Europe’s heads of state will review the proposed €315bn Juncker investment plan at the EU summit opening today (18 December). The issue threatens to divide the Council, with Tusk planning to finish the discussion before midnight. EURACTIV France reports.
The December EU summit will be chaired by Donald Tusk for the first time, the Former Prime Minister of Poland, who took over from his Belgian predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy.
Tusk plans to make changes to the way summits are run, as well as “to bring Poland closer to Europe”, according to a French source.
Like the European Commission, which announced a work programme for 2015 that was pared back to political priorities, the Council also wants to simplify its procedures, avoiding unnecessarily lengthy exchanges and long conclusions.
A source close to the French President said “preparation for the European Council has been different. The debate will be focused on a small number of issues and the conclusions will be brief”.
The new President of the European Council has promised to change the culture of the summit, saying that the habitual two days of lengthy discussions and press conferences finishing in the early hours of the morning should become a thing of the past.
The agenda for this week’s summit is a lot lighter on content than usual. The 26 pages of conclusions from last December’s summit, for example, are a testament to the impressive number of issues that are often discussed: security, research, SMEs, economic and social policy, employment policy, tax evasion, economic and monetary union, banking union, social Europe, migration flows and international trade.
This time, there are fewer topics on the agenda and the draft summit conclusions this time only cover 3 pages, two of which are dedicated to Juncker’s investment package and improving the investment climate in Europe. Aggressive tax planning and the economic and monetary union also figure. International issues, such as the Ukraine crisis, and European jihadists, will be discussed over dinner.
The rather empty draft summit conclusions prompted Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal ALDE group, to publish a communiqué in which he said that “after Cola Light, we now also have European Council Light”.
Socialist pre-Council moved from Paris
The European Social Democratic leadership has cited “scheduling difficulties” for its failure to meet in advance of the December Council summit. The group had assembled in Paris to prepare for the last three European Council summits, in June, August and October 2014.
Differing French and Italian positions on the Juncker investment plan may threaten the stability of the bilateral relationship so important for the European left. According to Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Italy plans to announce a contribution to the plan on Thursday, while France continues to drag its feet.
French sources say the question of adding to the EIB’s investment fund is not on the summit agenda. The Juncker plan is largely designed to benefit the Southern member states, who have the greatest need of new investment.
The Commission hopes to create two committees to manage the fund; one from the Commission itself, and the other from civil society, but this proposal is another sticking point in the debate.
ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt has called upon EU Government leaders to take seven key decisions during tomorrow's European Council meeting. According to him, the European Council should take the time necessary to make important decisions related to the €315bn Juncker investment plan:
- "All Member States must show commitment and enter the guarantee scheme of the investment fund. In this way, we can double the size of the fund and genuinely tackle the investment gap;
- Taxation on the income of the bonds of the investment fund should be abolished. This will ensure that not only institutional investors, but also other European citizens will buy these bonds;
- It establishes the principle of conditionality: The fund has to give priority to investments in those countries that are implementing the necessary structural reforms;
- The telecoms package will be fast-tracked. It is high time to abolish European roaming charges, put European net neutrality in place and harmonise European spectrum policy;
- A second package to open up Europe's digital market will be launched: a key condition is the installation of a single European regulator and a European copyright regime. It is unacceptable that services such as Skype and Netflix are still not available in many of Europe's Member States;
- A European Energy Community will be established with one European grid including a European mechanism to buy energy from third countries;
- A European credit and mortgage market will be launched to finally overcome the credit crunch."
Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms said:
“It is welcome that Commission president Juncker is looking to counterbalance the effects of the financial crisis and the austerity-focused response by proposing an investment plan.
However, the mega-wish-list of projects proposed by EU member states to secure funding does not provide a basis for a sustainable economic recovery. The list includes a plethora of projects that would damage the environment, as well as bloated projects that are difficult to finance. This is not a viable way to fight unemployment. The list includes nuclear energy projects totalling around €100 billion, as well as billions for coal industry projects. Climate protection and resource efficiency hardly feature on the project list. This list only has one direction: back to the past.”
The group of Europe's Social-Democrat leaders, including the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, the Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, have met three times since June 2014, ahead of the European Council meetings of the heads of government of the 28 EU member states.
The leaders met in Paris before the previous Council, to avoid the "Brussels media hubbub," but met in Brussels on 17 December to discuss how to deal with the rise of the European far right.
- 18 Dec.: EU summit in Brussels
Coverage of the latest pre-European Council meetings of Social-Democrat leaders:
- Socialist leaders back Juncker, want other top jobs - June 2014
- Social-Democrats meet in Paris to face up to Conservatives (in French) - August 2014
- Socialists to hold major summit on economy in December - October 2014