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Remarks by Commissioner Gentiloni at the press conference on the European Semester Winter Package

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 26 februari 2020.

We are delivering a new message with our Semester Package. We could say we are greening the European Semester and having the Sustainable Development Goals as a new pillar.

The SDGs are now specifically addressed in the country reports, and each country report has a new annex assessing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals in the last five years. And overall I would note that referring to these recent five years, we need to strengthen results especially on SDG 13, which is climate action. It is so crucial for our strategy and it is not the SDG on which our analysis of these last months is showing more progress.

I have to say very clearly that this is a first step of a new strategic approach. We have also added a new section on environmental sustainability, to complement our existing analysis of macroeconomic and social issues. A first step means that we will progressively be adding further elements in the next Semester cycles. In particular we are developing with Eurostat a set of indicators to better capture the macroeconomic and social impact of the green transition. This will be ready for next year.

At the same time we are presenting in this Semester the analysis and the scenarios connected to the Just Transition Fund, and the use of this Fund country by country.

Of course, the Semester retains its focus on economic, employment and social issues. We don't have to see this as a contradiction because at the end of the day contributing to address climate change is contributing to address the main risk from an economic and social point of view. So they are not two separate tasks that we have.

On the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure, let me add just a few details to what Valdis said. We had an in-depth review especially for the 13 Member States that are in this process. We took a positive decision on Bulgaria, as was said. We propose to maintain three countries in excessive imbalances: Greece, Cyprus and Italy. While nine Member States still have “imbalances” (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Sweden, Portugal and Spain).

There is a stability in this classification, apart from Bulgaria. And this reflects the fact that we had progress but imbalances are the legacy in several cases of the time of crisis. For example, high private and public debt levels take time to correct, but need to be corrected.

We also observe an asymmetric rebalancing of current account positions. Large current account deficits have been overall corrected and large surpluses persist.

Lastly, you will see that the rule of law issue is again addressed in the reports for Poland and Hungary, obviously focusing here on the impact that these concerns can have on the investment climate.

Let me conclude with a word on the coronavirus outbreak. As Valdis said this was discussed this morning in the College. You know that the situation is evolving by the day. The European Commission is in contact with Member States, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization. This morning these two organisations and our Commissioner Kyriakides will hold a press conference in Rome on this subject.

As regards implications for the economic outlook, I updated the College. I said when I presented our Winter Forecast two weeks ago that the coronavirus represented a new downside risk for the European economy, but that it was too soon to quantify its impact.

That remains true, even if the developments of recent days point to a partial materialisation of that downside risk. So it will have an impact, knowing the fact that China accounts for 18% of global GDP, when it was 4% at the time of the SARS outbreak, but an assessment and a serious forecast are not possible because this is a rapidly evolving situation which we will continue to monitor.

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