The Juncker plan for the recovery of the European economy and the future of the Europe 2020 Strategy, currently facing revision, were the issues covered at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) plenary session, held in
The Juncker Plan – Priorities for economic recovery
Providing “as much as” 45 minutes for the representatives of social partners and civil societies from all the Member States, Jean Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission stemming from the European People’s Party, made a courteous appearance before the EESC plenum and encouraged the members to continue monitoring and commenting upon EU policies and regulations. Juncker also used the opportunity to send out a message on what his Commission should and wishes to do about the recovery of EU Member States. Apart from boasting the Commission’s shrinkage of the legislative portfolio by almost two thirds with an intention to finish the job, he referred to his “A new start for
In his EESC presentation, Juncker stressed five issues: the economic and monetary union, the Digital Agenda, the energy union, TTIP and the new investment plan, all pointing to a focus on large-scale systemic innovations with the goal of fostering economic recovery. “The main problem of
Speaking of the example of the Digital Agenda for
“Fighting unemployment as the first step in fighting poverty”
However, this general statement on the TTIP has not been elaborated upon in the following discussion. Regarding energy policy, Juncker stated that it has become much more important than 20 years ago and is becoming weaponized: “for example, if
When faced with the questions and criticisms of EESC members – especially those from the trade union group – about austerity policies, Juncker admitted that he himself feels responsible for the excessive austerity policies and that this Commission will get involved more intensely in resolving the problems of excessive debt and revisions to the Troika’s policies, with structural reforms remaining the main policy direction: “Austerity policies have led us to excessive austerity in States included in financial recovery programs. During my pre-election campaign, I have criticized the Troika’s functioning and its lack of democratic legitimacy which needs to be revised. I will not speak about
To the objection that his program makes no mention of battling poverty, Juncker replied that “battling poverty begins with battling unemployment” and went on to add that the Commission is working on defining a new aggregate indicator of a minimum acceptable life standard to supplement the current indicators. “I am ready to promote the idea of a minimum income across the EU, based on the data we will get from Eurostat next week – although we do not have the power to force anyone to accept this, we can try to convince the Member States”. Juncker also announced the introduction of a unified tax base for companies, joking at his own expense since he was the Prime Minister of a well-known tax haven in the heart of
The Europe 2020 development Strategy –cancel or renew?
Another importan subject for the EESC members was the Europe 2020 development strategy, enthusiastically approved ten years ago as the necessary leverage to achieve global competitiveness of
The thematic discussion on the Europe 2020 Strategy opened a multitude of questions; Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel Institute, warned that results are falling significantly behind the goals that the Strategy had envisioned, making it necessary to consider its future seriously: “employment is at 68 per cent; investments into research and development are still at no more than two per cent of GDPs, and should be at least at three. Instead of decreasing, poverty rates are increasing.
Wolff cited the example of labour markets with highly uneven labour prices and few good practices – the Belgian being one of them – where the national-level competitiveness body periodically aligns the costs of labour with the European mean cost. In total, the battle against poverty should be one of the key priorities, but the EU does not have the adequate mechanisms to carry it out and is largely dependent on the Member States’ resources.
How to achieve recovery?
During a rather sombre discussion, Italian trade unionist Stefano Palmieri, author of EESC’s comprehensive November 2014 analysis on the achievements of Europe 2020, strongly advocated a concept of integral development, firmly linking economic competitiveness with public investments into education and social cohesion: “the Bruegel Institute has produced a big comparative research on investments into education and development in the 28 Member States, showing that the states that cut public funds are the ones that also cut investments into research and development. Does this mean that we are cutting our capacities when we cut expenses?”.
“How are we supposed to recover if we reduce the chances of growth in the industries that we used to be the global leaders in, especially if we cut investments into education and universities to boot? The Europe 2020 Strategy can and must be a new generator of development. Mr. Juncker has said it himself: we will ensure it happens only if we make battling poverty one of our genuine priorities – we need to devise the means and instruments. We need adequate investments. We need to revise and reinforce the strategy, not bury it”, stated Palmieri.
After the discussion, the EESC adopted an opinion ordered by the new Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU on the subject of advances made in implementing the Europe 2020 Strategy, focusing primarily on the relationship between the Juncker investment plan and the Strategy’s goals and advocating firmer links between governance mechanisms – the European Semester with national reform programs and structural funds with the new European Fund for Strategic Investments. The latter’s governing structure is just being developed and was presented by the European Commission’s vice-president Jyrki Katainen in Zagreb on February 23. An important idea in this EESC opinion is the proposal for the separation of long-term social investments, especially those into education, from the excessive deficit calculation. The reporter for the opinion, Etele Barath from