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Breathing fresh air
European Council conclusions on growth and employment
All considered, the most recurring word at the European Council of March 1-2 was “confidence”. It was often heard around the “Spring summit” table, dedicated, as customary, to economic themes. It was reiterated during bilateral meetings, press conferences, “off-the-cuff” statements by heads of Government or State at the end of the summit. Europe hasn’t yet exited the crisis tunnel, but there have already been enough reflections on “discipline”, austerity, cuts and sacrifices. Now it’s time to start speaking of growth, “hope” and of “solidarity”, a word that hasn’t been mentioned in EU seats for a long time.
The results. The European Council thus tackled economic themes (notably growth and employment), it provided the opportunity to ratify the new Treaty for Stability, Coordination and Governance in the EU (the so-called Fiscal Compact), it granted the status of EU candidate country to Serbia, addressed the situation in Syria, (sanctions, humanitarian aid, political action at international level coordinated especially with the Arab League) and in Belarus, after the withdrawal of the diplomatic seats of EU27 countries. EU Council members concluded their meeting in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of Council, underlining that the current debate extends beyond the economic downturn, while measures and commitments for development involing various areas such as the single market, youth employment, SMEs, broadband, project bond etc, should not be overlooked. The Council Conclusions highlight the positions that the EU will bring to the G8 and G20 meetings as well as at the Rio + 20 Conference on the environment and climate change. A set of controversial items were adjourned: the date of the permanent rescue funding programme (ESM) meeting will be fixed by Finance Ministers by the end of March while the entry of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen area will be debated the coming month of September.
New insights. There remains the fact that the summit consolidates a set of beliefs. First of all, it signals recovered harmony in EU seats: the implementation of a summit “without drama” (as repeatedly pointed out) shows that in recent years of economic crisis Europe has learned the lesson on the importance of sharing problems and jointly seeking solutions. Secondly, the “fiscal compact” has proved to be more that an “accounting” treaty centered on the containment of deficit and public budgetary indebtedness: rather, it seems to have been conceived as a political act that steps up economic governance and paves the way to the safeguard of the European social model. The third issue was tackled Herman Van Rompuy, confirmed president of the EU Council until November 30 2014: “the number and the importance of external policies”, be it the situation in Syria, the “Arab Spring”, the Balkans or the question of democracy in Russia, energy policies or cooperation for development, G20 or fight on climate change, “addressed in coordinated manner in European seats” are “growing in number and importance”.
For political union. As regards the “fiscal compact” treaty, signed by 25 states (the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic do not adhere), Van Rompuy recalled that “after the signature comes the time of the ratifications. Now you must convince your parliamentarians and constituencies – he said in his address to heads of Government or State – that this treaty is an important step to bring the euro currency in safe waters”. In fact, the treaty will become binding following ratification by at least by 12 signatory States, and the response to Ireland is linked to the outcome of a popular referendum on ratification that replaces decision at parliamentary level. The treaty bears the clause that only signatory countries are eligible to receive financial aid from the ESM fund that will come into force in July: this should encourage the yes-vote of the Irish population. Josè Manuel Barroso, president of the Commission, commented during the ratification ceremony: “The treaty will give stability and confidence to the euro zone and will mark the irreversibility” of the single currency. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that fiscal compact “is an important step in the direction of stronger political union”. The treaty stipulates that adhering states must introduce the balance-of-payments regulation in their national legislation, possibly within national Constitutions, and establishes the terms – and sanctions - regarding budgetary stability.
Cinque impegni. Le Conclusioni del vertice ricordano fra l’altro che “per il 2012 il Consiglio approva le cinque priorità di azione a livello Ue e nazionale enunciate dalla Commissione nella sua analisi annuale della crescita”. Gli impegni (con indicazioni operative) sono i seguenti: “portare avanti un risanamento di bilancio differenziato e favorevole alla crescita”; “ripristinare la normale erogazione di prestiti all’economia”; “promuovere la crescita e la competitività”; “lottare contro la disoccupazione e le conseguenze sociali della crisi”; “modernizzare la pubblica amministrazione”.