Pierre Moscovici – Member of the European Commission, responsible for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs
Conference Peterson Institute for International Economics
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today at the Peterson Institute, at the conclusion of what has been a short but intense and productive visit to Washington for me.
I took up my role as European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs just one-and-a-half months ago. And I was very keen to make my first visit to Washington as Commissioner before the end of the year.
Why so? Because I know there is real concern here about the economic situation in Europe.
I know there is a sense here that Europe has not done enough to put its house in order, has not been ambitious enough in reforming its economies, has been kicking the can down the road, or muddling through.
I am well aware of these perceptions, even if I do not necessarily agree with them. Let’s be honest, they are not surprising: the economic news coming out of Europe has been bleak these past few years, and particularly these past few months.
That’s precisely why I wanted to come to Washington as early as possible to set out the new European Commission’s economic strategy to people like Jack Lew, Janet Yellen and Christine Lagarde – all of whom I already knew well from my time as Finance Minister of France.
And I am delighted to have the opportunity to also set out that strategy here for you today.
My message to you is simple. We are addressing our economic challenges with renewed drive, vigour and determination.
President Juncker has said, and I have echoed the sentiment, that this is Europe’s last chance.
What do we mean by this? We mean that it is our last chance to make our young people once again see Europe as a source of economic opportunity, of social mobility, and of hope.
For my generation – for someone like me, born of Jewish parents who spent the first years of their lives in Romania and Poland, during an incomparably darker period of our continent’s history – Europe’s meaning is as profound as it is obvious.
By contrast, for most young Europeans today – and notwithstanding this year’s terrible developments in Ukraine – peace, stability and open societies are taken for granted.
Those young people look to the European Union instead to offer them economic growth, job opportunities, geographical and social mobility.
And many of them, after this long and painful crisis, are deeply disillusioned.
We could see this in the European Parliament elections last June, when populist forces and extremists of both left and right squeezed the pro-European parties, though fortunately they emerged with a clearly workable majority.
To halt and begin to reverse this tide, to rebuild confidence in the European project, we need to deliver the economic policy responses that our citizens are rightly demanding.
If we do not, the European Union risks losing the support of an entire generation.
The European economy is gradually emerging from the protracted crisis which began in 2007. As our Autumn Economic Forecast published last month indicated, the recovery remains fragile and vulnerable to external shocks. We need to act decisively in order to avert the risk of a period of stagnation marked by low growth, low inflation, high unemployment and high levels of inequality.
In short, we share the sense of urgency and the analysis conveyed by Mario Draghi in his Jackson Hole speech last summer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My view of economic policy-making at the current juncture is that we have to think in terms of risk management and security margins. We cannot simply count on a spontaneous recovery which would, at best, be characterised by disappointingly low growth.
At the same time, we must not risk reversing one of the main achievements of the recent years: the stabilisation of the eurozone through credible fiscal consolidation and financial repair in a context of very high public and private debt.
Our challenge today is to kick-start economic growth in Europe, without reversing that stabilisation. In this context, let me underline two encouraging developments, which constitute the starting point upon which we have to build.
The first development is the comprehensive assessment of the eurozone banking system by the European Central Bank, and of the wider EU banking system under the coordination of the European Banking Authority. This has provided us with the clear picture of the soundness of the European banking system that is a precondition for a sustainable recovery in credit to the real economy and thus for investment and growth.
The second development is the fact that the aggregate fiscal stance in the eurozone is now broadly neutral. In other words, fiscal policy is neither being tightened nor loosened.
This reflects, in the Commission’s view, an appropriate balance between sustainability requirements and the current weak cyclical conditions.
Now, it will not have escaped your attention that the eurozone is some way from being a fiscal union (we may need a little more time on that one). As such, maintaining a neutral fiscal stance in the eurozone as a whole, while some Member States are being called on to increase their efforts to comply with the Stability and Growth Pact, implies a degree of fiscal support coming from the exploitation of the fiscal space available in other Member States.
So how does the Commission see the way forward for the European economy? To move decisively into a phase of strong, sustainable recovery, we need to work in parallel on three fronts:
- boosting investment,
- accelerating structural reforms,
- promoting fiscal responsibility through growth-friendly fiscal consolidation
Let me take you through these three priorities in that order.
Europe is suffering from a large investment gap, which has been building up for many years now. This gap is both the consequence of past low growth, and a possible cause of future low growth. Action is needed now to break that vicious circle.
The size of this investment gap is hard to assess with precision but what we know is that investment in Europe remains around a fifth below its pre-crisis levels.
As a member of the French Parliament I had the opportunity before the summer to work on the assessment of this gap, and on possible ways to close it. My conclusions, I am happy to say, were very much in line with what the Commission is now putting in place.
Addressing the investment gap means at the same time fighting against the lack of aggregate demand in the short run, and preparing higher supply capacities to lift potential growth in the medium to long term. It is therefore good policy for both today and tomorrow.
This is important to underline, given the strong heterogeneity of economic conditions in the eurozone today: some countries clearly face primarily demand constraints; others mainly structural, supply-side challenges; and many face both at the same time.
A successful strategy for investment in Europe must follow some simple principles:
- It needs to target additional projects.
- It needs to be timely.
- It needs to be focused on areas where long-term investment for the future is required: networks and social infrastructure.
- And it should rely on private money when possible and public money when necessary and aim at crowding in, not crowding out private funds.
The Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe, which received the strong backing of EU heads of state and government meeting in Brussels yesterday, constitutes a determined and decisive answer to these challenges.
It is based on:
- Mobilising finance – using EU level instruments in a new and smarter way to boost strategic investment through the creation of a new European Fund for Strategic Investments, which will bring confidence to investors by taking a large part of project risks out of the equation and helping riskier projects to find private financing.
- Making finance reach the real economy – through a stronger, more transparent pipeline of projects, supported by technical assistance.
- Improving the investment environment – by removing non-financial regulatory barriers in our single market.
The backbone of our Investment Plan is to make smarter use of the money we have, because more debt cannot be the solution.
We are confident that the design of the new Fund means that the €21 billion in guarantees provided by the EU budget and the European Investment Bank Group will enable us to mobilise more than €300 billion in additional investment over the next three years.
And I can assure you that if more needs to be done to support investment beyond that time horizon, we will be ready to act.
We are also encouraging Member States to build on this by contributing their own national resources to the Fund in the form of capital or guarantees.
But financing is only one part of the investment story, albeit an important one. In fact, we often hear that the issue is not a lack of financing but a lack of projects. That’s why we need to promote an environment that is more conducive to profitable projects. This implies action at the micro level and the macro level.
ACCELERATING STRUCTURAL REFORMS
Action on the micro level means stepping up the pace of structural reforms both by the European Union itself and by its Member States. The European Commission will play its part on both fronts.
At the EU level, the new Commission is determined to close the persistent gaps that exist in the single market. Among our priorities are the creation of a genuine capital markets union, a digital single market, and an energy union.
And let me say very clearly to you that while Europe is putting its own economic house in order, we will remain open and outward-looking.
A major priority for the coming year will be to make decisive progress on TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We all know that concluding this agreement will not be easy, but few goals that are worth striving for are easy to attain. And with the tremendous growth and employment opportunities that it promises to unlock, TTIP is a goal worth striving for.
When it comes to our Member States, the responsibility for structural reforms lies with national governments and there it must remain. But in an economic and monetary union where the impact of economic policy decisions does not stop at a national border, there is a need for coordination of those reform efforts and it is legitimate for the Commission and for other Member States to make their views known, without being overly prescriptive.
A true friend and partner is one that gives frank advice and constructive criticism.
Where we see progress, we will applaud it. Where we believe reforms should be more ambitious, we will say so.
That it is how the Commission sees its role in the economic governance of the eurozone.
And that is how I see my role as Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs.
It is about supporting and persuading, not cajoling or punishing.
PROMOTING FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY THROUGH GROWTH-FRIENDLY FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
Finally, at the macro level, what we are seeking to promote is fiscal policies that keep public finances on a sustainable path – in view of the already high debt levels and the looming impact of demographic ageing – while doing more to support growth.
We are extremely conscious of the need to support the recovery. The EU’s fiscal framework provides flexibility to ensure that fiscal targets reflect economic conditions, particularly through their emphasis on the improvement in the structural budget balance.
The Commission will be making important announcements in January concerning how we intend to apply that flexibility in a smarter and more effective way, while ensuring that our common fiscal rules are respected so that they remain an anchor of stability.
Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude, the new European Commission understands that the risk of economic stagnation is real. We will do everything in power to ensure that this risk does not materialise. That’s why boosting growth and job creation is our number one priority.
President Juncker has put together a strong and dedicated team, and arranged that team in a way that is innovative and designed to foster coherent decision-making within the Commission. This new set-up is working well. Furthermore, the European Parliament with its so-called ‘grand coalition’ of conservative, liberal and social democratic forces is proving to be a solid and constructive partner.
Since taking office on November 1, the new European Commission has hit the ground running. A credible yet ambitious Investment Plan is on the table. Structural reforms are being supported and driven forward using all available tools. We have shown that we are committed to taking a balanced approach to fiscal policy choices, focusing in parallel on growth and sustainability.
We have a job to do together, and that job is to improve the lives of our citizens so that they again see Europe not as a source of interference and constraint, but as a source of prosperity and of hope. For me at least, that will be my guiding principle over the coming five years.