Brussels defends eurozone overhaul despite divided EU
The European Commission unveiled its vision of a rebooted eurozone on Wednesday, including the creation of a European version of the IMF, but stepped back from its more ambitious ideas amid misgivings from powerful Germany.
Other ideas, such as the creation of a eurozone finance minister or a rainy day budget for eurozone member states, are officially tabled for discussion by the commission, but without a formal proposal.
The proposals follow the heavily trailed state of the union speech by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker in September and are intended to inspire discussion at an EU summit on the future of the euro on December 15.
"After years of crisis, it's now time to take Europe's future into our own hands," Juncker said in a statement. "There is no better time to fix the roof than when the sun is shining."
The proposals by the commission, the EU's executive, were originally billed to be the European Union's answer to the shock of Brexit, but have been reduced in scope with member states split on the direction they should take.
The commission also faced criticism that the reform timeline should be left to the national governments, which Brussels insistently rejected.
"Only the commission is able to present concrete proposals for the euro area and the union as a whole, although some would have preferred it to do nothing," EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said at a news briefing, in a veiled reference to Germany and other naysayers.
The proposals follow a laundry list of ideas set forth by French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen the euro single currency, who worked under the assumption that Germany would have a pro-EU government installed to see them through.
Instead, the commission's most concrete proposals are the least controversial, including the creation of a European Monetary Fund to be built from the eurozone's existing bailout body, the European Stability Mechanism.
Leaked drafts of the other ideas on the finance minister and emergency budget were met with fierce derision in German media, which loathe any EU project that could transfer German taxpayer money to poorer member states.
- 'Not the end' -
The climbdown will be a blow to Macron who has made reforming the eurozone, including with a proper eurozone budget, one of his top priorities.
Macron will still make his case when the EU's heads of state, minus Britain, discuss the reform plans at next week's summit in Brussels. The original plan was to follow this up with a decision-making summit in June.
The commission's proposals "are clearly not the end of the story," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Reaction to the commission's proposals were mixed with worry that the EU was missing a golden opportunity to strengthen itself against future shocks.
"Far from going too far, the implementation dates are too late. These changes should be brought forward," said Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.
Guy Verhofstadt, senior MEP from the liberal ALDE group, hit out at the silent critics of the commission's proposals.
"Commentators often complain that the EU is too slow to act - now they complain that the European Commission is acting," he said.
ING chief economist Carsten Brzeski said the proposals "go in the right direction", but are "not new and clearly not a game changer".
This was not least because of the "almost impossible mission for the European Commission to balance between many diverging national interests."
© 2017 AFP