Socialists slam ’empty talk’ about growth, jobs

Sergei Stanishev [Georgi Gotev]

Socialist leaders warned conservative politicians meeting in Brussels for an EU summit today (30 January) about "empty talk" when claiming they support policies to boost jobs and growth. 

Leaders affiliated with the Party of the European Socialists met ahead of the EU summit, in the group's austere Brussels headquarters.

Four centre-left prime ministers were present: Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark, the country holding the rotating EU presidency; Elio Di Rupo of Belgium; Werner Faymann of Austria; and Zoran Milanovi? of Croatia. Only Di Rupo and Faymann represent eurozone countries.

In contrast, the European People's Party (EPP), which counts 19 affiliated leaders, didn’t hold a meeting to prepare for the summit. The summit was officially devoted to fostering growth and jobs – plus agreeing the last details of the intergovernmental treaty on tighter fiscal rules to insulate the eurozone from new crises.

Speaking to journalists following the Socialists meeting, PES President Sergei Stanishev said the EU summit was very likely to adopt a sanctions-driven 'fiscal compact' [see draft], and "only a political statement of the need to do work on growth and unemployment".

"We believe this is not sufficient. What European citizens require today are not words about growth," Stanishev said, adding that PES would be very active in promoting a public debate and push through the "hostile conservative environment" an agenda to promote growth through "concrete instruments and finances".

The draft Council Conclusions provide for little substance behind the headline of "growth-friendly consolidation" and "job-friendly growth".

"Only economic growth, through investments, through social cohesion and special care about young people can provide the way out from this economic crisis," Stanishev said.

Otherwise, even if all countries achieve fiscal consolidation, it will still not be enough, he said.

Many of the resources needed to provide growth and jobs are available, the PES leader insisted. At least 70% of social funds from the EU's 2007-2013 budget have not been used and should be redirected to growth and jobs, he said, adding: "€30 billion of the European social fund have not been spent, and we propose €10 billion to be directed to clear programmes to tackle the problem of youth unemployment."

An EU financial transaction tax, for which the PES has been campaigning for two years, could provide €200 billion, which should be directed towards investments and creating jobs, Stanishev added.

The PES leader commended the Commission for having adopted a policy paper proposed by Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor on fighting youth unemployment.

France 'unable to ratify the fiscal compact'

Stanishev made ironic remarks about the fiscal compact, referring to the draft treaty's Article 14, which requires minimum ratification from 12 countries for the agreement to come into force.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy cannot push the fiscal pact through the centre-left dominated Senate, and in any case he would not make such attempt before the elections in April, he said.

Stanishev also called "humiliating" the reported German proposal to put an EU commissioner in charge of scrutinising the Greek budget.

The PES leader appeared alongside Hungarian Socialist leader Attila Mesterházy as the political situation in Hungary had been one of the topics of the centre-left leaders. Mesterházy denounced the "double speak" of politicians from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party, accusing them of taking a conciliatory tone in Brussels while uttering nationalistic rhetoric at home.

Orbán's government is under fire for adopting controversial laws viewed as marginalising the independence of the central bank, courts and the news media.

Asked by EURACTIV what kind of approach he expected from the Commission with respect to Hungary, Mesterházy said that even though the EU executive was predominantly from the centre-right, he hoped that Barroso's team would decide that European values are more important than Orbán's affiliation with the centre-right European People's Party.

The EU's new strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, called 'Europe 2020', comes in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades.

The new strategy replaces the Lisbon Agenda, adopted in 2000, which largely failed to turn the EU into "the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010" (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

The new agenda puts innovation and green growth at the heart of its blueprint for competitiveness and proposes tighter monitoring of national reform programmes, one of the greatest weaknesses of the Lisbon Strategy (For more, see EURACTIV's LinksDossier).

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