I must start by thanking members of the National Parliaments present here with us today for their participation in this yearly exchange of views on the cycle of the European Semester.
For the fifth consecutive year, an exchange of views with National Parliaments takes place regarding 2016/2017 in the context of an ordinary meeting of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.
Under the current system, National Parliaments are invited to debate the (country-specific) recommendations from the EU level and translate them into their own actions.
In the European Semester there are three major stages where National Parliaments can be active.
Firstly, when the Annual Growth Survey is being processed.
Secondly, when national governments prepare the drafts of Stability and Convergence Programmes and National Reform Programmes.
And thirdly, with respect to the Commission’s Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs).
The big question is this: how can we improve cooperation between the European Parliament and National Parliaments in the European Semester?
Or perhaps better:
How can National Parliaments assume a more meaningful and assertive role in the consideration of national reports, at European and at national levels?
How will they, can they, having agreed to them, then present them to voters as if they were their own?
Perhaps this is an impossible task.
National Parliaments are there to defend the national inerest.
The European Commission and the European Parliament are there, so we say, to defend the European interest.
What may make sense at pan-European level, even when applied to national economies, can seem like poison, on the ground, at national level, whether applied on a short term or on a long term basis.
In the long run we’re all dead.
In the short run, we all risk losing elections.
Yet our constituencies are the same, at national and at European levels.
All this should be considered against the background of how Country Specific Rcommendations, CSRs, are being implemented by governments.
Based on the Commission’s assessment, the proportion of fully or substantially implemented CSRs has more than halved over the 2012-2015 Semester cycles.
At the same time, the part of recommendations with limited/no progress has risen from nearly 30% in 2012 to more than 50% in 2015.
To be fair to the European Commission, its Country Specific Recommendations in 2016 – as in the previous year — were reduced in number.
They were refocussed to concentrate better on each country’s urgent and specific challenges, and to increase national ownership of the CSRs.
Still, we are facing the problem of a weak and deteriorating record in the implementation of CSRs.
As a result, a fundamental problem of EU economic policy coordination is that it hardly functions at all.
There is however a more fundamental dilemma.
We stand at a three fork cross road, where – at European and at national levels – we seem to have to choose between budgetary rigour, structural reforms and a greater thrust to create new investment.
Just one out of three, or two out of three, or three out of three, but in any case in nicely calibrated doses, about which we nicely disagree.
Most of the time, the disagreement is nicely dogmatic, based more on deeply held beliefs, I will not say prejudicies, than on facts.
Indeed we seem to have gone back to the United Europe of the Middle Ages, dominated by the theological disputes in the Universities of Paris, Bologna and Oxford between the Dominicans and the Franciscans.
Is budgetary rigour under the Stability and Growth pact enough and on track to eventually bring back the economic growth that will significantly cut unemployment?
To what extent if any, should flexibility be allowed in the application of SGP rules?
And to whom should it be applied? Just to the too big to be allowed to fail, or to all? Or to none?
Are needed structural reforms being carried out? Should they just concentrate on the labour market?
Will budgetary rigour added to structural reforms do the trick of boosting the EU economy?
Do we need, beyond that, a big further push to promote new investment?
Should it just be private investment? Or should more also be done to mobilize public funds?
How would this play against the need to ensure that the Stability and Growth Pact is never never breached?
In all this, how can the growing economic and social divergences between different parts of the Union be corrected and reversed?
For they have become a huge challenge with potentially dangerous repercussions for European cohesion.
I am speaking too from the experience of the report on the Country Specific Recommendations for this year which we are preparing.
In it, we are trying to follow in the Commission’s example by focussing the report on a few topics, rather than making a diffuse statement.
We are trying to concentrate on the issue of investments in the EU.
Given the existing boundary conditions for how policy is defined in the EU and the eurozone, what recommednations based on the Commission’s CSRs can we best emphasize?
What consensus, or at least some agreement, about the best way forward regarding investment can be achieved over as wide a political spectrum as possible? – while keeping our report meaningful to all those millions of EU citizens who would like to share in the prospects of a greater economic growth than we have become accustomed to in recent years.
I am sure that the inputs we will be hearing during this meeting will help us a lot in this effort.