Barroso said the best way to address the problems of Europe – beyond the necessary fiscal consolidation – is to boost growth and investment.
"Not moving is not an option," Barroso said yesterday (27 February), addressing a conference organised by the Lisbon Council, a Brussels think tank.
With public money becoming scarce due to the economic crisis, Barroso said attention was now turning to the European structural funds and to "working innovatively" with governments and the private sector.
In this context, Barroso said support for project bonds, which he first proposed in September 2010 (see background), was gaining momentum. The bonds could be launched before the EU budget for 2014-2020 is agreed, to give the signal that when the Union speaks about growth, "we mean business".
"We are ready to put some money there to finance what we need, I mean interconnections in Europe from energy, for instance renewables, to transport, to the digital agenda," he said.
The idea builds on an initiative launched by Barroso at the end of his first mandate, when €5 billion of "unspent" EU money was allocated to energy interconnectors, clean energy and broadband internet.
Addressing the 'missing links'
"Now we need to deliver on pilot project bonds. These will help further stimulate investment in infrastructure at the European level, investment to make connecting Europe a reality. A euro spent at the European level makes more sense than a euro spent at the national level precisely because we are addressing the issue of the missing links in our European space," he said.
Asked by EurActiv to provide details, Barroso said that project bonds should not be confused with eurobonds or 'stability bonds', which are more controversial, since they are about mutualisation of debt. Project bonds are not the same concept, he said.
The Commission proposed the project bonds to boost European networks under its draft EU budget. But this time, he is proposing a pilot project by using some money from the structural funds that would be leveraged through the European Investment Bank (EIB). The private sector would also be involved through public-private partnerships, he said.
The Commission president said it was up to the markets to decide what types of projects would be funded. He said the Commission had conducted consultations and found that the private sector was showing "an important market interest" for the scheme.
"There is capital. But private capital needs confidence," he said. "And we believe that there are very good projects in Europe in energy, transport and in the digital field."
"I will insist on Thursday with member states and I'm think I'm going to get it," he said, thanking the Danish EU presidency for its support.
The draft conclusions of the EU summit, obtained by EurActiv, speak of stepping up a pilot phase of the project bond initiative, "with the view of reaching an agreement by June".