Tuesday 12 April 2011

European Council: More ambitious reforms from EU member states?

In a series of blog posts I corralled the latest entries published on my four blogs and in three languages: Grahnlaw (EN), Grahnblawg (SV), Eurooppaoikeus (FI) and Grahnlaw Suomi Finland (EN, FI, SV).

The practices of the European Council and possible reform of this (now) official EU institution, as well as the conclusions of the spring summit regarding economic policy, sustainable public finances and growth-enhancing Europe 2020 reforms were discussed in the articles mentioned. This latest compilation, divided into five parts, covered blog posts published between 25 March and 9 April 2011: One, Two, Three, Four and Five.

Inspiration from spring European Council?

Guidance from the spring European Council was intended to inspire possible improvements in the final versions of the Stability Programme or Convergence Programme and in the National Reform Programme (NPR) of each member state.

However, the economic policy paragraphs (2 to 5) we have looked at in the conclusions were sketchy enough to add no new substance to earlier Integrated Guidelines, EU2020 headline targets, the Annual Growth Survey (AGS) from the Commission, or conclusions from different Council configurations (summarised in the synthesis report by the Hungarian Council presidency):

European Council 24/25 March 2011; Brussels, 25 March 2011 (EUCO 10/11; 34 pages)

If the paragraphs concerning the implementation of the European Semester contained no added value, they did not visbly detract from the goals, proposals and conclusions mentioned.

The European Council conclusions clearly endorsed public deficit reduction (paragraph 3) and they backed structural reforms in a number of wide areas (paragraph 4), plus they reiterated the next steps in accordance with European Semester procedures (paragraph 5).

In this respect, the conclusions by the spring European Council could be described as neutral.

Beside the EU level EU2020 Flagship initiatives and Single Market reform, the concrete actions to reduce public deficits and debt levels to tolerable levels and to reform product and labour markets are in the hands of the EU member states, and the previously agreed targets are general enough to offer as much room as national governments need (and much more than most of them are willing or able to contemplate).

In addition, higher levels of ambition are expressed elsewhere in the European Council conclusions.

Euro Plus Pact

Single Market reform, free trade agreements, the proposed ”six-pack” legislation on economic governance and (more rigorous) new stress tests of banks received complementary backing from the European Council.

The European Council also took a step towards establishing the new and permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM), intended to replace the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM) in providing external financial assistance to euro-area Member States after June 2013. (See EUCO 10/11 Annex II.)

However, the higher reform ambitions we spoke about were expressed in the Euro Plus Pact, with Bulgaria, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania joining the 17 euro area states in order to enhance competitiveness and convergence. An annual cabal of heads of state or government is supposed to bring additional national commitments to the table. (See EUCO 10/11 Annex I.)

The goals are wide enough to house almost any economic reform plans and pledges:

§ Foster competitiveness
§ Foster employment
§ Contribute further to the sustainability of public finances
§ Reinforce financial stability

Concrete new reform commitments?

The first batch of more ambitious commitments is supposed to find its way into the national programmes due in April (EUCO 10/11 paragraph 12):

12. The Member States that have signed up to the Pact are committed, on the basis of the indicators and principles it contains, to announce a set of concrete actions to be achieved within the next twelve months. A number of Member States have already announced first commitments. All participating Member States will present their commitments as soon as possible and in any event on time for their inclusion in their Stability or Convergence Programmes and National Reform Programmes to be submitted in April and for their assessment at the June European Council.

I have seen no EU level compilation of first commitments already announced. At least the National Reform Programmes (NRPs), if not the Stability and Convergence Programmes, should start appearing on the Commission's web pages for the Europe 2020 strategy, but this morning the search for member states' documents still returns zilch.

The DG Economic and Financial Affairs (Ecfin) pages with the Stability and convergence programmes concern the 2009-2010 round (last update 6 October 2010), so we remain in waiting mode at EU level with regard to final versions 2011.

Naturally, for more energetic souls there is the opportunity to scout for the programmes government by government (and a few updates have appeared during the last days), but I leave systematic search along this avenue to the more ardent researchers.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Eva en Europa, by Eva Peña (on Twitter @evaeuropa), is one of the top Euroblogs and a fine representative of the lively Spanish scene of citizen-bloggers dedicated to European affairs. She writes reasoned posts with a long shelf-life, mainly in Spanish, but has published occasionally in English and Catalan.

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