May 29, 2024

EU economy ‘stronger than five years ago’, von der Leyen tells parliament – Euractiv

Despite a series of “historic crises”, the EU economy is “stronger than five years ago”, European Commission President von der Leyen told EU lawmakers on Tuesday (23 April), touting her successes as she seeks another five-year mandate.

In her last address to the current European Parliament before EU elections in June, von der Leyen also presented her agenda for the next five years.

“The COVID-19 health crisis and the war in Ukraine, with a made-in-Russia energy crisis could have turned into a dramatic economic and social crisis. But they did not,” she told EU lawmakers.

At “over 75%”, employment is currently at an all-time high, the EU executive’s chief said, while unemployment is at an “all-time low, at less than 6%”, and inflation edging “close to our 2% target”, she added. 

Policies including the Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) and NextGenerationEU joint borrowing schemes, as well as the REPowerEU package to fast-track the build-up of renewable energy, had helped the bloc shore up its economic and social resilience, she said. 

“We have gone through hell and high water. But in many respects, we have come out stronger than five years ago,” von der Leyen said.

CMU could cover three-quarters of transition costs

For the next five years, von der Leyen highlighted the need to move forward with boosting the bloc’s private investments, arguing that the capital markets union (CMU) could raise €470 billion per year if strengthened.

“This is the additional private investment we could raise every year if we completed the CMU,” von der Leyen said.

The figure amounts to three-quarters of what the Commission previously calculated would be needed yearly to finance the combined green and digital transition (€620bn) – and to the entire funding needed for ecological transition alone based on 2020 calculations

On progress over the CMU, von der Leyen hailed last week’s special competitiveness council for marking “a turning point.”

“We now have a clear mandate to move forward on three vital issues,” she added, referring to the harmonisation of insolvency rules, creating cross-border savings retail products and strengthening market supervision at the European level.

On Friday (19 April), EU leaders fell short of agreeing on centralising supervision under the European Markets and Securities Authority (ESMA) but asked the Commission to assess a possible move towards a single supervision mechanism.

“The Commission has been tasked with strengthening supervision at the European level of the most important market players. So there is a clear way ahead,” von der Leyen said.

“If we are to fund the new industrial revolution of our times, we must mobilise Europe’s private capital. And now it is time to turn the political will into action.”

EPP chastised for ‘opening the door to the far-right’

The leaders of the political groups supporting von der Leyen, however, did not fully share her optimism.

Manfred Weber, leader of von der Leyen’s own centre-right EPP group, said the current “mandate was not a good one” when it came to reducing the bureaucratic burden for businesses.

He argued that “increased bureaucracy” was due to “the thinking that the regulatory framework is better than having trust in those who are delivering on economic success stories we want”. 

Iratxe García Pérez, president of the S&D group, blamed Weber for having “opened up the door to the far right” by working with parties at the end of the right side of the political spectrum in multiple instances.

Given the expected policy shift in the next legislative mandate towards improving the business environment, García Pérez also warned against Europe turning into a “soulless area of free trade with no conscience, with no political will”.

French MEP Valerie Hayer of the liberal Renew group – the third group forming the ‘von der Leyen majority’, along with S&D and EPP – warned that “80% of our medicine’s production is in Asia,” and that the “green transition depends on the situation in the rest of the world”.

“It is time to end this strategic dependence,” Hayer said.

Polish nationalists in campaign mode

The sharpest criticism, however, came from Polish MEP Dominik Tarczynski, speaking for the nationalist ECR group, who claimed the party will seek to stop the Green Deal “madness” after the European elections.

“You mentioned youth unemployment, let’s talk about the facts and the numbers,” he said. “Spain: 28.4%, Sweden 21%, Italy 20.4%, Greece 17.4%, France 16.9%”.

Tarczynski added that Poland’s previous nationalist conservative government – which ruled the country for eight years, until former EU Council president Donald Tusk took the lead of a new coalition government last December – “left Poland in a great shape”. When the prior PiS (ECR) government left office, youth unemployment in Poland was at 12.3%.

“After this election, we’re going to make Europe great again,” Tarczynski said.

[Edited by Anna Brunetti]

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