Thank you Paschal. We had an interesting discussion on the economic outlook and situation.
Since the Commission presented the autumn forecast forty days ago, we have clearer the fact that the third quarter was better than in our forecast and probably the fourth quarter will be slightly worse than our forecast.
We have seen very good news on the vaccine front, which has boosted expectations of a faster recovery. If vaccines are made available to all Europeans over the course of 2021, we could see a swifter-than-expected return of GDP to its pre-pandemic levels.
Of course, as President von der Leyen underlined last week, it is not the vaccine that will put an end to this pandemic; it is vaccinations. So a credible vaccination strategy, with all the challenges that entails in terms of both logistics and ensuring sufficient acceptance rates among the population, is essential.
Meanwhile though, we know a difficult winter lies before us. The epidemiological situation has worsened in a number of countries in recent weeks. Though the eurozone purchasing managers' index data published today were encouraging, it is to be expected that the new containment measures decided in several Member States will further dampen domestic demand in the short term. In one word, uncertainty is still there for the winter that is coming.
All in all, we can expect to see the first ‘green shoots' of the recovery in the first quarter, but this is still subject to high risks.
This brings me to the draft budgetary plans for 2020, on which the Eurogroup has adopted a statement Paschal has presented to you. And I'm pleased that this very much reflects the Commission's opinions adopted last month.
We are all in agreement that fiscal policies must remain supportive in all Member States throughout 2021.
The general escape clause will remain in force in 2021. We will take stock of its application in the spring, in light of our spring forecast.
The discussion on the euro area recommendation that we put forward last month also showed a very broad convergence of views about the economic policy priorities for the coming year.
As the health crisis eases, the focus of policy should shift - from emergency measures to those that improve the fundamentals of our economies.
This is also in line with the goals of the Recovery and Resilience Facility, on which we are working hard with the German Presidency and the European Parliament to reach a final agreement very soon.
Successfully implementing this facility must be our common economic priority in 2021. It will require the Commission and national authorities to work hand in hand. We need to swiftly approve and then effectively deliver on a set of ambitious, credible national plans.
In conclusion, I want to thank you and recall the fact that this has been a truly grim year. Our citizens have lived through a horrendous trio of a deadly virus; restrictions on cherished everyday freedoms; and the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes.
This brings me to three keywords.
One is “concern”, because we are not yet out of the crisis and the challenging winter before us.
The second is “pride” because we were able to show solidarity and a common response. Thanks also to the Eurogroup's activity and to your steering role, Paschal. This common response could be, we will understand this in the next years, an historical step forward for our Union.
And finally “optimism”, because of the vaccine deployment that could pave the way not only for recovery but also for more sustainable and resilient economies.