Mr President, may I start by thanking the shadow rapporteurs, assistants and all staff involved in the preparation of this draft report for the very good work. Even when they disagreed with the compromises reached, they all made extremely valid contributions to the work at hand.
The draft report presents the latest reflection on the state of European economies from the perspective of the European Commission’s recommendations to Member States on how to run their national economic systems so as to deliver growth and stability. During the last two years, the Commission streamlined its recommendations in parts by making them leaner and more focused. The change in approach was commendable. The aim here has been to follow up on it by concentrating on a few themes rather than to stretch over the whole width of policy concerns that the European semester covers. For, with a few exceptions, the state of the European economy still remains less than satisfactory. While growth has now emerged, it remains uneven and sluggish, even as doubts persist about European competitiveness. While unemployment is retreating overall and new jobs are being created, the situation on the jobs market remains bleak, not least for young people. While the pessimism about the future that was prevalent a few years ago has retreated, investment still is at historically low levels. The draft report considers this last concern as critical to the situation that we face.
No matter what policies are adopted, if the investment that is generated remains insufficient, economic performance will lag on all fronts. For this reason we have concentrated in this report on investment issues. It is true that on many areas of economic management, we have among us divergent views, but at the level of a desire to encourage greater investment in Europe, we all share a commitment to make this happen. The situation as of now is that there is a very significant shortfall in investment, both public and private, compared to what were used to in the not so distant past. To be sure, this investments debt is not happening just in Europe, but across the capitalist world. Still, it is of interest to us all to reflect about what can be done to reverse the trend.
Now personally I acknowledge the intellectual validity of arguments made by those who believe that current European governance structures, especially at the level of the eurozone, are sub-optimal. In and of themselves they serve to inhibit investment. So long as they prevail it is illusory to believe that significant long-term investment can be generated, so such arguments go. Nevertheless, the reality is that with the same existing governance structures, the European system has succeeded in the past to generate much higher levels of investment than at present. There is every reason, therefore, to seek to attain at least those past investment levels since experience shows they are attainable.
We have therefore sought to highlight those Commission recommendations, as well as the Commission’s own initiatives, that focus on investment issues; there are quite a number. Naturally, within the boundary conditions for our discussions, these issues have to be framed coherently, with adherence to the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, such as budgetary discipline, implemented with the appropriate flexibility that the same rules allow. Meanwhile, the need for ongoing structural reforms has to be underlined, on the understanding that such reforms must be sustainable and socially fair.
Beyond these considerations the need remains to show support for all growth-centred proposals that will increase the propensity to invest across the Union as a whole. Among others there are: proposals relating to access to equity and bank lending; to research and innovation; to education and training; to the promotion of SMEs; to EFSI and other funds that mobilise capital for new investment with a renewed structure aiming for a complete regional outreach of such funding; and on such lines also, the concept of green investment with environmental protection at its core.
However, one cannot avoid making a remark that has become almost ritualistic in Parliament reports on the Commission’s country-specific recommendations, which is that these recommendations will remain less than effective if governments and stakeholders in the respective national economies do not feel committed to them – if they do not own them as the jargon goes. On this point, the draft report emphasises that in order to arrive at such a sense of ownership, sub—national and regional authorities should be brought fully into the process by which country-specific recommendations are envisaged. On the ground, these bodies are now responsible for 60% of public investment proposals. They also have an extensive interface with private investment across a wide range of economic sectors. I will surely be most interested, Mr President, to hear the views of all colleagues on the challenge of using investment that Europe faces.