Rehn to propose economic ‘high representative’

EurActiv (Link) (January 12, 2010)

Europe�s economic recovery depends on greater fiscal co-ordination and speaking with a single voice at global economic fora, Olli Rehn, the EU�s incoming economic and monetary affairs commissioner, told MEPs at a parliamentary hearing yesterday (11 January).

Two concrete points to emerge from the hearing were Rehn�s insistence on the adoption of the EU�s new financial supervisors and the creation of a single EU representative to participate in international economic fora like the G20.

Rehn said he would be issuing a recommendation for a single representative in the coming months.

The idea of a �high rep for economic affairs,� as one MEP put it, mirroring Catherine Ashton�s post as high representative for foreign affairs, has been floating around for a while, with France and Germany among the idea�s most staunch opponents.

Rehn also urged MEPs to approve the Commission�s proposals on economic supervision, the European Systemic Risk board (ESRB) and the three European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) as soon as possible so they can become operational before the autumn of 2010.

�We have a vacuum in the surveillance of systemic risk and we have to fill this vacuum,� Rehn told MEPs on the Parliament�s committee on economic and monetary affairs.

An act of repetition

Rehn was grilled by MEPs from all sides of the political spectrum on how tough he will be in enforcing not only the EU�s Stability and Growth Pact, but also incoming EU financial regulation.

Green MEP Sven Giegold went for the commissioner�s jugular and asked if he had any �concrete proposals� to tackle imbalances within the EU and excessive public debt.

Giegold, among other MEPs, accused Rehn of dodging the question as he reinforced his view that in time the Stability and Growth Pact would deliver results.

�EU 2020� is the answer

Rehn wants to relaunch the EU�s Lisbon Agenda for jobs and growth as the EU 2020 strategy, which will, according to him, rely heavily on the enforcement of the EU�s Stability and Growth Pact.

The pact, which allows the Commission to monitor the fiscal health of eurozone countries, sets a public debt threshold of 3% of GDP.

In October, 20 of the 27 member states, including 13 in the euro zone, were on a Commission list of countries facing �disciplinary procedures� for exceeding the deficit ceiling (EurActiv 15/10/09).

Outgoing commissioner Joaquin Almunia was strongly criticised during the crisis for not pushing countries to do more to correct their excessive public deficits.

MEPs disgruntled by Rehn�s �lack of spine� in charge of the enlargement portfolio argue that he will not have the willpower to force member states to correct their fiscal deterioration (EurActiv 12/01/10).

Asked whether economies above the threshold, like Greece�s predicted deficit of 12.7% in 2009, would be cast out of the Union, Rehn replied �absolutely not.�

Spain, which took over the EU�s rotating presidency on 1 January, will reportedly seek to �sanction� countries that do not take action to lower their deficits.

This has caused a storm of controversy in Germany where the country�s economy minister, Rainer Br�derle, warned against creating additional bureaucracy in the Union.


In 2000, the EU launched its ambitious �Lisbon Strategy� to become �the world�s most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010.�

After five years of limited results, EU heads of state and government re-launched the strategy in March 2005. In response to public concern about climate change, ageing populations and social exclusion, EU leaders agreed to shift the Lisbon Agenda away from the purely �growth and jobs� focus of the past three years, putting the environment and citizens in the foreground instead (EurActiv 18/03/08). 

Given the current economic turmoil, the pendulum has seemingly swung back again, making job creation and increasing competitiveness the bloc�s key priorities (see EurActiv LinksDossier on �Growth and jobs: Reshaping the EU�s Lisbon Strategy�). 

The Stability and Growth Pact, conceived under the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, allows the European Commission and the Council to monitor the fiscal health of member states that have adopted the euro.