youth unemployment essentially accounts for 5.5 million. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed immediately. I therefore welcome the Council decision of 30 January, which focuses specifically on the issue of youth unemployment. I believe that this is a correct decision, even if there are countries where the situation is somewhat better. I would therefore once again like to highlight and urge Member States to pay increased attention to the flagship initiative ‘Youth on the Move’. It is indeed crucial to ensure in future that young entrants to the labour market are able to find employment within four months. I naturally support keeping the guidelines in effect.
Evelyn Regner (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, I was rather slow in raising my blue card. My question would have been aimed at Mr Obermayr, but he chose to leave the Chamber immediately after his speech, so that is the end of the matter.
Sergio Gaetano Cofferati (S&D). – (IT) Mr President, we are discussing three fine reports that demonstrate how widespread and complex the conviction is here in Parliament that growth is crucial to the future of the European Union.
However, this is in stark contrast with the deplorable attitude of the Council and the Commission, where the prevalent ideological stance involves taking action only to ensure stability, to the point of obsession, an attitude that has now clearly led to real problems with democracy, as we have seen by what has been happening in Greece over the last few days.
I believe that this division is unsustainable for the future of Europe and that there is a need for profound adjustments by the Commission and the Council. I would add that the insistent reference to the Europe 2020 strategy is little more than a cultural option. After five years of crisis, with a heavy recession that will last for two more years, these objectives no longer exist. We need to recognise this now, in order to present a new overall strategy that is not based on something that does not actually exist.
Sylvie Goulard (ALDE). – (FR) Mr President, Ms Vestager, Mr Andor, I should first like to thank those Members who worked on this report, and also the Commission which, I would like to point out, has done its job this year in much greater depth than it did last year and has relied considerably less on pre-conceived ideas about the economy. We are grateful to you for it.
There is also one thing that is important, and that is to be able to make a coherent whole of the different documents, because clearly, for external observers, for the public, it is rather difficult to find your way around. There is the European Semester, the Annual growth strategy, the 2020 agenda, the Euro Plus Pact, the ‘six-pack’, the ‘two-pack’, etc. The more that we can make them into a coherent whole, as indeed you started to do when you referred to the 2020 strategy, the greater coherence there will be between this report and the report on macro-economic imbalances which came out of the ‘six-pack’ and which, as one of the rapporteurs, I strongly supported, and the more we will find ourselves on the right track.
I must stress that, in particular, it is very important that one of the five Europe 2020 strategy targets should not disappear, namely, the fight against poverty and exclusion. Given the situation in numerous Member States, given, first of all, the suffering of individual people, but also in view of what that means for the cohesion of our societies, I should fervently like to call on the Commission not to lose sight of this objective, which the Member States, Ms Vestager, have rather tended to overlook in the documents which have been drawn up since.
I should like to end on the following point: we must be extremely careful that our view of these matters is not limited to questions of procedure. We feel to some extent that there has been a proliferation of documents. I would really prefer it if we could manage to achieve a proliferation of employment and I count on you, Ms Vestager – if you could stop telephoning during the debate – for Denmark to give considerable impetus in this direction, as your country is renowned in this area, and we would be very keen to be able to adapt the solutions that have been found in your country to ours.
IN THE CHAIR: OTHMAR KARAS Vice-President
Tarja Cronberg (Verts/ALE). – (FI) Mr President, one readily agrees with the objectives of the Commission and those laid down in the reports, as well as the remedies proposed. However, the Growth Survey pays far too little attention to growth and employment for small enterprises. Sources of financing are needed, but how are they to be acquired? Financing is not always a solution: we also need to reduce the administrative burden. The proposal lacks concrete initiatives for reaching small and medium-sized enterprises in practice. We should not now fear the risks.
We cannot merely rely on flexibility in the labour market in its reform and in boosting the mobility of labour, as the neoliberals believe. Workers in a dynamic labour market must also have security. My other native country, Denmark, is a good example of flexicurity. Now, during its Presidency, perhaps it should propose that flexibility in the labour market could be increased if employee security were also given a boost at the same time.
In Europe’s ageing society, pension schemes must be made sustainable. Many countries will have to make painful decisions to raise the age of retirement and to make pensions sustainable. The earlier the system is reformed, the easier it will be to make it sustainable.
Finally, I would like to say that we also need to focus attention on well-being at work and burnout.
Anthea McIntyre (ECR). – Mr President, we must support entrepreneurship and SMEs and we must improve the functioning of the single market. Above all, we must cut red tape if we want to create jobs and increase growth.
I would like to speak briefly on Ms Cornelissen’s report which, unfortunately, I and fellow UK Conservatives cannot support in its entirety. This year – 2012 – should be the year we focus on the Member States’ implementation of the EU 2020 strategy, and surely it is counterproductive for us to pre-empt Member States’ progress and to make presumptions of failure. Also, we cannot support calls for a financial transaction tax or for EU funding in areas where Member States have already decided to make cuts, because these go against subsidiarity.
Derek Roland Clark (EFD). – Mr President, with the Greek and Italian debt crises under the burden of the euro, of course unemployment is rising. Spain has over 40% youth unemployment – yet there is a call for more Europe. Employment policy should be to cut regulations by half at least as the target for 2020, instead of which more legislation is being proposed. If you want growth and jobs, stop promoting the failed euro. Look at what it has done to Greece. Set them and others free, free to reorganise their own currency and to set their own interest rates.
Remember the euro forerunner, the ERM? My country was in that project; interest rates rose and so did unemployment. Finally, interest rates went up to 15% – totally unsustainable – but at least the government came to its senses and withdrew from the ERM. That was on Black Wednesday in 1992, but it should be remembered as ‘Freedom Wednesday’, for interest rates fell, employment gradually recovered and we entered a period of economic growth. Now that is the model you want.
Philippe Boulland (PPE). – (FR) Mr President, I should first like to thank the rapporteurs for their work.
In its response to the crisis, the European Union has just spent more than a year strengthening its economic governance to prevent excessive macro-economic imbalances and budgetary deficits from threatening the European economy, but that has not prevented social exclusion or an increase in unemployment. It is time, or rather it is now a matter of urgency, for the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy to become an absolute priority for the European Commission and for the Member States with a view to growth.
Each State will have to introduce a national employment plan, and that means that emphasis will have to be placed on a wide range of matters including, in no particular order, training, redeployment, micro-credit, apprenticeships, paid internships, etc. However, as Commissioner Andor has just pointed out, we have 23 million unemployed in Europe, and also 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises and 23 billion in European funds set aside for jobs which has not been used. We could almost make a 2323 strategy out of them. Not to mention the EUR 60 billion in unallocated Cohesion Funds.
In Denmark and in the Netherlands, social initiatives based on flexicurity have been taken and have proved their effectiveness. Let us draw inspiration from them. This also means that our social policy overall must be more suitable, with more attractive social incentives than those linked with unemployment and active support for all socially responsible enterprises.
We have poverty reduction objectives to be reached by 2020 and we already know that we shall miss them, given the absence of strong and well-targeted measures taken by the Member States.
We should fully exercise our role as Members of Parliament and consequently, it is our responsibility to demand that the same energy expended in taking strong economic governance measures should also be applied to ambitious, effective and binding measures for social governance.
Sylvana Rapti (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, I wish to touch on three points. The first concerns the Troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The proposals by this Troika are resulting in austerity, recession and unemployment. Facing this Troika, we have seen that there is another Troika here: the Cornelissen/Gauzès/Berès troika. It is a famous European Parliament troika that makes proposals that result in growth, hope and employment. We need to take it seriously, Commissioner.
The second point has to do with employment. I have here before me a letter sent by the President of the General Confederation of Greek Workers to the President of the European Parliament and to every Member of Parliament. Do you know what the President of the General Confederation of Greek Workers says in this letter? He says, quite simply, that the measures being proposed by the Troika are destroying collective and sectoral agreements in Greece. What is to be done about this? What will you say and what response will you make, Commissioner?
I shall close with a comment on the programme for young people. We have the ‘Youth on the Move’ programme. If you do not do something quickly, it will have to be renamed the ‘Youth Standing Still’ programme.
Roberts Zīle (ECR). – (LV) Mr President, it seems right to concentrate on three priorities: fiscal consolidation, labour reform and measures to foster growth. However, will the European Union’s citizens believe us concerning the 2020 goals? There are countries like Latvia, which has successfully consolidated its budget, but whose gross domestic product in 2020 will be exactly the same as in 2006. Income distribution within society is becoming increasingly unequal, as the Gini coefficients confirm, and the proportion of people at risk of poverty in every Member State (or nearly every state) is increasing.
Those in the younger generation have no wish to be unemployed or to work in temporary jobs for the best years of their lives in order to pay back the country’s debts to another country’s pension funds, and they are simply leaving.
Finally, I should like to say something about the goals of the next period’s financial framework. The intensity of aid in relation to economic and social cohesion in the new Member States will be only 2.5% of GDP, at most. In the current financial framework, it has been 4%. That means that the gap between Member States will only widen in future.
Veronica Lope Fontagné (PPE). – (ES) Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, our objective in the area of employment and social issues should continue to be the Europe 2020 strategy. Unfortunately, however, and partly due to the erroneous policies of previous governments, there are some countries, including my own, where there is no longer any room to manoeuvre and the only option left is to apply very rigorous budgetary adjustment programmes to tackle the sovereign debt crisis.
Unemployment has reached unacceptable levels and continues to rise in some countries, with young people in a particularly serious situation. Poverty and the risk of social exclusion have increased considerably. There is a greater need than ever to redirect spending towards growth and job creation, and to avoid cutbacks in social policies that would further exacerbate the situation faced by the weakest in society.
Fiscal consolidation is a necessary condition, but it is not enough to exit the crisis. Fiscal consolidation, growth and job creation should go hand in hand.
The priority elements of national programmes and European Union social policy should be integrated, active inclusion strategies, measures to support sustainable job creation, particularly for the young, and, ultimately, carrying out the necessary reform of our labour markets, as is currently taking place in Spain.
Olle Ludvigsson (S&D). – (SV) Mr President, we need to do something about the inadequate job matching on the European labour market. Since 2010, we have not only had sky-high unemployment, but also a rapidly increasing shortage of workers. Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the skills they are looking for. This does not bode well. If we do not take drastic measures, the high rate of unemployment will become permanent and our competitiveness will be eroded.
Most governments are too passive when it comes to improving job matching. We need a more active labour market policy that will give all of those who become unemployed the opportunity to increase their skills immediately to make them appropriate for the jobs that are available, and the concept of lifelong learning also needs to be put into practice. Everyone must be given the opportunity to learn something new at all stages in their lives. Broad investments in education that include schools, universities, vocational training and further education are needed in order for the workforce to constantly match the increasingly skills-intensive jobs that need to be created. We need a new approach in this area.
Regina Bastos (PPE). – (PT) Mr President, I shall begin by congratulating the rapporteurs. It is already the norm to say that we are experiencing the worst financial, economic and social crisis since our modern international financial model was devised. When emphasising that unemployment rates in the EU have reached record highs, it would not be going too far to demand that combating unemployment be made the top priority.
Levels of youth unemployment are tragic. In my country, Portugal, more than one in three young people are looking for work and have no prospect of success. The public are sceptical. Their confidence urgently needs to be restored. After years of reckless management of public finances, it is time to adopt budgetary conciliation reforms and to put the accounts in order. However, make no mistake: austerity without economic growth is nothing more than a partial solution. The creation of more and better jobs is a major aim for the European Union. Measures designed to ensure that young people do not go more than four months without receiving an offer of a job or training and those designed to reduce the risk of poverty and social exclusion have to become a reality.
Zita Gurmai (S&D). – Mr President, I welcome the fact that the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs has drawn up this report and I also hope that Parliament’s position will be taken into due account.
Youth unemployment figures in Europe are extremely worrying and they are getting worse – 5.6 million young people are unemployed, which is the equivalent of 22% in the EU. This is twice as high as the adult unemployment rate, which stands at 10%. We risk condemning an entire generation to despair and social exclusion because young people are being forced into inactivity.
Therefore, the Party of European Socialists, under its campaign ‘Your future is my future’, has to put concrete solutions on the agenda. We want a European youth guarantee that will ensure that every young person in Europe is offered a job, further education or work-focused training within four months at the latest of leaving education or becoming unemployed.
Society needs young women and men, and their talents and skills, on the labour market in order to strengthen Europe. Yes, it will cost us EUR 10 billion, but if they remain unemployed, it will cost the European Union EUR 100 billion every year.
Thomas Mann (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, the European Semester, in other words, the coordination of the financial and economic policy of the Member States, is beginning to take shape. It is right that, in the light of an average unemployment rate of 10%, the main focus should be on jobs. We must do everything possible to create more high-quality jobs.
Overall, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) voted in favour of Ms Cornelissen’s report. However, we are strongly opposed to paragraph 6. It is not acceptable for Member States with a current account surplus to be punished. These national economies are successful because of three things: intelligent management of businesses, the high level of potential of employees and a sound political framework. We must encourage the sharing of best practice, but we must never work on the principle that best practice must pay. The only way in which we can generate the long-term growth that we urgently need is on the basis of healthy budgets and substantial reforms. That is the lesson we should be learning from the last three years of ongoing crisis. It is absolutely right for Member States to incorporate debt brakes into their national constitutions. Of course, the austerity policies must be targeted and not stringent, otherwise the situation will go beyond what is reasonable from the perspective of employees, pensioners and unemployed people.
One of our priorities is to combat youth unemployment. The rate in Germany is 8%, but in some Member States, it is as high as 40%. The European Youth Guarantee must be put into practice. I have already called for it in my report on solidarity between the generations. After a period of four months’ unemployment, young people should be offered a job, an apprenticeship or other training opportunities. Small and medium-sized enterprises and public bodies must show their solidarity.