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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following the Informal European Council dinner, 23 May 2012
Brussels, 23 May 2012
The President of the European Council presented what I consider a perfect summary of our work tonight, so I will not repeat those points. Let me just highlight from the point of view of the Commission two or three points that I believe are important in terms of the progress made.
The choice between stability and growth should not be seen exactly as a choice – we need both. There was a clear consensus around the table on this. We need both stability and growth and to achieve growth we need fiscal consolidation, we need structural reforms for competitiveness and we need targeted investment.
After the introduction of the meeting by the President of the European Council, I had the occasion to make a presentation about some of these challenges. I have distributed a kind of an "aide-mémoire" with the diagram of the three main areas – sound public finances, deep structural reforms, targeted investment. Some are measures that have already been taken. Some are for the short term, some are more for the longer term, but the objective is sustainable growth, precisely what we have defined in our Europe 2020 strategy that is the basis also for any new initiative for growth.
Also, I have reported on the initiatives taken for eight Member States on youth unemployment. As you know we have been working with eight Member States that have a more than average problem of youth unemployment and as promised I reported to the European Council on the progress achieved so far.
What are the points that are really new – I think it is important to note what we have discussed about concrete action for targeted investment, project bonds. We have tabled a legislative proposal in October 2011 when many were against. That is why I really welcome the fact that yesterday we had already an agreement between the Council and the Parliament to launch a pilot phase for project bonds. As you know we have put forward the concept on project bonds for the next Multi-annual Financial Framework. But even before the Multi-annual Financial Framework enters into force, we believe it is important to have this pilot phase and I am happy that today this project bonds idea was endorsed at the level of Heads of State or Government.
The European Investment Bank capital increase was also mentioned already in September by the Commission in the State of the Union address and now we see this in movement. I think it is a very cost-effective way of increasing investment in SMEs and in infrastructure. An increase of €10 billion would allow the EIB to increase its lending capacity by €15 billion a year for the next 4 years to around €65 billion per annum, instead of cutting it, as it is happening now because of the exposure to some vulnerable countries. That is why we already discussed with the EIB the possibility of using the structural funds as a guarantee, so that the EIB can indeed perform an even more important role at the service of the real economy.
A concrete example of the impact the EU budget can make is precisely what I mentioned about youth unemployment. The initial results of the joint action teams with the eight countries with the highest levels of youth unemployment were able to relocate €7 billion of funds for youth employment. In fact we are helping 470, 000 young people to find work and get training. So this shows that when there is a real commitment by the Heads of State or Government we can in fact achieve this kind of change or redeployment of the European funds.
From my point of view, I think the meeting was indeed a very important one. The idea was since the beginning not to have formal conclusions today. This is an interim informal European Council preparing the discussions and the decisions in June, but I think the debate was really important to achieve some higher level of consensus.
On Greece, I have already outlined my position after the meeting today with the interim Prime Minister of Greece. The message that we sent today is clear: we will stand by Greece while Greece stands by its commitment. There is a democratic process taking place in Greece. Of course we respect this democratic process. Let's wait for the people of Greece to have their say on the 17th June and we will not let ourselves be derailed by those who want to promote speculative scenarios. Let's wait for the will of the Greek people, but it is important also to note that today the European Council sent a clear message to Greece – we want Greece to remain in the Euro area, we stand by Greece. We expect that Greece also stands by its commitments and that the authorities of Greece will respect those commitments. We stand ready to continue our support through the structural funds and other European instruments.
So I think it was in fact a long, and at the same time very useful discussion.