Roundtable at the German Marshall Fund for the United States
Washington, DC, Thursday 16 April 2015, 8.45-10.00am
The recovery in Europe – the way forward
Thank you for the introduction. I am very happy to be with you here this morning at the GMF for my first public event on the occasion of my first IMF Spring Meetings as European Commissioner.
In fact, I am a seasoned participant in these meetings as the former finance minister of France. But now I am here not as a Frenchman, but as a European – much as I continue to love the country I know best, as we say at the European Commission.
And let me also say that I am here as a convinced Atlanticist. I firmly believe in the value of our transatlantic relationship. More than ever in this turbulent and unstable world, we need to nurture this relationship in all its forms – political, strategic, cultural, and of course economic. So I am pleased also for this reason to be hosted today by an organisation that works so tirelessly to promote understanding between the two sides of “the Pond” and to advance the transatlantic policy debate.
Let me briefly outline to you the outlook for the European economy and in particular for the eurozone.
The good news is that the recovery has picked up in recent months and we expect that 2015 will be the first year since before the financial crisis in which every EU economy will enjoy positive growth. Moreover, this growth will be mainly driven by domestic demand.
A spate of developments are supporting this improved outlook: the decline in oil prices; the depreciation of the euro against the dollar; the launch of the ECB’s quantitative easing programme; but also the Investment Plan for Europe which is on track to start delivering in the coming months.
Of course, we are all too aware that we have a long way to go before the recovery is sufficiently strong for us to be able to say the crisis is truly behind us in Europe. No one in the European Commission is complacent about this – far from it.
This is reflected in the fact that both President Juncker and I have called this “the Commission of the last chance”. The crisis has cast a long shadow over our societies. It has caused great hardship for millions of households across Europe, especially, of course, for those Europeans who have lost their jobs, and those of our young people who have perhaps never yet been able to find a job.
And the European Union – perhaps inevitably, in view of its increased prominence in economic policymaking and greater presence in people’s lives – has become the target of much of popular discontent. We are well aware of this, and when we talk about a last chance, this is what we mean. These are the people for whom we need to deliver.
But make no mistake, our mood is not one of desperation, but of determination. Europe can face up to its challenges, and we are determined to ensure that it does.
Our economic strategy is centred on delivering a “virtuous triangle” of increased investment, more far-reaching structural reforms, and responsible, growth-friendly fiscal policies.
To increase investment, we are working with our Member States to improve the investment environment – by creating a better business environment and a genuine Europe-wide capital markets union. We are putting in place a plan, centred on a new European Fund for Strategic Investments, to deliver up to 315 billion euros in new investment by 2017.
To step up structural reforms, we are pushing ahead with an ambitious agenda to complete Europe’s single market in services, energy and e-commerce. And at national level, we are using all available tools to encourage our Member States to free up their product markets, make their labour markets more dynamic and inclusive and make their public administrations more focused on the needs of citizens and small businesses.
And to ensure that our public finances are on a sustainable path, we are applying our fiscal rules in a way that makes full use of the flexibility embedded in them, to reduce structural deficits while supporting investment and structural reforms.
After many years of difficult but necessary fiscal consolidation, the fiscal stance in the eurozone as a whole is broadly neutral, which we believe strikes the right balance between sustainability concerns and the need to support the recovery. Of course, the eurozone is not a fiscal union, and to maintain a neutral aggregate fiscal stance requires that those countries with fiscal space take steps to support demand, and particularly investment, while those with higher deficits and debt levels others continue consolidating at the appropriate pace.
In short, we are making progress. We have come a long way, and we have some way still to go, but we are on the right track.
A final introductory word about a European country that I am sure is on all of your minds. Our discussions with Greece are making gradual progress. We have come some way since the elections in January towards understanding each other better. My point of view has always been that we need to respect the choice of Greek voters, who sent a clear signal that they wanted change. And that at the same time, Greece needs to respect the voters of the 18 other countries in our economic and monetary union, which have shown tremendous solidarity towards the country and to whom Greece has made binding commitments.
We are now working hard to find a mutually agreeable solution that will keep Greece on the path of reform and allow the Greek people to enjoy a stable and prosperous future in the eurozone. That is our common goal, and I for one refuse to engage in speculation on other scenarios.
Are we on the right path? I believe we are. Do we need to go faster? Certainly. Will we get there? I am convinced that we will, if all sides show a willingness to engage seriously, constructively, pragmatically and in good faith.
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