MEP: Parliament will stop Barroso’s stimulus plan

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The European Parliament will mobilise a majority against Commission President’s José Manuel Barroso’s five billion euro stimulus plan, Claude Turmes, vice-president of the Greens / European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Claude Turmes is a Green MEP from Luxembourg. He is vice-president of the Greens / European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament, and a member of the EU assembly’s committee on industry, research and energy. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

The five billion euro stimulus plan proposed by Commission President José Manuel Barroso will probably be discussed and agreed upon at the EU’s spring summit on 19-20 March. The European Parliament will give its opinion later. What can you say at this stage? 

I think the plan as it stands is not a good plan, for two reasons. Recovery requires immediate actions, while all of the billions for carbon sequestration, and 40-50% of the billions for gas and electricity infrastructure, will not be able to be spent in 2009 and 2010 – when we need investments to help the European economy to recover – because these investments have no authorisation. 

There is no way to get authorisation for the storage of CO2 quickly, because this is a very complex issue. And the same goes for gas and electricity infrastructure, because these are complex issues. Focusing so much money on these issues will not deliver anything. I think, and the European Parliament will be on this line. 

We will have a majority in the Parliament that we should open the basket for investments, for energy efficiency, for equal industries, and for renewables beyond offshore. 

That’s the first aspect. The second is that the countries whose economies are most in trouble – the Eastern European countries, but also Greece, Portugal, and Ireland – they receive almost peanuts from the existing plan. Because the Barroso plan was re-written at the last moment under pressure from Germany and the UK, who basically said ‘we want our money back’. 

So the whole list of the projects was twisted in a way that the net contributors would get most of the projects. And because Eastern economies are not net contributors, they get almost nothing out of it. So there is no solidarity. 

In fact, there is a semantic misunderstanding, because countries from the South asked the Commission for a ‘balanced’ plan, and the Commission insists the plan is balanced. But this means something else, not geographical balance… 

‘Balanced’ for Barroso means that Germany, the UK and other net contributors will get their money back. I’m sorry, but this goes completely against the solidarity idea, and that’s why the plan is completely unacceptable. And the only way to reach a deal is to use the 3.5 billion not as grants, but to transfer the money, or at least large parts of it, to the European Investment Bank, to serve as guarantees for investment, especially in those economies which need to pay more for lending. 

If we do that, then we are not speaking any more about 3.5 billion, and little money for the Eastern governments, but for 25-30 billion, leveraged through a cleverly-placed budget from the EU, through the EIB. 

But if the Barroso plan is pushed through, will we have a different European Union, in which the principle of solidarity will be replaced with something else? 

I think that we must stop Mr Barroso and his ideas about the recovery plan. I’m pretty sure that in the European Parliament we will organise a majority against Mr Barroso’s views of the plan, with the Liberals, the Socialists and the Greens voting against, and part of the EPP too. 

Even part of the EPP? 

Yes. I spoke today (12 March) with Mr [Polish EPP-ED MEP Jacek Sariusz-] Wolski, with other [EPP] members from Eastern Europe. They say this is scandalous. 

And then you have these discussions about Eurobonds, but be aware that real Eurobonds are something really complex, which will take time. My analysis is that the only political quick response for the Eastern European economies is through the EIB. 

There seems to be another blunder with this plan – the money is not there. When the plan was presented, the Commission had not made sure it can actually use the so-called ‘unspent money’, and now there are legal problems. 

My understanding is that politically, there will be five billion. But the countries which were against using the margins from the 2008 budget have won, so now the focus of the discussion is where to find the money, from the margins of the 2009 and 2010 budgets. 

By voting against Barroso’s plan, and especially if you succeed in stopping his plan, are you aiming to stop him being re-elected as Commission president? 

These are two issues, which are not formally linked. My interest is to do something which makes sense for Europe. I have no particular interest in whether this dossier is linked to the re-election of Mr Barroso. 

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