Flurry of high-level meetings marks start of EU political season
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy interrupted his holiday in Seville yesterday (28 August) to visit Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid, while Commission President José Manuel Barroso received Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. A flurry of other upcoming meetings marks the beginning of a heated season.
Van Rompuy’s meeting with Mariano Rajoy in Madrid appears to be the start of a tour in EU capitals of the Council president, in preparation for the 18-19 October EU summit, which is expected to be both as a showdown over the future of Greece, and a precursor of strengthened economic governance in the eurozone. On 4 September, Van Rompuy will be in Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the next day is scheduled to go to Paris to see French President François Hollande.
Rajoy and Van Rompuy denied having discussed a possible bailout for the country. Van Rompuy said the proposed plan for the European Central Bank to buy government bonds to lower borrowing costs for financially troubled governments would be more efficient, if the market pressures continue.
Rajoy said that before the end of September, the needs of the Spanish economy would be identified, but that in any case, they would be inferior to the €100 billion provided in July from the EU to help the country recapitalise its banks.
Barroso meets Monti
Meanwhile, Barroso returned from holidays late Tuesday and received Monti at 22:00 Brussels time “for coffee”. Little information filtered from the meeting, held in the Commission’s Berlaymont building. Monti is on tour to see EU leaders in what the Italian press calls “a tour to save Italy”. He is due to meet with Merkel in Berlin today and to receive Hollande in Rome on 4 September.
Similar meetings with Merkel and Hollande were held last week by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in the hope of persuading Europe's big powers that Greece should be given more time to implement painful reforms. However, he was told that Athens should not expect leeway on its bailout agreement unless it sticks to tough reform targets. A mission of the Troika (European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank) will determine whether Athens gets the next tranche of its bailout. If not, Greece would be bankrupt, as its public coffers run empty during the fall.
A Commission spokesperson said yesterday that the Troika would take several weeks to assess the situation, and that there is no deadline for announcing its conclusions.
First college meeting
The Commission will meet today for the first time after the holiday recess, an event that signals the return to normal of the EU executive after the holiday recess.
Cecilia Malmström, EU Commisioner for Home affairs, tweeted this morning: “College meeting again. Everybody looks tanned and relaxed. For how long? It will be a tough autumn.”
The latest economic developments in Europe top the agenda. Economic and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn is expected to make a presentation of the developments during the recess, and Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier will present the state of play in the preparation of the proposals to overhaul banking regulation in the Union.
EU leaders agreed at the last EU summit in June that a blueprint for banking integration was urgently required to break the link between bad banks and indebted governments, with the worsening situation in Spain an immediate concern. The Commission proposals are scheduled to be presented on 11 September.
The Commissioners are also expected to look into the state of play and the next steps in the negotiation of the EU budget for 2014-2020, as well as the situation in Syria.
Asked by EurActiv if the Commission would discuss the soaring fuel prices that are hitting Europe, a Commission spokesperson said this was not on the agenda, but that individual commissioners may raise the problem.
France announced yesterday measures to ease fuel prices at the pump by six cents a litre. The cost will be shared between the state and the fuel distribution sector and will result in €300 million in lost tax revenues.
Since the election of French President François Hollande in May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under pressure to relax the austerity measures which she has described as the remedy for the eurozone crisis.
Hollande took a different view, saying during his election campaign that he would seek a renegotiation of Merkel’s “fiscal compact” to secure inclusion of measures that should lead to growth and employment.
The Germany-inspired new fiscal treaty, signed by 25 EU countries on 2 March, faces difficulties with ratification as Ireland has said it will hold a referendum and France wants the treaty re-negotiated or at least associated with growth measures.
The fiscal compact treaty would notably commit signers to having national legislation to ensure deficits remain under 3% and so-called ' structural' medium-term deficits below 0.5%. (>> Read our LinksDossier: Europe's new treaty: Towards a multi-speed union)