Investments in the EU, current challenges the EU is facing and possible priorities for the next term of the European Commission and European Parliament – these were the main topics of the debate between European Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen and the members of the Employers' Group, which took place at the group's meeting on 15 May 2019.
Jacek Krawczyk, president of the Employers' Group, welcomed Mr Katainen and thanked him for his courage and engagement in defending the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU. He also thanked him for their earlier meeting in the European Commission, when he had handed to Mr Katainen the declaration issued by the Employers' Group ahead of the European elections.
Tellervo Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala, vice-president of the group, pointed out that employers are very committed to the mindset of sustainable development – a policy area in which Mr Katainen has been very active. She added that the role of business and economic growth in achieving sustainable development has still not gained the recognition it deserves.
The Commission vice-president started his presentation with a short summary of the Commission's achievements in terms of investment. "The Juncker Plan has been a success story and functioned much better than we expected," he said. So far, it has mobilised EUR 400 million of additional investments, three quarters of which are private. Around 900 000 SMEs have got financing through local intermediaries.
The Juncker plan will be extended to the next Multiannual Financial Framework under the new name InvestEU. It will be more policy driven, with more focus on topics such as renewable energy, the circular economy and AI. Funds will be available not only for the EIB but also for national promotional banks to lower the threshold of entry for such projects.
Summarising the term of office of the European Commission, now coming an end, Mr Katainen underlined significant progress in integration in certain areas such as the capital markets union, the energy union and the digital single market. He admitted that the European Union is now facing a much greater external challenge from global competitors than used to be the case a few years ago. Moreover, certain countries would like to see the EU weakened and fragmented. "That is why we need to defend both the European economic interest and European values," Mr Katainen said. He listed seven priorities for the next European Commission:
- improving competitiveness, including through encouraging Member States to continue national reforms;
- placing a major focus on the transformation to a circular economy;
- grasping opportunities that the development of AI brings and keeping AI human-faced;
- investing in security and defence;
- focusing on Africa (especially in terms of investments);
- pushing forward new trade agreements; and
- solving the issue of the rule of law in the EU, as problems with the rule of law in certain countries jeopardises mutual trust in the EU and could also have a negative impact on doing business.
The Employers' Group members expressed appreciation for the work done by the Commission and raised concerns in regard to the lack of awareness of businesses funded with EU resources and the need to enhance the ability to circulate and distribute those resources efficiently. The discussion moved further into the challenges of the ongoing relationship between Europe, China and the US, the threat of Russia and the need to nurture a sustainable relationship with Africa.