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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 VP Rehn at the Press Conference of the meeting of the Eurogroup
Eurogroup Press Conference in Brussels
27 January 2014
The first weeks of 2014 have offered further encouraging signs that the European economy is now clearly strengthening, albeit still gradually.
Economic sentiment in the euro area has returned to its long-term average for the first time since July 2011. Consumer confidence in the European Union as a whole has reached its highest level since 2008. There is growing evidence that unemployment has reached its peak and, in many countries, is now falling. It is, in many countries, still at intolerable levels, but there is a turning point being reached.
In fact, this overall economic context was illustrated in the recent meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of last week and over the weekend, when there was a new situation, for me at least, in the past four years. Why so? Because Europe was not in the limelight. I felt almost a bit like a backbencher – which I don't mind and have no complaints about. The focus was clearly on the emerging market economies and other challenges in the world economy.
Of course, this is not to say that there would be no challenges for Europe or for the eurozone. Not at all. In fact, it is now essential that we stay the course of economic reform, both in the Member States as well as at European level, for instance, by completing the work on the Banking Union on time.
At the same time, it is true that financial markets have continued to normalise, bringing down borrowing costs and easing pressure on public finances in the countries hardest hit by the crisis. Nevertheless, the recent turbulence in global currency and stock markets - especially in the emerging market economies, so not stemming from the eurozone - that we have seen in the last few days should serve as a reminder that risks are still present and that we cannot afford any complacency.
Therefore, it is essential to maintain the momentum of economic reform, to continue to lift competitiveness and boost private and public investment, and pursue consistent efforts to ensure the sustainability of public finances. That's the way we will win the most important battle of all, the battle to create more jobs for Europeans.