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Vice-President of the European Commission and member of the Commission responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro
Speaking points by Vice-President Rehn at the press conference of the meeting of the Eurogroup
Eurogroup Press Conference, Brussels
Brussels, 17 February 2014
Let me begin with a word on the economic outlook in Europe. Eurostat's flash estimate for GDP for the fourth quarter of last year, published last Friday, confirmed that the economic recovery is gradually gathering strength in Europe. Quarterly growth reached 0.4% in the EU, which is slightly above our autumn economic forecast, and 0.3% in the euro area, also slightly above our autumn forecast.
The euro area economy is now on track for the expected acceleration this year and next, 2014 and 2015. But the recovery remains subdued and modest, mainly because of the legacy of the financial crisis, and economic recession continues to hold back GDP growth.
Therefore, we cannot rest on our laurels. Instead, it is as essential as ever to maintain the momentum of economic reforms to bolster the recovery in the months ahead and accelerate the fall in unemployment which we are beginning to see in several countries. I will provide a more detailed overview of the economic outlook when I present the Commission's Winter Economic Forecast on Tuesday 25 February in Strasbourg. We are just finalising this 2014 Winter Economic Forecast.
As Jeroen indicated, we have this afternoon discussed the situation in two programme countries. In Cyprus, the economy is proving more resilient than expected when the programme was launched around 10 months ago. The programme is on track and I trust the authorities will continue with their steadfast efforts to ensure that it remains so. The Commission continues to support Cyprus and the Cypriot people through what remains a very difficult period of economic adjustment.
Regarding Greece, we have had a useful discussion this evening on the state-of-play of the current review, which began last September.
For the past two months, our mission teams have taken forward the work on the review from their respective headquarters, maintaining close contact with the Greek authorities in Athens. Our position has been that our mission teams should only return to Athens once a sufficient amount of preparatory work has been carried out to ensure a reasonable chance of the next mission reaching a staff level agreement.
While there remain a number of open issues, there has been some encouraging progress in recent days. On the fiscal side, it appears that the outcome for 2013 may be better than expected, though we must reserve our final judgment until Eurostat publishes its validated data on 23 April. Discussions regarding the fiscal gap for 2014 and 2015 are ongoing. Moreover, it is imperative that the authorities take forward the many structural reforms under discussion, which are essential to boost the economy's capacity to generate growth and job creation, which really matters for Greece and Greek citizens.
In view of the progress made and the reassurances given this evening by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, I can confirm that we now expect our mission teams to return to Athens in the coming days, towards the end of this week. It is in the interest of all partners, but first and foremost in the interest of Greece, to do what it takes to allow for a conclusion of the review by taking these structural reforms forward to boost the economic capacity to generate growth and employment, and to do so as soon as possible. I believe that we can, if everyone sticks to the plan, conclude the review during the month of March.