The EESC welcomes the establishment of economic priority programmes for the euro area at the start of the European Semester. To achieve a recovery of growth and employment a mix of financial, taxation, budgetary, economic and social policies is needed. In contrast to the recommendation of the Commission, the focus of fiscal policy should be designed to be more expansionist than neutral. The EESC advocates the reduction of taxation on labour insofar as it does not threaten the financial sustainability of social protection systems. The EESC calls for a coordinated effort to create a more business-friendly environment for SMEs through better regulation, adequate financing and facilitation of exports to markets outside the EU. There is a particular need to open up new funding opportunities for micro-enterprises and start-ups.
EKONOMSKA I MONETARNA UNIJA - Related Opinions
Competitiveness is not an end in itself. It is only a sensible objective if it improves people's well-being in practice. The EESC therefore recommends that an updated definition of competitiveness ("competitiveness 2.0") be used in future, taking into account "the ability of a country to deliver the beyond-GDP goals for its citizens". The EESC urges that future discussions refer not to "competitiveness boards" but to "boards for competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainability". The EESC asks the Commission to present concrete proposals on how the following necessary requirements with regards to these boards can be safeguarded: accountability, legitimacy and transparency; representation of balanced unbiased expertise; non-binding character of proposals of the boards; inclusion of the dual role of wages, both as a cost factor and as the main determinant of domestic demand.
The euro area needs to step up its external representation. This will strengthen its relative weight in international financial institutions and give it a more prominent position in international financial markets. The EESC endorses the rationale behind the two Commission documents and agrees with the main elements of the three-phase scenario to gain a single euro area chair at the IMF by 2025. At the same time, however, the EESC proposes that the Commission also draft scenarios for making stronger and more effective the links with other relevant international bodies, taking particular account of their remits. The EESC also recommends clearly and explicitly defining the roles of euro area external representation and their dovetailing with those of the EU as a whole, with a view to preserving the integrity of the single market.
The Commission communication on Steps towards completing EMU can provide a great opportunity to launch a debate at political level and with civil society to draw up conclusive proposals which go further than the current ones. It would be more useful to draw up a proposal for the European Semester as part of a comprehensive agreement on economic governance that goes beyond the status quo, changing macroconditionality and strengthening the Interparliamentary Conference. Democratic legitimacy is not tackled seriously by any of the Commission's operational proposals. The tripartite social dialogue could contribute to this matter. On the basis of its own roadmap, the EESC is committed to putting forward, possibly with the Commission, a plan on stage two (Completing EMU 2017-2025) to discuss these issues in the Member States, beginning with the euro area countries.
A genuine stabilisation of the economic and monetary union (EMU) can only succeed if the deficits in the EMU architecture are solved and to this end major reforms are undertaken. The longer the current austerity policy continues, that primarily looks at spending cuts without the addition of an effective investment plan and measures to enhance income through growth, social cohesion and solidarity, it will become increasingly clear that Europe's economic integration and prosperity is at risk from growing social inequalities. The EESC calls for greater "parliamentarisation" of the euro area, with a grand EP committee comprising all members of parliament from the euro area and from those countries wishing to join (26 Member States), combined with stronger coordination of members of parliament from the euro area on EMU issues (COSAC +).
The EESC is of the opinion that persisting imbalances as well as the creation of trust and confidence across Europe require more effective and democratic economic governance, notably in the Eurozone. It has become clear that the current system of rules underpinning the EU, and particularly the euro area, has created confusion on the legal, institutional and democratic fronts. A new approach is therefore needed. With this in mind, the Committee presents its contribution to the new five presidents' report which will propose next steps on better economic governance to the European Council in June. The EESC contribution summarises the different stages and puts forward institutional proposals and preparatory initiatives regarding the completion of the political pillar of the Economic and Monetary Union.
The European economic governance rules, conceived in crisis, played an important role in fiscal consolidation and economic policy coordination, but the cost was high in terms of growth and employment. The quantitative easing measures now being embarked upon by the European Central Bank need to be matched by greater political initiatives by the Member States. In the review of the Multiannual Financial Framework in 2016, there is a need to back urgent structural reforms of common EU interest with some form of fiscal capacity. A reasonable deviation from the 3% deficit parameter should be considered as a temporary exception for a given number of years and not be automatically liable to sanctions. A lack of implementation of country-specific recommendations (CSRs) could be countered by real involvement of civil society and the social partners in drawing up CSRs.
The EESC welcomes the Investment Plan for Europe as a step in the right direction, which however faces serious questions about the Plan's size and timescale, the high degree of leverage expected and the potential flow of suitable projects. The Plan proposes that contributions to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) from Member States will not be included in budget deficit calculations and this is to be welcomed, but it begs the question as to why ongoing strategic public infrastructure expenditures are not treated in the same way. Strategic public investment which underpins present and future economic development should be incentivised by a more benign European fiscal framework.