First of all I would like to congratulate the Latvian Presidency for its strong support to ensure today’s agreement on the Regulation to set up the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
And I very much welcome the decision of Italy to contribute 8bn euros to the Investment Plan through their National Promotional Bank.
Today’s decision is certainly an important step.
Now we look forward to the position of the European Parliament on the EFSI Regulation and an early start of negotiations between the co-legislators.
A timely and successful conclusion will allow financing to start flowing to projects this summer.
So once again, congratulations to the Latvian Presidency on this very speedy adoption of the compromise.
We also focused toady on the progress made by Member States to correct macro-economic imbalances and on how they are complying with the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact.
A number of Member States have made progress in correcting macro-economic imbalances, but problems still remain in certain countries.
We identified five Member States with excessive imbalances (Bulgaria, France, Italy, Croatia and Portugal) and five Member States requiring decisive policy action.
Our conclusion is that the ambition and pace of reforms needs to be stepped-up. This is not only important to strengthen potential growth, but also to alleviate social problems.
On the fiscal policy side, let me briefly touch on France, Italy and Belgium.
Taking into account all the relevant factors, including weak growth, inflation and implementation of structural reforms, the opening of Excessive Deficit Procedures at this stage is not warranted – neither for Italy, nor for Belgium.
Today the Council adopted a Recommendation to France to correct its excessive budget deficit by 2017, bringing it below 3% of GDP.
What France needs to do now is to step up its efforts both on the fiscal and the structural reforms side.
The country now has to follow-up on the recommendation with a structural adjustment of 0.5% of GDP for this year, 0.8% of GDP in 2016 and 0.9% of GDP in 2017.
France is asked to swiftly make an additional effort of 0.2% of GDP and set out ambitious and specific structural reform plans.
And we will be coming back to this as early as end of April.
The Commission also prepared its country-specific analysis last month –it was three months earlier than in previous European Semesters.
The reason for this is to facilitate national ownership of the process of the European Semester, as there will be more time for a wider dialogue, with governments and with important stakeholders, such as social partners.
The European Commission analysis and national reform programmes will then form the basis for the new country-specific recommendations that we will propose in May.
In this respect, myself and fellow Members and representatives of the Commission, will engage with governments and actors such as social partners, to discuss the reforms and country-specific matters.
For example tomorrow and Thursday, I will be travelling to Paris and Helsinki, to discuss European Semester issues.
I very much look forward to the involvement of as many actors as possible to enhance national ownership of policies designed to strengthen the European economy and to get more people in quality jobs.