EU Leaders Remain Divided on Key Issues
Ralitsa Kovacheva, 25 May 2012
"Tonight's meeting was about putting pressure, focusing minds and clearing the air." This summary by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy suggests the feeling that the European leaders rather attended a yoga course than a working dinner. The scarce and fragmentary information about the outcome of the talks intensified the impression that the purpose of the summit was really to make "fine tuning" and check the various positions before making concrete decisions at the formal European Council in late June. As Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said while leaving the Council, we should not have too high expectations of such meetings: "There was a general sobriety about not raising the expectations far too high."
Eurobonds are the end of the road, not the beginning
French President Francois Hollande's attempt to reverse the agenda and make Eurobonds the main topic has obviously not been crowned with success. This is clear both from the official statement announcement by President Van Rompuy and by his much clearer explanation at the press conference some time after midnight: "It was briefly touched upon by several members of the European Council in different directions, but let me put it also very clear: it was mentioned in the framework of deepening the economic and monetary union. There was nobody asking for an immediate introduction of all this, this will take time, it is the end of the process, we have to consider what the legal implications of all this are." As euinside wrote before the summit, at this stage the ideas to introduce Eurobonds are still too raw, so any plans for their rapid creation sound unrealistic and rather divert attention from the pressing issues.
So far the position that Eurobonds are the end and not the beginning of economic integration was upheld by the "Merkozy" duo and was clearly formulated by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. His successor Francois Hollande shares different opinion but used the same wording to explain his differences with German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "For now, Germany’s line of thinking is that eurobonds, if I give the most optimistic version, could only be an end point, whereas for us they are a starting point.” However, Mr Hollande admitted that there were leaders around the table who opposed eurobonds much stronger than Ms Merkel. And according to Angela Merkel herself, various participants in the meeting said that the alignment of interest rates, resulting from the introduction of eurobonds, would not lead to an improvement in the competitiveness of all countries.
There is no need to guess who these leaders were. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said bluntly that eurobonds were not something the Netherlands was in favour of, because they would increase its borrowing costs. According to the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, eurobonds will create an atmosphere where good behaviour is punished, and those who should do more will get some relief. Their Finnish counterpart Jyrki Katainen believes that "too many countries have got too many loans for too low a price for too long” and that eurobonds would institutionalise this problem. According to ECB President Mario Draghi, "Eurobonds make sense when you have a fiscal union, otherwise they don't make sense."
No changes in the fiscal pact, but there will be new pacts
Speaking to reporters, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that "the treaty Irish people will be voting on next Thursday was not going to be changed". This means that, as already signalled by Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, any ideas about a Growth Pact will be added to the fiscal treaty without changing its content. But there are much more ambitious ideas than simply recording obligatory measures to promote economic growth. However, we can only assume what these ideas could be, reading between the lines of President Van Rompuy`s statement.
"There was general consensus that we need to strengthen the economic union to make it commensurate with the monetary union." How is this going to happen and in what form we will understand from the report, which Mr Van Rompuy is to prepare for the June European Council. He explicitly stated that it was not about presenting a specific plan, but rather the main building blocks and a working method, because he did not exclude a new intergovernmental agreement as an option. Within the discussion of long-term strengthening of the economic union come also topics like eurobonds, more integrated banking supervision and a common deposit insurance scheme.
remains the most common mantra of the European leaders, but still without concrete content. According to Van Rompuy, the three main pillars of the European growth strategy, based on the Europe 2020 strategy, are:
Mobilising EU policies in support of growth. In this context, the European Parliament and Council must make rapid progress on important legislative proposals such as the Single Market Act and the Energy Efficiency Directive. The issue of the European patent should be finalised before the end of the Danish EU Presidency (late June). Leaders have insisted on full and consistent implementation of existing legislation, notably the Services Directive and Digital Agenda. The Commission and the Council should continue their work on several major trade agreements in order to make better use of international trade as an engine of growth.
Financing the economy through investments. This chapter contains measures such as facilitating access to funding for SMEs, the use of EU funds, a capital increase of the European Investment Bank, which the board of the bank is invited to consider, but at this stage it is not clear how much money would be needed, nor how would it be obtained. In this context, the issue of the Financial Transaction Tax was raised during the dinner. However, the division between Member States on the subject is too large to reach a consensus. Hours before the Council meeting the European Parliament adopted an opinion in favour of FTT, urging it to be implemented at any cost, even if no agreement is reached for its implementation across the EU.
Creating more jobs. Most of the measures in this chapter have already been synthesised in the European Commission Communication "Towards a job-rich recovery", which euinside presented in detail and is elaborated in the conclusions of the January summit dedicated to growth and jobs.
to remain in the euro area, while respecting its commitments, EU leaders once again said. They recalled that the eurozone has demonstrated considerable solidarity with the efforts of Greek citizens, having already disbursed together with the IMF nearly 150 billion euro to Greece since 2010. The EU is ready to use its structural funds and instruments to support growth and job creation in Greece, but ultimately, as it is clear from the leaders` statement, everything is in the hands of Greek voters, who are to elect a new government on June 17: "Continuing the vital reforms to restore debt sustainability, foster private investment and reinforce its institutions is the best guarantee for a more prosperous future in the euro area. We expect that after the elections, the new Greek Government will make that choice." During the closing press conference, however, Herman Van Rompuy skipped to answer a journalist's question whether the eurozone countries were developing contingency plans in case Greece ultimately abandoned the common currency.
Dissatisfied European Parliament
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, expressed his displeasure that he was unable to fully participate in the summit. "I was invited in my capacity as President of the EP at the beginning of the meeting. I said I was glad to have the opportunity to enjoy the appetiser and also said that the presence of the ECB would be appropriate. In my opinion excluding the EP is wrong, not because of my personal views. Herman Van Rompuy speaks for constructive dialogue between the legislative bodies - the Council, the European Council, but the European Council President sits at the dinner, and the EP President was asked to leave." According to Martin Schulz a pact between the European institutions was needed, which to engage in the next 12 months all possible short-term measures to be undertaken to stimulate growth, job creation, lending and the introduction of fair tax systems.