Germany, France and Italy unite to boost EU growth

State Secretaries for European Affairs, Michael Roth (Germany), Harlem Désir (France) and Sandro Gozi (Italien) met on Wednesday (30 July) in Berlin. [German Foreign Office]

State Secretaries for European Affairs, Michael Roth (Germany), Harlem Désir (France) and Sandro Gozi (Italien) met on Wednesday (30 July) in Berlin. [German Foreign Office]

European Ministers in Germany, France and Italy have joined forces hoping to boost economic growth in the EU, mulling new financing instruments to realise their goals. EURACTIV Germany.

Germany, France and Italy have agreed on closer cooperation in the areas of energy, transport and digital infrastructure.

At a meeting in Berlin on Wednesday (July 30), German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth, French State Secretary of Europe Harlem Désir and Italian State Secretary of European Affairs, Sandro Gozi agreed on the shared goals.

In an explanatory paper, the three Europe ministers emphasised the importance of bridging investment gaps.

“It is necessary that we fully exploit existing instruments like the EU structural funds, loans from the European Investment Bank and project bonds,” said Roth. But it is also important to be ready to test new, suitable instruments – regardless whether public or private, he added.

How can the EU economy be boosted?

The ministers discussed how to revitalise the declining economic performance of many EU states. The group also emphasised the desire to more strongly address high youth unemployment in many EU member states.

Europe should not be reduced to a functioning internal market and a common currency, Roth explained. “Europe is also, and above all, a community of values and solidarity.”

Germany, France and Italy have set common goals of fulfilling targets for sustainable growth and improving employment opportunities, said Roth. Above all, this applied to the younger generation, he added.

But to do this, administrative barriers must be reduced that currently regulate the use of funds from the EU youth employment initiative.

Project bonds for more private investments

But growth in the EU continues to lag. The EU-wide unemployment rate is around 10%, just under the record high reached during the financial crisis.

As a result, reducing unemployment and debt is one of the most pressing issues in many EU countries.

To free up new sources of cash, the European Commission would like to expand project bonds for large infrastructure projects.

According to the Commission, these funds will be granted to private investors such as banks and pension funds to support cross-border infrastructure like power grids, roads and railways.

The credit quality of loans will be improved through the acquisition of guarantees. In 2012, the European Parliament already approved €230 million in such bonds.

Italy and France have also called for reintroducing Eurobonds, which are meant to offer states more favourable rates. But so far Germany has rejected this prospect.

More decisive refugee policy needed

At their meeting, Désir, Gozi and Roth also agreed to define a more decisive refugee policy.

In light of the rising number of migrants entering the EU through the Mediterranean Sea, this issue must urgently be addressed, the three said.

The ministers said talks should take place with origin states in Africa and the transit countries. But they also indicated that Frontex, the European border control agency, should be reinforced to deal with the influx in illegal immigrants.

Italy in particular complains it is overburdened with taking care of rising numbers of refugees flooding its borders, while illegal migration to Europe continues to grow.

In the first four months of this year, roughly 42,000 refugees were picked up along the EU’s external borders. According to the border control agency Frontex, this was more than three times as many people during the same period in 2013.

Passages to Malta and Italy are the most important routes for illegal migrants. From January to April, Frontex reported discovering around 25,000 illegal refugees.

Between 2007 and 2013, youth unemployment reached record highs across Europe, dramatically increasing from 15.7% to 23.4%, according to Eurostat. EU heads of state and government agreed in February 2013 to launch a €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) to get more young people into work.

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