Van Rompuy verdedigt beslissingen Raad in toespraak voor EP (en)

Met dank overgenomen van Raad van de Europese Unie (Raad) i, gepubliceerd op donderdag 21 maart 2013.


Brussels, 20 March 2013

EUCO 77/13 PRESSE 124 PR PCE 66

Speech by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at the European Parliament

This time each year, the European Council meets to set the direction on how to guide our national and European economic policies. This year, it came at a crucial time

On the one hand, despite certain current problems which I will touch on later, Europe has taken important steps towards more financial stability. But our initial results are taking time to translate into more economic activity and jobs. There is a double time-lag: between the return of confidence and the return of growth and between the return of growth and the fall of unemployment

Declining spreads, better export performance or growing FDI flows are hugely important — but of little comfort for people who fear losing their job or struggle to find one. And as long as there isn't a visibly brighter outlook, there will be discontent, criticism, despair

That is why the realisation of the forecasts of the economies picking up at the end of this year, and next year, is itself so important. That is why we must also do all we can to reduce the time lags. That is why, in the mean time, we must take specific measures to help those who are worst effected, especially the young unemployed. Initiatives are planned and taken at EU-level and by the Member States

The leaders of all European countries are of course confronted with this social dimension, and many have been at the receiving end of its political consequences. Yet, discussions in last week's European Council were consensual. There was broad agreement among all leaders on our strategy and its four strands:

restoring and maintaining financial stability, vital for confidence of consumers and investors;

ensuring structurally sound public finances, using the flexibilities in the six-pack; fighting, directly and indirectly, unemployment, and I repeat, especially for the young; working on long-term reforms and competitiveness: preparing for the future

Four strands, and we need all four at the same time. The question is finding the right balance. Some people say "Just go easy on fiscal consolidation and growth will flourish!" As I said last week, if there really was a simple, binary choice between "austerity" and "growth", then of course, no leader would hesitate for a second in choosing growth!

But growth is not something governments can simply buy or summon by an easy flick of a switch, certainly not after an unprecedented banking and eurozone i crisis, and after huge and lasting imbalances in some countries. Correcting previous "malgoverno" in countries takes time. Unfortunately

And the choices are not black or white. It's important to bring in some nuance in the debate, especially as regards fiscal consolidation, sometimes oversimplified as "austerity"

On the one hand, those countries with a debt crisis won't solve it with more debt. By the way, we have to respect our own legislation, such as the sixpack, although not in a dogmatic way. At the same time, deficits cannot be eliminated overnight - that would risk triggering a downward spiral - so it has to happen gradually. Our fiscal rules provide for enough flexibility to take into account unexpected economic downturns. This is the real issue: how to reduce public and structural imbalances in a gradual, growth-friendly and differentiated way, depending on the specific situation in each country

Countries that need to bring deficits down must persevere, but making their own choices:

on the balance between raising taxes and cutting expenditure

if raising taxes, which ones, and not just tax rates but being ruthless on tax evasion and fraud

if cutting expenditure, what to safeguard, and not just short-term cuts but also long-term reforms, not stifling vital areas like innovation or education

and in any case, pursuing well-designed structural reforms: shifting taxation away from labour and launching fast-acting and targeted measures to boost growth and employment, in particular for youth

What can we do at European level to support these national efforts?

For a start, ensure that the forthcoming negotiations between you and the Council of the next MFF proceed quickly. I am aware — and President Schulz reminded us at the European Council meeting — of Parliament's resolution. We need this shift in the balance of EU spending towards growth-enhancing policies that the next MFF will provide within the limited scope of EU spending, which is less questioned now


We also discussed and decided on other avenues to support economic growth. Deepening the single market. Using the EIB to boost investment. Trade agreements. Supporting SMEs - also by cutting red tape, and we will continue to look at where regulations can be simplified and cost reduced

In the months ahead we will focus further on improving Europe's competitiveness and sustainable long-term economic growth. The European Council will examine a range of themes: energy in May, innovation, digital agenda and other services in October, defence industry in December, industrial competitiveness and industrial policy this June and then again more thoroughly in the Spring next year, all preparing for the review of the EU 2020 strategy next year

No easy solutions, but a mix of remedies. At the end of the first day of the European Council, I chaired a Eurozone Summit - the rules of procedure of which had just been adopted. Drawing on treaty provisions and existing practices, these rules so to speak "codify" the organisation of these summits. Already, all 27 colleagues reiterated their full support for the ongoing work on deepening our Economic and Monetary Union, with the work on banking union as the most pressing priority

The purpose of the euro summit itself was in line with the focus of this Spring European Council meeting: inspecting our economic fundamentals and the prospects for growth - but specifically for the euro countries. President Draghi of the Central Bank introduced the discussion. On the question "where does growth come" from, the answer was: confidence, credit and competitiveness. Faced with a crisis as complex as the current one, simple answers can be tempting but generally speaking they are wrong. This is also true for the situation in Cyprus. We are all very concerned and of course I am following developments closely

We had asked the Eurozone finance ministers to agree with the Cyprus government on the modalities of support. The main purpose is to ensure the long term sustainability of the financial sector in Cyprus, and to avoid that bank liabilities translate into excessive public liabilities

The Eurozone is ready to support Cyprus with €10 billion — loans which, as you know, are guaranteed by the Eurozone Member States — which represents more than half of Cyprus's GDP. This is the European solidarity part. Another part of the funding is provided by the IMF

The situation of the financial sector in Cyprus is highly specific, both its size and its structure. Throughout Europe, savings of depositors are guaranteed up to € 100 000. I take note of the vote in the Cypriot parliament, rejecting the agreement unanimously reached in the Eurogroup on March 15. The current, highly uncertain situation is damaging, especially for the people of Cypus, and has to be addressed as soon as possible


On the second day of our European Council, the main topic was the state of play of our relationship with Russia. This discussion was part of our regular exchange of views on our relations with strategic partners. In October we spoke for instance about China; later this year we will speak about the United States

With Russia, our bilateral cooperation is extensive, but both we and they attach great importance to this strategic partnership. We had a fruitful discussion on common interests and challenges as well as on of the best way to take the EU-Russia relationship further. We must find solutions for our differences, respecting our rules, interests and values. I draw from this exchange of views the conclusion that all colleagues agree that we, as a Union, must act as coherently as possible. The more we speak with one voice, the stronger we are and the pore credible we are as an interlocutor

This is also the message I gave when we discussed the dramatic situation in Syria. We reaffirmed the European Union's full engagement in international efforts to bring an end to the intolerable violence. The question of the arms embargo was raised by some members of the European Council. We agreed to task our foreign ministers to assess the situation as a matter of priority already at their informal meeting this week in Dublin, and to develop common positions