Good evening. I hope the New Year is treating you well.
In our last meeting we took nearly 19 hours to conclude, today we were considerably faster.
First of all, as Luxembourg has elected a new government, we welcomed Pierre Gramegna who was reappointed Finance Minister. He presented the priorities of the new government.
We also welcomed the new acting Finance Minister of Belgium, Alexander de Croo.
As we are talking about new positions, today I launched the call for candidates for the upcoming ECB Executive Board vacancy, to ensure a smooth succession of Peter Praet, whose term ends on 31 May.
This is the first of 3 positions of the ECB board that will be replaced this year.
Our first discussion topic today was euro area economic policies. We agreed five priorities for 2019 in the areas of:
-Growth enhancing structural reforms;
-Fiscal sustainability and public investment;
-Labour markets and social inclusion;
-Financial stability; and finally
The Commission also debriefed us on the outcome of its budget discussions with Italy in December. Late last year the Eurogroup had encouraged this ongoing dialogue as a way to improve the Italian budget in the context of the Stability and Growth Pact. It is now important that Italy delivers on these commitments.
We then discussed the international role of the euro on the basis of the Commission’s initiative. This sparked an interesting exchange as it is an important point for economic and political reasons. At the Euro summit, Leaders asked us to work further on this, so we will be taking discussions forward in future meetings.
After that, we welcomed non-euro area ministers to follow-up on the conclusions of the December Euro Summit on EMU reform.
Leaders endorsed all the elements of the Eurogroup report on euro area reform and asked us to work further on EDIS, the budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness, ESM Treaty changes and liquidity in resolution. This is an ambitious work programme given the depth of discussions needed and the short time span until June.
Today we did not discuss details. We looked at the best way forward, planning our discussions in order to achieve results by June, in particular on the two biggest files we have this semester, the budgetary instrument and EDIS:
-On the budget - or should I actually use the full name which is “budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness”. This is for euro area Member States and for ERM II countries, on a voluntary basis. The instrument will be part of the EU budget, it will be coherent with other EU policies and it will be subject to criteria and strategic guidance from the euro area member states. Its size will be determined in the context of the MFF. That much we have already The rest we will discuss in the next couple of months.
-On EDIS, we will bring the discussion to a more political level by establishing a high-level working group. This group will be at the level of our deputies, not at technical level as has happened until now. It will also be a more focused and less academic discussion. Also, a deposit guarantee scheme interacts with many other policies and parts of the Banking Union, this needs to be taken into account. The group was given a broad mandate to take this forward. They will provide us an interim report already in April. By June we will report back to Leaders.
Finally, we had an information point from the Commission on Brexit preparation and the implementation of measures at both EU27 and national levels. It is important for us to be ready for all possible scenarios. That includes a no-deal Brexit which, and I must stress this, we all want to avoid.