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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Commissioner Moscovici's introductory remarks at the Eurogroup press conference

Brussels, 4 December 2018

Je vais me concentrer sur les deux points qui nous ont occupé le plus aujourd'hui, c'est à dire les projets de plans budgétaires de la zone euro et les réformes de l'Union Economique et Monétaire. 

Sur les projets de plans budgétaires, j'attire votre attention sur quelques éléments importants du communiqué de l'Eurogroupe. 

D'abord, que le déficit moyen de la zone euro restera contenu sous 1% du PIB en 2019, même s'il augmenterait légèrement par rapport à 2018. ce qui montre que les efforts faits ces dernières années ont porté leurs fruits.

Et que 2019 sera la première année depuis le lancement de l'euro qu'aucun pays n'aura un déficit au-dessus des 3%.

Ensuite, vous voyez qu'il y a une amélioration dans les projets de plans budgétaires, avec, le fait que plus ou moins les deux tiers des Etats-membres de la zone euro ont présenté des projets de budgets qui sont au moins globalement conformes aux exigences du Pacte de Stabilité et de Croissance. Et que certains de ces pays qui ont déjà atteint leur Objectif de Moyen-Terme ont l'intention d'utiliser l'espace budgétaire pour soutenir l'investissement et la croissance, tout en préservant la soutenabilité de leurs finances publiques. C'est aussi bienvenu. Je l'ai appelé de mes vœux depuis longtemps et je suis heureux que cela arrive enfin.

Et enfin, que la réduction de la dette publique dans plusieurs Etats-membres avance dans une bonne direction mais c'est toujours un problème qui doit être abordé de manière décisive.

A few words on two countries:

First, on Greece: today's Eurogroup was another important moment for Greece as the country continues to move forward as the Eurogroup discussed the first quarterly report prepared under the enhanced surveillance process, the aim of which is to smooth Greece's path back to normality after many years under programmes.

As you know, the Commission considers that Greece will deliver the agreed primary surplus target of 3.5%. We welcome the fact that Greece plans to achieve this goal in a way that supports both growth and social inclusion. And we support the decision not to proceed with the pre-legislated pension cuts, which are not needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of the pension system, or in order to reach next year's primary surplus target. I never considered that these cuts were neither legitimate not necessary to ensure the sustainability of the pension system. I'm happy that we avoided that 1.4 million pensioners in Geece would see their pensions lowered by 14%. All in all, this proves that the efforts made by the Greek people have borne fruits.

Puis quelques mots sur l'Italie. Je veux saluer bien sûr le soutien de l'Eurogroupe à notre analyse et au dialogue en cours avec les autorités italiennes.

Ce dialogue continue, sur une base constructive, et de façon plus intense.  Nous constatons depuis une semaine un ton différent, une volonté de coopérer, une disponibilité à écouter notre point de vue et à résoudre les problèmes. Tout ceci est bienvenu ; je pense que les investisseurs ont la même sensation.

Au G20 à Buenos Aires, ce weekend, j'ai participé avec le Président Juncker à des discussions positives avec le Premier Ministre Conte et le Ministre Tria. Nous sommes convenus de poursuivre dans cet esprit, dans l'intérêt de tous, de l'Italie et de l'eurozone. Nous avons donné mandat à nos équipes de travailler en ce sens.

Sur le fond, la Commission a bien pris note des annonces politiques de ces derniers jours pour réduire le déficit public italien. C'est un pas dans la bonne direction. Nous attendons plus de détails afin de pouvoir les évaluer. Il est évident qu'il faudra des engagements très concrets, et crédibles.  Et nous travaillerons dans le cadre des règles. Cette Commission a toujours été favorable à la flexibilité mais dans le respect des règles.

Parallèlement à ces discussions, la Commission continuera à préparer les prochaines étapes juridiques, suite à l'Opinion du Comité Economique et Financier la semaine passée qui a conclu qu'une Procédure de Déficit Excessif est justifiée. Pour le cas italien nous marchons sur deux pieds: le dialogue et la préparation en cas de besoin.

In short, we are following two tracks in parallel: dialogue and preparation. Both are necessary. The Commission will decide on the next steps on the basis of the outcome of this ongoing dialogue.

I often spoke over the last eighteen months about a window of opportunity to decide a package of reforms to the Economic and Monetary Union, a political window between some major elections in the euro area and the start of the campaign for the European elections. That window closes next week, with the Euro Summit which we have been working hard to prepare over these past months and during this very long meeting and I thank Mario Centeno for his patience and dedication to this.

I will not enter into too much detail now on what has been agreed as Mario has said what we can say this morning - and the documents will be published shortly.

I will just highlight a few points that I consider particularly important:

First, the agreement on the terms of reference for the common backstop for the Single Resolution Fund increases the credibility of the Fund and represents an important strengthening of the banking union which was badly needed.

Second, the reform of the European Stability Mechanism's precautionary instruments should improve their effectiveness as tools for countries with sound economic fundamentals, which could be affected by an adverse shock and I also welcome the fact that the Eurogroup has endorsed the agreement between the ESM and the Commission that we prepared in details with Klaus Regling and his team.

Third, on EDIS: this has been one of the most difficult aspects of our discussions and it is clear that there will need to be more technical work to pave the way forward. I would of course have liked to see more decisive progress by this stage, given the degree of risk reduction that has taken place in the euro area's financial system. But I hope that the high level group that will report back on the next steps by June 2019 will facilitate progress at last on this important file. I was there in the room when we launched the banking union and it was clear that it had to go with threepillars. One is already functioning – supervision – the second one is completed – resolution – the third one is missing and we need to build it.

Finally, you will see that on the issue of a eurozone budget, the report states that “subject to a mandate to be given by the Euro Summit, work could proceed on the design, implementation and timing of such an instrument – it refers clearly to the Eurozone budget - for convergence and competitiveness.” The possible features of a stabilisation function were also discussed, though divergences of view clearly remain also on this point. But I must say that the Commission's proposals remain on the table. I think the way forward to the Eurozone budget is open, not fully paved, but opened and that was an important point for this meeting.

We all know that we can only advance with the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union step by step, hour after hour. We have not taken giant steps forward tonight, but we have taken some important steps along what is a long and difficult road. Now it is up to the Euro Summit to endorse this agreement and clarify the way forward on the outstanding points, among which is the Eurozone budget since we are waiting for a mandate to move forward, which we are fully ready to do.

SPEECH/18/6656

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