Thursday, October 30, 2008

EU sets out ambitious plans to tackle financial crisis

The European Commission announced on Wednesday (October 29) it will outline late November an economic recovery plan for the European Union to guide it from the present “financial crisis” to the “sustainable development” to avoid the prospect of recession.

“We will bring forward on November 26, a comprehensive EU recovery plan, based on the framework we have approved today,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists, adding, “that recovery plan will include targeted short-term actions to add to the medium-term reform agenda.”

Outlining a four-pronged framework as the basis of the plan, Barroso highlighted pragmatic measures to help families and households across Europe, coordination and solidarity among member states, full use of flexibility allowed by EU rules and global governance.


"Our top priority is to minimise the impact on jobs, purchasing power and prosperity of our citizens," he said. “We must keep unemployment to the absolute minimum and support those who have lost their jobs," Barroso added.

In a commission communication relating to the financial crisis, released after the press conference, the Commission stressed the need for social solidarity, saying that households and employees need to be cushioned from the full effects of the economic downturn.

The communication stated the chances for reviewing the terms for releasing money from the European Social Fund, which aims to provide educational opportunities and improve job skills, and review the effectiveness of the Global Adjustment Fund, which was established in 2007 to help workers laid off by companies that have moved their operations outside Europe.

Addressing a joint press conference with Barroso, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said, “We are now facing not only a financial crisis but a serious slowdown in our economies that is hitting households, businesses and jobs.”


Calling on member states to use flexibility provided in European fiscal rules in the case of sharp slowdowns, Almunia said, “They should use the room for manoeuvre they have to cushion the impact," adding, “we have red lines, we cannot put an excessive burden on the next generation.”

Almunia said: "Given that inflationary pressures are now easing, monetary and fiscal policy can contribute to supporting demand ... member states can now use the room for maneuver they have created.”

Almunia insisted that the Stability and Growth Pact is the appropriate policy framework for the EU, adding that in case of extra-ordinary condition like present, the pact will be interpreted flexibly, allowing budget deficits to exceed three percent of gross domestic production provided the deviation is small and temporary.

“The pact is about peer support in a difficult situation as the one we are living in and not only about peer pressure,” he said.

Echoing Almunia, Barroso said EU countries should use to its full potential the flexibility that exists within the EU fiscal discipline, as well as within the competition, state aids and internal market rules.

Warning, “We need to swim together or else we will sink together,” Barroso also acknowledged that the member states held the "main instruments" for reviving growth and not the European Union adding, “Europe must confront the economic downturn with the same robust and coordinated approach we have taken on the financial crisis.”

Commission President Barroso, however, cautioned against using the financial crisis to bring in protectionism saying, “Trade barriers shut out prosperity and open the gates instead to short-term, economic populism. So yes to pro-activism, but no to protectionism.”


Barroso and Almunia also urged the member states to look at the possibility of strengthening supranational financial institutions. Barroso said governments should also consider giving more money to the European Investment Bank that could direct funding to infrastructure projects or provide loans for small businesses hit by the credit crunch.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could also receive more capital. The commission communication stated, “The EBRD has been playing a key role in financial sector reform and in financing the private sector in our newer member states. In the current financing environment its activities in these countries could be strengthened.


In the spirit of solidarity, EU governments agreed late Tuesday (October 28) to lend Hungary 6.5 billion Euro in a joint bid with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the country deal with the financial crisis.

Barroso said the EU stands ready to provide substantial medium-term financial assistance to other member states experiencing balance of payments pressures or serious financial stability risks saying, “we need to be prudent but also vigilant.”

Amid fears that several new EU member states and other countries might eventually need assistance, Commissioner Almunia confirmed that no other country has asked for a rescue package similar to one provided to Hungary.

Hinting at the crisis-situation in Ukraine and others, Commission President Barroso said, “neighbours are under stress but EU institutions are ready to provide.”


Barroso promised EU support to improve cooperation and coherence at international level saying, “When you have global interdependence, you need global governance.”

Commenting on the Summit of Group of 20 in Washington on November 15 to reform the global financial system, Barroso said the summit must deliver the first results so as to rebuild a climate of confidence, which is part of the solution to the current crisis.

Urging China to be part of the solution, Barroso said, “China has been benefiting from this globalisation and has made big financial reserves and its time to show that they can help in this time of crisis.”

Barroso called on the IMF to be prepared to intervene with emergency financing as there were signs that the crisis is spreading to emerging markets. China and the Gulf countries could do more to help the IMF support countries hit by the financial crisis, Barroso said adding, “The idea put forward by (British) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and I completely agree with him, is that China and others could help more the IMF ... Not only China but also the Gulf countries could maybe give a concrete demonstration of their sense of responsibility.”

On the subject of overhaul of the relevant financial institutions, the commission communication stated, “Europe is well placed to play an active role in designing the new global architecture and making it work effectively,” based on key principles of efficiency, transparency plus accountability and representation.

Commenting on the plunging stock markets even with the pumping of liquidity in the banking system, Barroso blamed it on lack of confidence in the economy, Barroso said, “People are expecting the negative effects on the so-called real economy and that's why it's important ... that we are acting in a coordinated way to address the problems of the real economy.” Barroso sounded positive as he declared, “Europe will come through this financial storm and will emerge stronger.”

Almunia said that he had made a proposal to raise the maximum EU aid to member states facing financing troubles to 25 billion Euro as according to a 2002 rule, the EU can provide up to 12 billion Euro in total financial assistance to member states that do not use the Euro when they run into a balance of payments crisis.

"We sent to the council (of member states) proposals for increasing this ceiling to 25 billion Euro," Almunia told journalists. EU officials later said that it will be on the agenda of the meeting of the EU finance ministers on Tuesday (November 4) in Brussels.

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