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Procedure : 2011/2071(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0384/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0384/2011

Debates :

PV 30/11/2011 - 16
CRE 30/11/2011 - 16

Votes :

PV 01/12/2011 - 6.24
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0542

Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 - Brussels OJ edition

16. European semester for economic policy coordination (debate)
Video of the speeches
Minutes
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  President. − The next item is the report by Mrs Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the European semester for economic policy coordination (2011/2071(INI)).

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, in tackling this report, Parliament is tackling the issue of democratic legitimacy in the context of economic policy.

At a time when everyone is wondering about how economic policy will be handled and about the fate that the forthcoming Council meeting has in store for that policy for the member countries of the euro area, it is important for the European Parliament to express its opinion in order to establish what the democratic legitimacy of the debate on an economic policy coordinated at EU level might consist of.

The European Commission has put forward the idea of a European semester in order to give direction to this debate before it takes place in the national parliaments. We believe that, as part of this European semester, we, the European Parliament, must be able to have our say with regard to the Annual Growth Survey that the European Commission is tabling as a key document for this debate.

We believe that this document should be an economic policy-making document, which is why we are proposing that, in future, the Commission describe this document as what it is: not an annual growth survey, but an economic policy-making document aimed at sustainable growth. Because, otherwise, it is clear that economic policy coordination at Heads of State or Government level will go in an altogether different direction, that of a Euro Plus Pact, for example, or of who knows what other procedure they might invent in the future.

No, we need a document from the Commission that gives direction to this debate, that incorporates the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and, of course, those of the Stability and Growth Pact. To ensure this, we also call for the European Parliament to be able to intervene straight away with quasi-codecision powers before the Spring European Council, and for the President of this institution, when he represents us at that Council, to be able to defend changes to this strategy, to this economic policy stance, on the basis of the mandate we shall give him. We also call for these powers to be recognised explicitly ascodecision powers in the future.

Throughout this process, we believe that our cooperation with the national parliaments really must help to create this democratic legitimacy. This means that in February, before the Spring European Council, we must organise this meeting with the national parliaments in order to discuss what this economic policy stance will consist of. We must do so on the basis of what has already taken place and what is set to take place within this Parliament not only on the initiative of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, but also in cooperation with other committees, such as the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. Then, once the European Council is over, we must organise a further debate, perhaps on a smaller scale, when the national parliaments themselves will have to ratify their national reform programmes.

Lastly, we believe that this Parliament will clearly have to adapt to this new situation if it wants to be involved in this debate to establish the democratic legitimacy of the entire process. To ensure this, we know that we will have to adapt our ways of working, our practices to what is currently being implemented by both the Council and the Commission, and we state in this report that we are ready to do so.

Lastly, with regard to the still uncertain prospect of a possible Treaty reform, we would make the following strong point: under the Treaty of Lisbon, this Parliament has rights that make it a key player in any Treaty reform process. We have already been consulted once on the reform of the Treaty when the European Stability Mechanism was implemented, and at that time we authorised this reform without an agreement. Given the issues that could potentially be discussed, we confirm today that we shall not allow such a reform to take place without an agreement.

Discussions will have to be held with Parliament on both the time frame and the content of such a reform. It cannot simply be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, so that economic policy is turned into a form of competition policy. We want this mandate to be a mandate for laying the foundations of EU economic policy, a solidarity and growth policy that is based on democratic legitimacy.

As for the issue of how to achieve this, we also call for this Parliament to be involved, alongside the national parliaments, by means of an agreement. Democratic legitimacy is what gives the European Union added value.

 
  
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  Jacek Dominik, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, honourable Members, I have already had occasion, several months ago, to present an initial analysis of the progress of the first European semester, but in fact at the moment we still do not know the results or how effective this process has been. We will receive the final assessment, as far as the current regime fulfils the hopes placed in it, only at the moment when the national parliaments finally adopt their draft budgets for next year, because the whole idea of the European semester is based on getting national decision-making bodies more involved in the process of implementing priorities related to the growth and development of the European Union. This is why the whole system – initiated by the European Commission in the Annual Growth Survey, which indicates priorities that then translate into particular recommendations to Member States – will be effective only if that information and those priorities are correctly communicated to the national parliaments and if the national parliaments take all these aspects into account in the course of adopting their national budgets.

We have a certain amount of experience after almost a year of the operation of this process. At today’s Ecofin Council, the next Annual Growth Survey was presented, and here we already have the first lesson which we have learned together with the Commission. The first lesson is that up till now the process of discussion and decision-making which is being designed has had too short a time frame. Hence, in contradistinction to the first Annual Growth Survey, this draft Annual Growth Survey was presented over a month in advance in comparison to the previous one, which gives the Council, other institutions and the Member States more time to analyse and prepare their national responses, so to speak, to the challenges highlighted by the European Commission. In fact the time constraints were one of the first elements which became evident as this process was put into effect.

Today’s Ecofin Council also included the presentation by Mr Rehn of two further draft regulations that will improve the system which is currently being operated. They increase the oversight, of the European Commission principally, over the procedure – I would not want to call it a budgetary procedure – over the measures used to communicate EU priorities and directions of development to the national parliaments. These two regulations are currently restricted just to the euro area, as this is the group of Member States which have the greatest responsibility at the moment in these matters, and with them lies the greatest challenge to improve the economic situation in the European Union and the situation of its public finances.

Apart from this, and this is very interesting – and I think it is a very good initiative on the part of the European Commission – both regulations contain clear instructions concerning inclusion of the European Parliament in the process of discussing these priorities and the means of their implementation by the Member States. In the current system there is no clear statement as to how this discussion should proceed. In both draft regulations it is clearly stated that the appropriate European Parliament committees can invite representatives of the Member States and the European Commission for discussion, while in the forum of the European Parliament it will be possible to discuss both the recommendations for particular Member States and the method in which these Member States are to implement them.

To recapitulate: at the moment we are discussing something which is being done for only the first time. In many instances, the remarks made by Ms Berès are very well founded and justified. We are all learning this process and we are evaluating its effectiveness on the basis of results which we are receiving in fact daily; every day new information becomes available about how particular Member States are interpreting the procedure and how particular Member States are implementing the European semester. We are also seeing the results of the first discussion at EU level. Lessons are being learned very quickly, and an attempt to improve and strengthen the process is in progress.

At today’s Ecofin Council, the Presidency undertook responsibility to pass further initiatives of the European Commission to the appropriate working groups as soon as possible, so that the process of implementation and improvement of the European semester will go forward as smoothly and as quickly as possible, in order to achieve the intended effect and improve the effectiveness and transparency of the system. Thank you very much for your attention.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I am glad to address this House today on the report by Mrs Berès and to say that the Commission welcomes the report on the European semester for economic policy coordination.

I especially welcome the fact that, on a number of issues that are central to the effective and efficient delivery of the public good of economic surveillance, Parliament and the Commission share a common point of view. One example is the clear and shared recognition that a purely intergovernmental system of policy coordination would be inadequate to fulfil what is required of multilateral surveillance under the Treaty. We need the Community method for this purpose.

The report also shows, to my mind, that we have a strong common understanding of the challenges that we are facing during this crisis and the direction that our response should take. It has to combine stability, growth and solidarity.

The most telling example of this is the spirit of cooperation with which Parliament has taken its responsibility regarding economic governance in the legislative process that led to the adoption of the six-pack legislation. The agreement between our institutions on the fundamental issues of economic policy coordination is all the more important at the present time as we face very substantial challenges for economic and financial policymaking.

Therefore I hope that we can repeat the success of the six-pack with regard to the new legislative proposals for further strengthening economic governance which the Commission put forward last Wednesday. The package of documents presented on that day reflects our commitment to closer convergence, stronger discipline and firm solidarity.

On several occasions I have already stated that democratic accountability on European decision-making has to be increased – as Mrs Berès rightly underlined – especially if a greater degree of fiscal discipline and economic surveillance is to be conducted by the European Union in relation to the Member States. This is indeed extremely important and I believe that in Parliament and the Commission we see eye to eye on this critical matter.

This is also the reason why I was – and remain – so supportive of the new Economic Dialogue. I look forward to our Economic Dialogue on the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey for 2012. This Dialogue will be an excellent opportunity for Parliament to express its views on the priorities for the economic agenda on growth, stability and governance.

Now, I recognise that not everything said in the report is necessarily flattering of how the first European semester in 2011 was conducted. I do, however, hope that you recognise that the Annual Growth Survey for 2012 also reflects efforts on the part of the Commission to take into account comments made in this House.

Let me conclude by saying that the introduction of the European semester in itself has been a major step forward and the 2011 experience has clearly shown improvements compared to economic surveillance done before. The six-pack will go much further and it is actually already having a practical impact because several Member States are realising that they face the prospect of moving to the next step of the Excessive Deficit Procedure, and also the possibility of financial sanctions, unless they take action in order to ensure that they meet the economic and fiscal targets of next year.

I am certain that the next European semester in the first half of 2012 will be even better, that we will already have learned more lessons based on our experience this year, and that we will further improve our capacity for policy making in a systematic manner.

 
  
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  László Surján, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Budgets. (HU) Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, I have the honour to inform you that the Committee on Budgets supported and welcomed this report. The fact that almost two-thirds of the opinion we had written was incorporated into the final version makes it all the easier for me to say this. For this, and also for her work, we owe our thanks to the rapporteur.

I fully agree with the Commission’s opinion that this process has the character of a dialogue. It is not about Brussels exercising some form of hard control or supremacy. That is why the involvement of the national parliaments is very important, which is, of course, impossible without proper involvement of the European Parliament. Still, the true responsibility for the budget in Member States lies with the national parliaments, so without them it would be very hard to make any progress.

 
  
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  Olle Ludvigsson, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.(SV) Mr President, the main message of this report is a very important one. Parliament’s influence on the economic semester must be increased. The procedure this year has revealed a huge need for improved transparency and a better democratic basis. With increased parliamentary scrutiny and more active involvement by Parliament, the procedure would immediately gain greater democratic legitimacy.

What I would like to highlight in particular is the employment aspect. A better functioning labour market is the key to success in both the short-term management of the crisis and the more long-term economic work. Unfortunately, unemployment and job creation were given far too little attention in the semester that was concluded in the summer. This has to change in future.

Firstly, the social partners must be given a more active role in drawing up analyses and recommendations. The social partners clearly have the greatest expertise for assessing what will work and what will not. Their right to act entirely independently in wage formation goes without saying.

Secondly, an active labour market policy must be made a more important component of economic policy. A greater focus on job matching, vocational training and further training would be very beneficial in view of the current unemployment figures.

Thirdly, the strategic choices must be made clearer, as knowledge is the absolutely key competitive factor for European companies. Without the strong development of knowledge within Europe, the jobs will move elsewhere. Europe must compete on the basis of knowledge, not on the basis of low wages and poor conditions.

I would like to thank Ms Berès for her excellent work on this sterling report, and I will finish by saying thank you for the floor.

 
  
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  Bernadette Vergnaud, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by congratulating Pervenche Berès on this outstanding report; it is the culmination of several months of work involving nine parliamentary committees.

Thus, in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, Catherine Stihler’s opinion emphasised the central role of the single market – the economic pillar of the EU – at the heart of governance focused on the aim of sustainable, inclusive and social growth, in line with the Europe 2020 strategy and in the interests of all our fellow citizens.

If we are to take up this challenge, however, we must ensure that the European semester is not just an intergovernmental control system that imposes the diktat of certain Council Members on the national parliaments. Parliamentary consent to the public budget is one of the foundations of democracy. Hence it is imperative that the Annual Growth Surveys be adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure, with the European Parliament and the national parliaments cooperating closely with each other. This is a democratic requirement, and we must stand our ground.

 
  
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  Michael Theurer, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Rehn, ladies and gentlemen, in the discussion regarding the economic and financial crisis, which has led to the introduction of the European semester, the focus for the public is on the question of monetary policy and the sovereign debt crisis.

For the Committee on Regional Development, however, it is important for more light to be shed on the question of the real economy. We want to eliminate the causes of the differences in competitiveness that result in some countries lagging behind. That is the central focus of European policy, and it must remain so in future, too. It is disgraceful that some countries do not utilise the Structural Funds. We need to investigate the causes here, as Parliament also determined in connection with my report on the absorption rate. It is not just a question of cofinancing; it is also a question of decentralising the responsibility for decision-making and of increasing administrative capacity. In this regard, the Committee on Regional Development is grateful to the rapporteur for including our proposals, because we now need to tackle the root of the problem and eliminate the causes of the imbalances.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, Mr Theurer quite rightly mentioned the problem of competitiveness. However, in his speech he concentrated only on the possibilities relating to the Structural and Cohesion Funds. I would like to ask him whether the cause of the problems in relation to competitiveness does not lie much deeper than that, namely in the specific production capacity of Member States and regions. What, in his view, could be done if direct interference in the rights of Member States is not possible?

 
  
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  Michael Theurer (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, the differences in competitiveness are undoubtedly also due to the different responses of Member States to global economic changes. It would be carrying things too far to investigate this, as even the opinions of the experts differ.

The fact is that, even within Member States, individual regions are developing differently. Therefore, the Committee on Regional Development believes that current cohesion and regional policy offers a good approach for providing assistance to regions, cities and communities and the companies established there to enable them to adapt better. However, on investigating the actual effects it emerges that some Member States – such as Estonia or even Poland, which are achieving very good results – deal with the Structural Funds better than others, which find it difficult to absorb the funds – for example regions like Calabria and Sicily, as well as Greece and Romania.

In the committee’s view, what is now needed is for us to tackle these problems specifically in order to utilise the Structural Funds better and to deal with the causes of the problem.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, I would like to express a few views on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education with regard to the European semester for economic policy coordination. I believe and hope that all of us in this House and in the European Parliament share the same view that, when we consider the future foundations of the European Union, they will rely very much on education. In other words, the level of education of the population will depend on what sort of teaching standards we have. If we look at the area covered by the European Union today, it is unfortunately clear that there are differences in the standards of education and teaching at present. We need to try to encourage Member States, through an open system of coordination, to act to raise standards of education in Europe in every respect.

It is also very important to ensure, now while we are going through an economic recession on a scale such as this, that, in economic policy, we actually channel money into education, basic research, product development and innovations, because this is also the key to achieving new growth. It is with respect to the notion of growth in particular that we need to achieve sustainable growth and sustainable competitiveness, and I believe that that will depend very much on education.

I would have liked the Commission, in this its Annual Growth Survey, to have included this issue of education in its 10 priority area programme. I know that it is a part of the EU 2020 project, and so it is very important to ensure that education is also very much a part of future European joint programmes.

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Mr President, I would like to make a few institutional points.

Firstly, I would like to stress that the formalisation of the European semester should in no way jeopardise the prerogatives of the European Parliament as provided for in the Treaties.

Secondly, institutions should cooperate in order to enhance the Semester’s legitimacy and to clear the remaining legal ambiguities which otherwise may lead to institutional conflicts in the coming years.

Thirdly, the European semester and the economic dialogue should be regarded as elements of the EU institutional framework and, most importantly, should promote the Community method involving the Union institutions at all stages of the decision-making process. The Commission here should play an independent and even stronger role in the process.

Finally, the decision to actually have the economic semester with 27 Member States – all of them – seeks to achieve one of the most important goals now facing us, which is to avoid fragmentation. That is why I am very happy that the idea of creating a subcommittee in this Parliament in which only members of the euro zone would be present was finally dropped.

 
  
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  Marije Cornelissen, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. (NL) Mr President, the EU 2020 objectives and the European semester should, in theory, help us make a tremendous step forward. Member States have committed themselves to specific goals: employment participation rates of 75% for both men and women, helping 20 million people out of poverty, tackling climate change, investment in innovation and, in addition, they will continue to allow the Commission to inspect their measures for the fulfilment of these objectives. So far, totally great.

However, in practice, this is not working, or is not working well enough. The Member States’ ambitions for jointly achieving the 2020 targets are far too low. Some reform programmes are really of ridiculously poor quality and social objectives are being systematically forgotten. Cuts seem like a great idea, even if that means that another 20 million people fall into poverty. The comments made by the Commission have been incoherent, to put it mildly.

Why is this not working at present? Actually, there is one simple answer: a complete lack of public interest in the European semester. At EU level, the European Parliament has too little say and, at national level, parliaments, social partners and NGOs have not been brought on board. No one knows anything about it, no one gets to have a say in it and, so, no one really cares. No minister is ever called to account by the public or the press if his work falls seriously below par. The chances of a government being punished at the next elections for failing to meet the objective of the European semester are nil.

If we are united in wanting this project to succeed, then we have to ensure public support. National parliaments, social partners and NGOs that will hold their governments to their own promises. A European Parliament that is allowed to participate fully. In her excellent report, Ms Berès mentions many specific measures to ensure this. We will very much vote in favour of the report, and we look forward to implementing it as quickly as possible.

In the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs we have already started implementing it, and I have the honour of being rapporteur for a European Parliament report on priorities for the coming year. I would invite the Commission and the Council to pay full attention to this, in the light of this report.

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I believe that this work that has just been done deserves to be highlighted and also deserves to be recognised for what it is.

The work that has been done is an example of excellent cooperation with the rapporteur, Ms Berès, and I believe that tomorrow’s vote will show that it expresses the will of the vast majority of this House.

Why is this the case? Because at stake here is the democratic scrutiny of procedures aimed at improving economic integration and cooperation among States. Clearly, Parliament is not asking to be an executive, nor is it asking to take the place of the national parliaments. However, everyone has a part to play at his or her respective level.

The merit of this own-initiative report, which is perhaps a little longer than normal, is that it proposes practical solutions for this association, by adopting two points of view. Firstly, the point of view of the current Treaty, of the current rules. The rapporteur makes proposals on how to increase Parliament’s involvement so as to ensure democratic scrutiny.

However, the report also reflects on the possibility of amending the Treaties and, at that point, indicates the improvements or the changes that should be made to guarantee this effective democratic scrutiny, which guarantees the legitimacy of the measures taken and negotiated at European and individual Member State levels.

I should like to return to two specific points that were raised a moment ago, starting with the subcommittee on the euro. We have abandoned it so as not to create a divide among MEPs, but this report rightly points out that, when the time comes, Parliament will have to adapt to the structure adopted by the Member States within the Council or within the euro area.

There is also the quasi-legislative, or quasi-codecision, issue. We must be practical and implement, on the basis of the Annual Growth Survey, a mechanism that allows Parliament to give its opinion, vote on amendments and, as the rapporteur was saying earlier, ensure that our President has a proper democratic mandate.

 
  
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  Elisa Ferreira, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PT) Mr President, unlike the United States, the euro area does not have external debt problems, but it does have two fundamental problems: insufficient growth and increasing internal imbalances, as the Commission itself identified on completion of its analysis of the euro’s first 10 years in operation.

Without political decisions reversing these imbalances and this lack of growth, they will grow unchecked: for example, without the euro, Germany’s trade surpluses could be reduced by revaluing the deutschemark; with the euro they remain. However, there is a price to pay. The deficits of many of the weaker economies, which would gain from a devaluation, also remain. The presence of this imbalance means that capital flows out of weaker economies, which indebt themselves at prohibitive rates of interest, whilst the stronger ones are offered capital almost for free. This unstoppable circle is very different from the description that we have heard until now of saints, on the one hand, and sinners, on the other.

The sole remedy of austerity only amplifies the recession and these problems. The Annual Growth Strategy that could, at the moment, be integrated with the European semester could be very useful for solving these problems, but in order to do so it will need to be shared with this House, under the codecision procedure, and adopted by the national parliaments. The European semester should incorporate the results of the analysis of macroeconomic imbalances and all other strategic documents: the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Employment Strategy and the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. That is what the Bères report guarantees. Perhaps with this framework – I am finishing now – the recommendations of the Stability and Growth Pact will gain greater technical quality and effectiveness.

 
  
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  Carl Haglund, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, this is a difficult week – one in which the European economy and the monetary union are on the line. At the same time, it is important for us to look forwards and also take note of the fact that a large number of measures have already been taken to prevent future crises. The European semester is therefore an incredibly important tool.

It is already clear now that the legislative package that we succeeded in agreeing on in September will have an extremely important effect in the future. My group and I are also pleased that our excellent Commissioner will actually utilise the tools that the Commission has at its disposal to deal with the economic concerns that we have right now. This is necessary in order to prevent future crises and also to create confidence in the measures that we are taking at European level.

In the debates that are conducted in the European Parliament, it is evident that we have a tendency to get bogged down in institutional debates. Certain Members earlier discussed the idea that the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs should have a subcommittee for those countries that belong to the euro area. I am personally not convinced that this would be necessary, and most members of my group are of the same opinion. I think it is unnecessary to expend a great deal of energy on this right now when we should instead be putting our energy into solving the crisis itself.

There are also those who have called for Parliament to have a greater role in the Annual Growth Survey. I do not believe that, in the current situation, it is worth devoting our energy to discussing the codecision procedure, because that is not the problem right now. The economic problems are to be found somewhere else entirely.

I am very pleased that we have the European semester – it will play an important role in the future.

 
  
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  Vicky Ford, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, last week Germany could not sell one third of its bond issue, yesterday the Italian Government paid nearly 8% interest and today two million people are striking in Britain even though the UK public pension black hole is the biggest in Europe. Right now this Parliament and every parliament should be looking at how to help growth, remove red tape and get businesses moving, but instead we have been in back rooms arguing about just when an economic dialogue would fit into Parliament’s timetable and who should be on the guest list.

Of course countries should consider how their economic policies affect others, but MEPs are now asking for a new treaty to give the European Parliament a vote on economic guidelines. This will not decrease the resentment of many of our citizens when they see decisions being taken in faraway places, and it will not help our businesses to grow. Members, we really must stop fiddling whilst Rome cannot borrow!

 
  
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  Nikolaos Chountis, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Mr President, I am of the opinion that there is possibly no sense in our debating this report, because we have been and are being overtaken by events. The European semester, within the framework of fiscal prudence and austerity, correlates fully with the plans of Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy to create a fiscal union of the willing; it is a basic idea for a stricter stability pact.

On the pretext of regaining the trust of the markets, they are sacrificing rights and circumventing social rights and these policies are incompatible with democracy. They are bypassing the Treaties, they are bypassing national parliaments, they are bypassing the European Parliament and, any minute now Mr Rehn, they will bypass you.

Budgets will be planned and prepared in Berlin provided, of course, that they are in keeping with Ms Merkel’s plans. We are being pushed, at great speed, into a two- and/or three-speed Europe, into a Europe of the strong and the weak, into a Europe of the capable and incapable, into a Europe of the reliable and unreliable, who will be at the mercy of speculators and the markets.

At present, the European states are terrified, European societies are being trampled underfoot, European citizens are uniting in the fear of rapid change and the European Union, unfortunately, is becoming more reactionary and more anti-democratic and is moving away from the ideal of creating an area of solidarity and social justice.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas, on behalf on the EFD Group. (LT) Mr President, lessons from the past that have been properly learnt may become a solid bridge to a more successful future. Have our Union’s Member States learnt them? The European Union institutions and European Community Members evaluating the crisis situation should reassess the situation today. Firstly, we should modernise public administration and make it more efficient. Secondly, we need to strengthen financial governance, because the directives adopted are not always effective enough measures to meet the challenges. Today, one of the main issues for the European Union’s workers should be the scale of unemployment in the Union’s Member States. We must discuss emergency measures and programmes which would make it possible to reduce the unemployment rate by at least a third in the shortest time possible. I do not admire decisions which propose assistance for the banks but not assistance for people. We can only save if we can earn. I therefore call on the Commission to provide for and present specific plans which would allow progress to be made in the areas of job creation, innovation, education, energy and social inclusion, and which, most importantly, would ensure growth.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Mr President, with the European semester we are attempting to perform an unbelievable balancing act that not even the most talented acrobat could maintain for long. You simply cannot say, on the one hand, ‘everyone must exercise discipline’ but then not have the instruments in place that are needed to bring about this discipline.

With regard to Germany, which is clearly causing the whole of Europe to suffer at the moment, I would like to repeat Heiner Flassbeck’s very good analysis of the situation: the success of the Social Democrats with regard to the Europe 2020 agenda, which resulted in there no longer being any increase in wages in real terms in Germany, was precisely what made the German economy even stronger than it was before in relation to the surrounding economies. In terms of the global economy, that had practically no effect, as the only country that has been able to genuinely increase its market share in the last 10 years is China. If the Germans had not succeeded in putting themselves in this position, we would now have a very different problem in Europe in that we would all have been dragged down. Of course, I could now say that I would like the German people to earn more and no longer to be so productive in terms of work units like the other countries. Is that the solution, however? The answer is ‘no’. We are in fact facing an acute problem. Right now I have confidence that the Heads of State or Government will be able to quickly put in place the finance policy measures that we need.

However, the European semester can only be one step along the way to getting to where we need to be, towards the genuine interweaving of our common interests. Then there will have to be no more no-go areas when it comes to tax policy. Then we will be able to talk about employment policy, but only within the framework of a genuinely new treaty drawn up by a convention. In the short term, the European semester will bring us little more than confusion among the citizens, because they will not understand the connections. Nevertheless, it is at least a forum for discussion.

 
  
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  Danuta Maria Hübner (PPE). - Mr President, I have two questions to the European Commission. For me the European semester is not only about discipline and coordination but I think it is a major, serious instrument that we have at our disposal to push for structural reforms. My question to the Commission is whether it is planning to prepare a kind of comparative track record on structural reforms which would allow us to see how individual Member States advance on structural reforms?

The second question is related to what was mentioned already in this House, which is that the recent recommendations on the 2011 Semester were toned down by the Council in some cases. My question is: in the Commission’s view, has this affected the implementation of the structural reforms?

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (S&D). (ES) Mr President, Mr Rehn, ladies and gentlemen, the European Union has so far failed to treat the economic policy of its Member States as a matter of common interest. Its economic pillar has not lived up to its function or to the challenges it has been faced with. The failure to fulfil the commitments of the Stability and Growth Pact and the objectives of the Lisbon agenda exposed, even before the crisis, the shortcomings of the mechanisms for fiscal supervision and economic coordination. The imbalances that lie at the root of today’s crisis provide evidence once again that economic problems require political solutions.

The European semester came into being as a result of a series of proposals put forward by the Commission and the task force on economic governance, which was created under the Spanish Presidency. It is a step towards stronger economic and budgetary coordination within the European Union. The market and national initiatives alone are unable to tackle the systemic risks and relaunch the European economy along a sustainable path. Nor will a bureaucratic or a purely intergovernmental approach serve to fill the shortfall in Europe’s economic governance.

If we are to advance towards political union, we need to bolster democratic legitimacy. The European semester cannot be implemented disregarding the European public or indeed the principles of democracy. I therefore support the Berès report, which defends the role of the European Parliament, the national parliaments and inter-parliamentary dialogue in developing it responsibly and effectively.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: GILES CHICHESTER
Vice-President

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI).(FR) Mr President, no matter what most of the speakers from the majority say about it, the European semester is a highly undemocratic exercise. Ms Berès’s report can only pretend to improve it.

I say this because, when the broad lines of national reform programmes, in other words the broad lines of the political action taken by national governments, and their expression in budgetary terms, are dictated each year in Brussels, the role of parliaments in drafting their budgets becomes virtually non-existent.

When, moreover, penalty procedures are automatically applied for failure to comply with the quantified objectives of the Stability and Growth Pact or with the recommendations made to each Member State, that is no longer coordination, ladies and gentlemen, it is subordination, subordination in the sense of one’s being forced to adopt full-blown competition policies, global free trade policies, and social budget and wage restraint policies that leave no room for a European economic recovery. The peoples are today being governed – in Greece, Italy and elsewhere – by technicians, by the senior executives of Goldman Sachs Bank, and this exercise that you are proposing to us is in reality highly undemocratic.

 
  
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  Roberto Gualtieri (S&D).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, this excellent report can make a very important contribution to the debate under way on economic governance and on the possible reform of the Treaties, because it highlights very successfully the extremely close and obvious connection between the effectiveness of economic governance and the degree of its democratic legitimacy, thereby also emphasising, I wish to say, the absurdity of the idea of a limited Treaty reform.

Because, although the objectives that such a limited reform seemingly sets could easily be achieved, as we have already argued, not with a reform but by applying the Treaty, if instead we turn the guidelines and recommendations made on the basis of Articles 121(2) and 148(4) into decisions with legal standing, we are stepping beyond the confines of a limited reform and moving towards a full-blown federal-style fiscal union that cannot be created without full democratic legitimacy and hence without a full codecision role for the European Parliament.

In short, this reform, if limited, is useless; if it grants new and unconditional powers in relation to economic policy then it certainly cannot be limited. Therefore, a completely different approach must be adopted; Parliament must be involved straight away in defining the guidelines and recommendations, as the report proposes. This is a prerequisite for subsequently making those guidelines binding in nature. Adopting a completely different approach, following the Community method and striving for greater democratic legitimacy: that is the line that the Berès report convincingly proposes to us.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE).(HU) Mr President, the test of whether any idea is a good one is its being put into practice, because as we know, in theory anything is possible. I should like to think that after the initial difficulties and the trial year the European semester can be launched in practice as well. It would be quite unfortunate if this system were to function merely as a monitoring scheme which, despite working within a well-established framework in theory, can neither be complied with nor be implemented. The ability of the system to be complied with must be guaranteed by the Commission.

If the report is passed tomorrow, we will essentially make a promising fresh start into a new, hopeful period. I would like to draw the Commission’s attention to the importance of a more coordinated and more accurate control of national reform programmes, strict analysis of annual growth surveys, and the preparation, as soon as possible, of analyses summarising good practices and the experience gained over the first year.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) Mr President, Commissioner Rehn, the European semester is a necessary but not sufficient means of EU economic policy. Eurobonds should be introduced as soon as possible in order to resolve the crisis of the eurozone. It is regrettable that with the preparation of the Green Paper the European Commission can procrastinate for months or even years. The drift of Europe must be stopped. Europe does not have time to debate on green papers. A matter of similar importance is the introduction of the financial transaction tax, which the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament proposed already in September 2008. It would be welcome if the Heads of State or Government did not procrastinate over this. We must halt Europe’s drift with combined efforts.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE).(PL) Mr President, the European semester is intended to help verify the application of budgetary discipline by Member States and enable monitoring of proper delivery of the Europe 2020 programme. After a year of its operation it is difficult to say unequivocally if the European semester is going to help achieve the objectives which have been set. From the very outset a standard format was not created for European semesters, which has meant that documents sent by Member States are very different from each other and difficult to understand. In relation to this, the question arises as to the plausibility of the assessment carried out, since the information supplied from each source differs so much. We are beginning to see a repeat of the situation we faced with the Lisbon Strategy.

A year on it can be seen that some Member States are not respecting the need to incorporate the principles of the new strategy, which may mean the objectives it has identified will not be achieved. It seems essential therefore to introduce mechanisms to force individual governments to provide an exact road map and a timetable, because we cannot allow the Union to waste the next decade. Whether we want it or not, the world is pressing on regardless, not looking back at the internal problems of the countries of Europe. If we do not achieve the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, we will be the losers in the global competition not only against the United States, but also against China, Brazil and India. It should be said clearly that by pretending to take action we are doing most harm to ourselves.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, instead of using the European semester to pass more competences to Brussels and thus push further ahead with the centralisation of the European Union, it is, in my view, more important to prevent the debt from occurring in the first place. In view of the morass that is the debt crisis we find ourselves in, it is important, above all, for us now, at all costs, to avert the real threat of the countries in the euro area that are still economically successful being dragged into the abyss as well.

The introduction of common bonds for the euro countries with a triple A rating – what are being referred to as elite bonds – only makes sense if the European Union does not degenerate into a debt union or transfer union. That would probably make the division of the euro area essential. The introduction of elite bonds would perhaps result in a situation that the euro visionaries cannot oppose. Elite bonds could therefore pave the way for a core European hard currency zone, a core European hard currency union, which would, in my view, make perfect sense.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament is staying on the ball with this report. With the implementation of the six-pack, we have taken a major step forward and codified the European semester. Nevertheless, the European semester remains an interim solution, an emergency solution, because, when the euro was introduced, we failed to create the necessary economic and social union and political union. We need to set up a convention quickly to prepare the economic and social union, because we have not only failed to comply with the Stability and Growth Pact, we have also undermined it. The European semester is an emergency solution because the Commission lacks many of political instruments necessary to enable it to be an effective agency for economic governance. Let us ensure that infringements of the Stability and Growth Pact and the European goals can be brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Let us also ensure that the ‘debt brakes’ in the Member States can be accompanied by the veto right of an independent sovereign debt committee.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. (FI) Mr President, honourable Members, first of all I want to thank everyone for a constructive, pertinent discussion, prompted by the excellent report by Ms Berès. To finish this debate, I would like to make three comments.

Firstly, the European Commission is always ready to listen to the European Parliament, and especially when Parliament makes its voice heard in good time. I hope, with regard to the Annual Growth Survey for 2012, that the European Parliament will find a natural way to engage in debate and present its views in good time to influence the decisions, not only of the Commission, but of the Member States also. This is very important for democratic legitimacy, which the rapporteur, Ms Berès, and several others have quite reasonably and rightly pointed out this evening.

By way of example, I listened to Mr Takkula emphasising the importance of education. We cannot consider all policy areas every year, but education is indeed so important, both for competitiveness and productivity, and, ultimately, for people’s employability, that we really need to attach special importance to it, and it is good, too, to consider it in the context of this Annual Growth Survey. Education is obviously of decisive importance, not just for economic growth and employment, but also, more generally, for human development needs. In that sense, it is a very fundamental value for European society.

My second comment is addressed to Ms Hübner, who referred to the relative dearth of any comparative national monitoring system. In fact, if you read this Growth Survey for 2012 carefully, it has a section that compares Member States and one that also deals with the issue at Union level, where there is close examination of what measures have been recommended for the Member States and, furthermore, what measures all Member States should adopt to implement joint European decisions, with regard, for example, to the Services Directive or, just as importantly, to energy and trade policy. I therefore agree with you: this is also partially included here, and we will give greater weight to this dimension in future reports.

My third and final comment is this: some Members have suggested that this European semester would be a pointless, bureaucratic tool, and that we should just focus on putting out the fire and overcoming the current crisis. Of course, I agree that we really must do all we can to beat the crisis, in order to salvage the economy and employment, but, at the same time, I disagree that this European semester would be pointless in this sense – quite the contrary.

It is very important to see this European semester as an instrument to create what is needed for long-term economic growth and also, in the short-term, greater economic stability. The recommendations made this year in connection with the European semester, for example, have had an impact on the actions taken in the Member States, and, in that sense, they have already proved their worth.

To conclude, I wish to say that it is obvious that Europe’s economic growth will not get under way through over-centralisation, but by strengthening entrepreneurship, by encouraging people to develop their skills and potential for innovation, and, in general, by releasing people’s creative powers, to foster entrepreneurship and expertise and, ultimately to promote productive work. This is the precise purpose of the European semester, which is to say that it is a means for us to use both fiscal and structural policy to do what it takes to promote entrepreneurship, expertise, innovation and productive work in general, all of which will help provide a firmer basis for economic growth and employment in Europe. Consequently, therefore, this European semester is very directly linked to enhancing economic growth and, as a result, employment in Europe, and it is that which is most crucial for our citizens in the end.

 
  
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  Jacek Dominik, President-in-Office of the Council.(PL) Mr President, I have listened to this debate with very great interest. It seems to me that such debates are necessary, not least to increase understanding of the whole process and of the European semester.

I mean, what is it for? The European semester is not an instrument intended to provide a stopgap solution to the problems of the present crisis. It is an instrument conceived as an element of long-term economic cooperation in the European Union, based on strengthening the way EU priorities are ordered and action is coordinated by all Member States, and on strengthening the communication of these priorities, defined at EU level, to national parliaments, which means to the institutions which ultimately make most of the decisions that influence the actual implementation of EU priorities. It seems to me that we have to remember this.

In my opinion, the whole process at the moment is indeed based on EU institutions. Opinions have been voiced here in the Chamber that there are fears we are moving away from the Community method, that elements are beginning to be introduced which are not provided for by the Treaty, that we are starting to see the dictate of particular Member States. However, please note that the whole process is based from the beginning on drafts prepared by the European Commission, on discussion which takes place in the Council and at the level of the European Council, and on documents which are adopted by EU institutions. So in my opinion the Community method is preserved, and most important of all in the whole process – many Member States have also drawn attention to this – this means the final decision is being left to sovereign national parliaments. We must remember this and uphold this. Taking this sovereignty away from national parliaments in the area of budgetary decisions is something which is not accepted by practically any Member State. This option does not exist.

In discussing the European semester and its assessment after the first year of its operation as well as further changes to its operation which are being put in place, we should concentrate on how to increase and strengthen that communication with the parliaments of Europe. How can we involve the national parliaments to a greater degree in the discussion of priorities which are helping to improve the effectiveness of the entire European Union? However, this all depends on greater effectiveness in the performance of individual Member States. We already know from experience that it is not possible to build increased competitiveness for the European Union based on only some of the Member States. We all have to be going in the same direction.

We need to find a suitable tempo for particular Member States. Not all of them are able to bear the same burden at the same time. However, what the European Commission is doing in preparing the Annual Growth Survey every year is in fact a means of showing the direction in which the Union should be developing in the near future. Later this translates into particular recommendations for Member States and checks if these recommendations find a degree of reflection in national reform programmes and later in national budgets. This is exactly the element which until now has been missing – signals were being sent from Brussels and the European institutions to the capitals and in fact that was the end of the matter. We did not have an element of reciprocity while still in the process of deciding about how the recommendations are to be implemented. So being able to do this gives huge added value to the whole process, and this is something on which we should concentrate.

I can see very many interesting thoughts in the Berès report about this very subject of how the European Parliament and other EU institutions could be involved in the process of bringing national parliaments in on the whole decision-making process and showing them that they too bear direct responsibility for delivering EU priorities which serve our common good: increasing and stabilising economic growth in the Member States and improving competitiveness throughout the European Union.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès, rapporteur. (FR) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, I should first like to respond to Ms Ford, who has abandoned us.

It is surprising to see an MEP from the United Kingdom express concern about the fact that a parliament is worried about democratic legitimacy. That does not match the impression I have of democracy as seen from the United Kingdom. I also wish to say to her that we are so insistent that the European Parliament should have the power of codecision when defining its economic policy guidelines precisely because we believe that, budgetary consolidation aside, this is one of the ways of ensuring that our concerns with regard to growth and with regard to funding for innovation, research and investment needs in industry are taken into account.

President-in-Office of the Council, I should like to thank you for your insistence on the Community method, and to say to you that, while the Member States are, of course, sovereign powers, it is important that we also learn the lessons of this crisis.

One of the lessons of this crisis is that ex-ante coordination of Member States’ economic policies has not worked well enough. To ensure that it does work well, and on an acceptable, democratic basis, in accordance with what the European institution stands for, I invite you, and your successors, on behalf of the Danish Presidency, to take full account of the observations that this Parliament will make on the 2012 Annual Growth Survey.

Commissioner, you said that you did not want this exercise to be described as technocratic. It is up to us alone to make it a political economic-policy making exercise. I believe that this report contributes to this aim and I hope, Commissioner, that you will support us in improving the procedure and in ensuring that the Council genuinely takes account of the observations that this European Parliament will make. We shall come to the February part-session with observations on the content so that, together, we are more effective.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 12.00 tomorrow.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing. (PT) We are living through a difficult period of European history. More than ever, we need responsible analysis of the Union’s responses to this crisis, because the truth is that we are today witnessing increased inequality, macroeconomic and financial imbalances, and increasingly clear divergences in competitiveness. As such, the upcoming European Council must understand the importance of increasing economic coordination, with a view to stability, growth and jobs, and to enabling more robust action by the European Central Bank. We are aware of the monetary concerns that the Union has today and of the need to protect the euro, but we cannot stop at that: we need to have an economic policy for the European Union. To begin with, we need to inject liquidity into the economy because companies are worried about finance; that is crucial if we are to halt the recession and return to growth and employment. There is also a need for the European Parliament to play a central role in terms of codecision, so that a vision of the Union based on solidarity is better able to thrive, and so that the democratic legitimacy of the decisions being taken in the present situation – in many cases by a duumvirate – increases.

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing.(RO) The economic crisis has highlighted to us that we need better instruments to correct the macroeconomic imbalances. The European semesteremester for economic governance is intended to evaluate national economic and fiscal policies at EU level before they are adopted. This would provide a structural framework for coordinating Member States’ budgetary and economic policies, in keeping with the Stability and Growth Pact and the EU 2020 strategy. The economic crisis has increased the macroeconomic imbalances and disparities in competitiveness since the introduction of the euro. This has made it necessary for the European Union to tackle these problems using a symmetrical approach which would address excessive deficits as well as excessive surpluses.

The enhanced economic governance framework should be based on various inter-linked policies aimed at economic growth and creating sustainable jobs, which need to be coherent with each other, and in particular on an EU strategy for economic growth and jobs. The experience acquired in these last years has highlighted the need for improved economic governance in the European Union, which should be built on stronger national ownership of commonly agreed rules and policies and on a more robust framework for monitoring national economic policies at EU level.

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. – (CS) The report examines, among other things, the issue of budgetary discipline, not only in the euro area but also in all EU Member States. As one aspect of the introduction of the common economic and budgetary policy of the eurozone countries, the report states that experience to date – with the budget problems of one state overflowing into other states and thus influencing all members of the eurozone - shows a clear need for greater coordination and cooperation in the area of economic and budgetary policies. I personally consider it right to call on Member States to involve national and regional parliaments, social partners and civil society in the drafting of national reform programmes and development and cohesion programmes, and to consult with them regularly over these. It is clear that, if the integrated surveillance of economic policies is to be successful, it should not be limited just to the evaluation of the budgetary and structural policies of EU Member States, but must also be in accordance with measures and objectives at EU level, and also with the level and nature of EU financial resources. In this regard, the EU policies and measures in the EU 2020 strategy are therefore fundamental, particularly in relation to cohesion, research and innovation policies.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D), in writing.(RO) A great deal has been said in European and national contexts about the economic and financial crisis and its impact, about the sovereign debt and public deficit crisis, and about job losses and the precariousness of existing jobs. However, too little action has been taken. Decisions have been made involving half measures, while the euro area Member States in difficulty have been at the receiving end of accusing looks, being held responsible for the domino effect on the EU’s general economic situation. However, we must acknowledge that the crisis which we are facing, the most serious in the last 70 years, was brought about by certain shortcomings in the Economic and Monetary Union and by structural problems experienced by the states in the euro area, especially with regard to the disparities in competitiveness between them, as was rightly mentioned recently by Jacques Delors. This is why Member States should regard economic and fiscal policies as an issue of common interest and aim to consolidate macroeconomic coordination within the European semester. To enable the European project to advance the ideals of democracy, peace and economic prosperity further, it must be credible and supported by pillars comprising really effective economic stabilisation policies.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D), in writing. I support this report which calls for increased parliamentary scrutiny in eurozone governance. The European Parliament must play a key role in the new governance of the eurozone. The tightening of economic policy coordination and surveillance at European level must be based on the firm principles of democratic legitimacy and solidarity. The strengthening of the Commission’s authority in controlling the coordination and surveillance of national budgets must be accompanied by a simultaneous strengthening of democratic control through the European Parliament. Currently the Commission produces the ‘Annual Growth Survey’ which is the document used as the basis for the European semester process. This process should be further legitimised by making it subject to the codecision procedure with the European Parliament before the spring summit. This change would mean the European Parliament has real power to amend and negotiate with the Council the content of the document on which the European semester is based. We should also reinforce the cooperation between the European Parliament and national parliaments with interparliamentary fora to coordinate policies on the European semester, including meetings of the broad European political groups before and after the annual spring Economic Council.

 
  
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  Edit Herzog (S&D), in writing.(HU) We must urgently find a way to ensure that the management of problems is not limited to austerity measures which, even if only temporarily, hinder growth and increase unemployment if applied on their own. Adjustment programmes should also contain measures that create jobs and trigger structurally uniform growth. This is the only way that we can give an outlook and faith to all those who have to bear the largest share of the burdens of adjustment. In this regard, the legislative package is unfortunately lacking any concrete aspects. There is no doubt that our most urgent tasks now concern the euro area. However, there is also plenty of work to be done in the ten countries that are not (yet) members of the euro area. It is therefore also important for euro area leaders who are now tightening their cooperation to not forget about the difficulties of these ten Member States, and to pay sufficient attention to, and make sufficient efforts for, the strengthening of the whole of the EU. This is not simply a matter of goodwill and noble gestures, but also a well-perceived need, as one-third of the half billion EU citizens live outside the euro area, and they represent crucial buyers and suppliers for euro area businesses and markets.

 
  
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  Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL), in writing.(FR) The introduction of the Semester at the start of last year marked the first stage in a general belt-tightening exercise. The European semester set a dangerous precedent by forcing the Member States to communicate their draft budgets to the European institutions before their national parliaments had even been consulted. Once imposed, this policy was soon followed by even more drastic measures, with a little more parliamentary sovereignty being handed over to the European supervisory bodies each time. The Stability and Growth Pact is based on this framework, as are the Commission’s new proposals to place struggling States under supervision. Ms Berès’s report itself expresses concern over the democratic legitimacy of this process. My group, for its part, is unable to accept these austerity measures imposed on the European people, and accordingly calls for a proper debate to be opened on a new European project that is no longer tied to the financial markets and that has social, human and environmental progress, as well as job security, as its main aims.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE), in writing.(RO) The economic and financial crisis has increased the inequalities and macroeconomic imbalances. The first European semester which ended recently has highlighted the need for the European Union to tackle these problems using a symmetrical approach, also based on greater legitimacy and inter-linked policies at EU level, with the aim of achieving the objectives set in the Europe 2020 strategy. Regional policy will continue to play a particularly important role in the development of national programmes as part of the European semester, while also providing a key instrument for achieving the objectives set in the medium and long term. A strong, well-financed cohesion policy can prevent possible economic and financial crises in Europe in the future and can provide particular protection to less well developed regions. It is also of paramount importance to involve local and regional partners in achieving the European Union’s objectives, bearing in mind the characteristics and different levels of development of Europe’s 271 regions. This action will lead to a greater feeling of responsibility for the strategy’s objectives at all levels and will ensure greater awareness on the ground of the objectives and results.

 
  
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  Sławomir Witold Nitras (PPE), in writing.(PL) The ongoing debt crisis has demonstrated that the current European system of economic governance is not effective in averting crises or preventing them from spreading. The European semester is a cycle of mutual assessments of the EU Member States’ budgetary plans, which enables surveillance of economic policy in the EU in order to prevent the occurrence of significant fiscal and structural problems. The first European semester was inaugurated on 1 January 2011 and, as experience has shown, the procedure needs to be improved.

In most cases the Commission’s recommendations for the Member States were reduced in scope by the Council, and this may frustrate effective economic coordination in the future. It also proves that in this area the Community method is more effective than an intergovernmental approach. Therefore, when drafting further legislation in the future, we should endeavour to increase the role of the European Parliament at the expense of the Council, since such a solution will ensure that the scope of the final recommendations is independent of national political interests. The position of Parliament can be strengthened by institutionalising economic dialogue, for example, and in particular by setting up a special parliamentary committee on the European semester. As part of the committee’s work, MEPs could, for example, ask the Council to justify changes made to the Commission’s recommendations, and could request finance ministers from Members States which have not implemented the recommendations to attend the committee’s meetings. The clear inclusion of Parliament will increase the democratic legitimacy of the procedure as a whole and will also support the integrity of the European legal system and the transparency of the institutional structure.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI), in writing. – (DE) Instead of finally giving a chance to weaker national economies outside the euro area, Brussels is now placing its hopes in a planned economy. Economic and social policy, in other words the key competences of a sovereign state, are now subject to the centralist monitoring of the Commission and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin). National reform programmes have to be presented in Brussels so that ‘anomalies can be identified at an early stage.’ The recommendations of the Council and the Commission are then to be implemented in the second semester. This system will never work. This is not just my opinion – a study by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament comes to the same conclusion: it estimates the efficiency of the recommendations in the last European semester to be non-existent. Why is that? Growth cannot be forced through a centralised planned economy. We need to remedy the mistakes made when the euro area was established and form a hard currency zone. This must be made up of sovereign states with sovereign economic policies.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD), in writing.(EL) My congratulations to the rapporteur on the comprehensive and balanced report which she has presented to us. The right balance between financial returns, figures and a social dimension is needed and the rapporteur rightly emphasised that. The measures being taken within the framework of national reform plans, economic governance and the European semester should not exacerbate the social crisis in certain countries with more vulnerable economies, thus making life even more difficult. I agree with the rapporteur that the single market must be at the heart of European economic governance and I consider it vital that the Member States increase support for SMEs, which are the backbone of the single market economy. Education is an important sector for the development of a viable economy and must be strengthened, so that it can act as a force for growth, rather than being the object of spending cuts that may come at a high price by marginalising the younger generations from the point of view of employment.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI), in writing. – (DE) When it comes to a common currency and the subsequent closely interconnected economies, the Member States simply have a responsibility to ‘lay their cards on the table’. The significantly more stringent coordination of budgets does not in any way violate the principle of subsidiarity. The submission of national reform programmes should, on grounds of transparency, go without saying for elected representatives and, in view of the fact that governments clearly expect to bail out their European partners, the electorates of the credit-providing states also have a right to this transparency. Many good strategies were committed to paper a long time ago. We now need to actually comply with these strategies at last, the Maastricht criteria being one example that could be mentioned.

 
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