Brussels, 25/02/2014 (Agence Europe) – On Tuesday 25 February, MEPs adopted three reports on the European Semester process, used by the European Union to decide on its annual socio-economic policy. On the same day, the European Commission published its winter economic forecasts.
During the debate in plenary, the old political divide between Left and Right raised its head – the Left furious about growing inequalities and budget cuts in social spending under excessive austerity measures; and the Right welcoming the fact that the worst of the sovereign debt crisis is now over and recommending that work continue to restore economic competitiveness as the only way of creating jobs.
Education spending has fallen by 20% in 20 member states, stated Hannes Swoboda of Austria on behalf of the S&D. Philippe Lambert (Greens/EFA, Belgium) pointed out that growth is back, but what is growing is debt, unemployment, inequalities and childhood illnesses. He criticised the focus in the European Semester on cutting public spending and labour costs. For the GUE/NGL, Germany's Gabriele Zimmer approved of the introduction of social criteria in the analysis of macroeconomic imbalances as long as this leads to tangible measures to cut unemployment and poverty.
We will only get out of crisis if reforms are pursued with determination, argued Corien Wortmann-Koel (EPP, the Netherlands). Even though the reforms are tough on citizens who were not responsible for the crisis, postponing them would only make things worse, she added. On behalf of the Liberals, Sylvie Goulard (France) regretted that the European Parliament did not have any impact on the way policies are decided in Europe, particularly at the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) of international lenders to countries in receipt of aid (see related article). She said this was the result of the poor democratic scrutiny of economic decision-making in Europe.
Like the EU Council of Ministers, the EP backs the five priorities laid down in the 2014 Annual Growth Review that form the starting point of the European Semester (differentiated budget correction, investing in areas of future growth, dealing with the social impact of the crisis and so on). It wants legislation on convergence guidelines to set a very limited number of targets to the most urgent reform measures. It suggests that member states set up a convergence partnership with EU bodies, providing them with potential conditional finance for reform. The finance would be from the EU, but additional to the EU budget for 2014-2020.
Welcoming the introduction in a report annexed to the review of a scoreboard for employment and social policies, the EP says that this should have a genuine impact on the policy guidelines for the European Semester to boost the social dimension of economic and monetary union.
Greek Foreign Secretary Dimitrios Kourkoulas stressed member states' introduction of policies recommended at European level. The member states will publish their stability and reform programmes for 2014 by the end of April, which the European Commission will use to draw up country-specific recommendations for the European Summit in June. (MB and MD/transl.fl)