Parisot: ‘United States of Europe is no longer utopia’

Laurence Parisot.jpg

Leaders of European business federations have called for today's EU summit to agree further political integration in the eurozone, with Laurance Parisot, head of France's MEDEF employers' group, saying that the idea of a "United States of Europe was no longer utopia".

The leaders of business federations from Finland, France, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain endorsed a manifesto personally in Brussels outlining five steps needed to lift Europe from slump. The manifesto is backed by 41 federations from across the continent.

The manifesto, drawn up by EU employers' group BusinessEurope, included a call for the EU's ESM bailout fund to be allowed to lend to financial institutions “under strict conditions”, and said the European Central Bank (ECB) should also be free to lend to financial institutions and buy bonds.

The ECB should "for a limited time until other means are in place, [be] engaging in sovereign debt markets, to the extent it believes necessary to support the euro,” the manifesto said.

French business wants European Minister of Finance

Parisot, the president of the French employers’ group, Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF), also endorsed the idea of a finance minister for Europe, a step the French government remains wary of.

“We need to debate what kind of union, but MEDEF thinks that federalism is no longer a fantasy, and a United States of Europe is no longer utopia. We are in favour of a European Minister of Finance, but he should be answerable to the European Parliament,” Parisot said.

Dimitris Daskalopoulos, board chairman of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV), said it was a good sign that leaders seemed to accept “the pan-European model of the crisis… rather than Greece being viewed as the sole locus.”

“Now is the time for Europe to decide whether Europe wants the political union that has always been its longer-term objective,” Daskalopoulos told EURACTIV in an interview.

Germans want tight discipline before debt-sharing

The business leaders’ position places them closer to the perceived “Franco-Italian camp” in the tense pre-summit debate, favouring more immediate intervention to shore up debt-ridden banks and purchase bonds.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti told the parliament in Rome on Tuesday (26 June) he would repeat his call for the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism, the two funds set up to provide a "firewall" against the spreading debt crisis, to be used to help ease the pressure on Italian debt.

Italy is proposing to use the funds to help limit the spreads over German Bunds on bonds issued by countries that respect EU budget rules.

But the proposal has run into stiff opposition from Germany, the largest economy in the European Union and the bloc's effective paymaster, and has been rejected by Jens Weidmann, the powerful head of the German central bank, the Bundesbank.

“Europe needs a much stronger investment and competitiveness agenda,” said BusinessEurope President Jürgen Thumann. “Policymakers simply cannot continue to propose measures which increase costs for companies and lament that we are last in the world league for growth,” Thumann added.

“We consider that now for all of us this is a moment of truth,” said Laurence Parisot, president of the Mouvement des Entreprises en France (MEDEF).

“I think that the time for business as usual is absolutely over, because we can say that our businesses are in danger, our jobs are in danger, our level of living is in doubt. What is required at this stage is not technical solutions to the problem, but first a political answer.”

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has said he will propose a roadmap and "calendar" for more European integration at the next summit of EU leaders today and tomorrow (28-29 June), without discarding the possibility of a treaty change aimed at injecting more federalism into the Union.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will present a report on today exploring ways to deepen economic integration, including eurobonds, which would pool part of European debt and reduce the borrowing costs of fragile economies like Spain or Italy.

  • 28-29 June: Summit of European Heads of State and Government to mull growth compact

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