On 8 December 2011, at the 476th plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) President Staffan Nilsson, the three interest groups making up the EESC and Jean-Paul Delevoye, President of the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council agreed that deeper European integration was the only way out of the crisis. In the lead up to the European Council, the EESC President's statement tackled key aspects of the crisis such as fiscal discipline, the discussion on stability bonds and regulation of the financial sector.
The plenary session was opened by President Nilsson with a serious warning: "The European Union is in a profound crisis - a financial crisis, an economic crisis, a sovereign debt crisis, a social crisis with almost 23 million unemployed, but also a fundamental crisis of European integration itself". His statement on "Overcoming the crisis - towards a policy programme for sustainable recovery" sets out the Committee's stance on various aspects of the economic crisis and the possible solutions.
According to Mr Nilsson, there is only one way out of the crisis for the EU: to create the right conditions for boosting growth and employment. The Community Method has to be reasserted and the Commission's legislative initiative must guarantee that the crisis is tackled by stepping up integration.
"More Europe, a new Europe will require a fundamental pooling of resources and sharing of responsibilities", said Mr. Nilsson, specifying that this could only be achieved if Member States respected fiscal discipline in the framework of the so-called "six pack", the agreed reform package. However, the austerity/growth deadlock can only be broken if these commitments are accompanied by stability bonds, proper regulation of the financial sector and, crucially, a long-term strategy for assuring sustainable growth. In this regard, the institutions have already developed a tool to generate confidence, not just for the markets, but, what is more important, for citizens: the Europe 2020 strategy, where the focus is on proper implementation.
For the President the moment has come to act as a Union and this implies not forgetting our identity, the European social and economic model. Fiscal and financial measures have to go hand in hand with poverty prevention, labour market inclusion, social cohesion and intergenerational solidarity. The only guarantee for a socially acceptable exit from the crisis is the involvement and commitment of all actors. To give a voice to all these actors within the European institutions, the Committee is determined not only to be a platform for debate between the three main groups of civil society representatives: Employers, Workers and Various Interests (GIII), but also to continue its cooperation with its network of national ESCS.
The best evidence of this ongoing cooperation was Jean-Paul Delevoye's presence at the plenary session and the central message of his speech: Europe is not the problem but the solution. He also warned that "we are too focused on the pain, and not enough on the cause" and continued "there are things we must do that are politically extremely difficult but economically extremely necessary".
Finally, he sent a clear message to the Member States, arguing that deeper integration would mean recognition of Europe's strength as an economic and social model, but that in order to achieve this, a certain degree of sovereignty must be given up.
Agreeing with the President's position, Georgios Dassis, President of the Workers' Group (GroupII), criticised the power of the financial markets. He recalled the historic relationship between France and Germany, as reflected in the understanding between their charismatic leaders, and pointed out that this leadership was now in danger because of the markets' power. "Today we risk going backwards, there is the risk that the markets govern Europe."
The President of the Various Interests Group Luca Jahier quoted Mario Monti's comment that "Today, the markets are wild beasts that have taken fright. It’s our task to tame them". For Group III the response to the crisis should comprise a serious and structured system of Eurobonds in order to avoid more financial turbulence.
Finally, Henri Malosse, President of the Employers' Group, delivered a clear message on behalf of the employers' representatives, namely that the outcome to the crisis would have to come in the form of economic growth. According to Group I, effective implementation of innovation, better education and support for SMEs would be key to this growth. "Only 10% of European SMEs take advantage of the internal market. If we manage to increase this by an additional 10% it would lead to a 1% increase in European growth", he added.
Opinion on the first European semester
The statement and the debate were followed by the adoption of an opinion evaluating the first European semester, a new governance method aimed at improving economic policy coordination between the EU and its Member States.
On behalf of rapporteur general Michael Smyth (Group III), Joost Van Iersel, President of the Europe 2020 Steering Committee (Group I) presented the opinion, which reinforced the plea by most speakers in the session for a long-term strategy. In the context of the crisis, the Europe 2020 Strategy is more important than ever, since it offers a comprehensive agenda for reforms aiming to secure sustainable growth and making the Union more resilient in the future.
Mr. Van Iersel stressed the importance of improving the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy by the Member States, as well as the participation of civil society and the social partners in carrying out reforms and a growth strategy.
Last, but not least, the opinion reiterates the EESC's readiness to be a platform for the exchange of information and cooperation between national ESCs, the social partners, civil society actors and the European institutions.
Statement by President Staffan Nilsson:
For more information:
Antonio Santamaria Pargada
European Economic and Social Committee
Tel: +32 2.546 9779