Economic policy: more coordination, more solidarity

Greek crisis: an almost unconditional solidarity

Bel­gium large­ly agreed to con­tribute to the Euro­pean effort to finan­cial­ly sus­tain Greece, and very few polit­i­cal par­ties expressed their oppo­si­tion. The Bel­gian aid will take the form of coor­di­nat­ed bilat­er­al loans and will con­sti­tute 3.58 per­cent of the glob­al effort. The Min­is­ter of Finances, Didi­er Reyn­ders, assessed the Bel­gian con­tri­bu­tion to 1,074 bil­lion Euros.11De Mor­gen: Bel­gie bereid bij te dra­gen aan Europese lening Grieken­land, 16 March 2010. But although Belgium’s sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Greek peo­ple and gov­ern­ment was not much dis­cussed,22The euroscep­tic move­ments “No Euro for the Greeks” that appeared in sev­er­al coun­tries were denounced by all Bel­gian par­ties. there is a con­cern that this con­tri­bu­tion would have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the Bel­gian pub­lic debt (which is esti­mat­ed to be about 109 per­cent of Gross Domes­tic Prod­uct in 2013). The fear, shared by many polit­i­cal par­ties, is that Bel­gium itself would be in the same sit­u­a­tion as Greece, because of the impor­tant pub­lic debt and the cur­rent polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tion­al cri­sis. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and par­tic­u­lar­ly the Min­is­ter of Bud­get, Guy Van­hen­gel, restored con­fi­dence claim­ing that the Greek and Bel­gian pub­lic debts and economies are very dif­fer­ent, as eco­nom­ic growth is larg­er in Bel­gium and its unem­ploy­ment rate is small­er than Greece’s.33Finance and Bud­get Com­mit­tee, Fed­er­al Par­lia­ment, doc. CRABV 52 COM 794, 23 Feb­ru­ary 2010; De Stan­daard: De Gucht waarschuwt voor loze beloftes, 16 May 2010.

Much crit­i­cism was voiced in Bel­gium against the deci­sion-mak­ing process at the EU lev­el. For exam­ple, the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter and cur­rent Mem­ber Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt, crit­i­cised the slow deci­sion-mak­ing process and Euro­pean cacoph­o­ny, as well as the over­ly long dis­cus­sions on the way to solv­ing this prob­lem.44Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de cri­sis rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010; De Stan­daard: Ver­hof­s­tadt wil dat Europese lei­ders stop­pen met kake­len, 16 May 2010. This posi­tion is shared by many oth­er actors, who com­plained about the delayed reac­tion from EU insti­tu­tions that dete­ri­o­rat­ed the sit­u­a­tion in Greece, and many Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, among oth­ers from the major­i­ty, Hen­drik Bogaert (Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Flem­ish – CD&V) and Jean-Jacques Fla­haux (Reformist Move­ment – MR), accused Ger­many for being respon­si­ble for this delay.55Finance and Bud­get Com­mit­tee: Par­lia­men­tary dis­cus­sion on the law project allow­ing Bel­gium to make loans to Greece, doc. 52 2576/002, 5 May 2010; Ple­nary Ses­sion, doc. CRABV 52 PLEN 153, 5 May 2010. Bel­gium is, in fact, divid­ed towards the Ger­man posi­tion in this regard. Many politi­cians crit­i­cised the doubts expressed by Angela Merkel – among them the Prime Min­is­ter, Yves Leterme, who pub­licly denounced the lack of respon­si­bil­i­ty dis­played by Ger­many.66De Stan­daard: Leterme maant Merkel tot dis­cretie over euro aan, 16 May 2010.

A reinforced economic governance

There has not been much dis­cus­sion on the even­tu­al reform of the EU’s eco­nom­ic poli­cies and insti­tu­tions, part­ly because the main polit­i­cal actors focused their atten­tion on the polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tion­al cri­sis at the fed­er­al lev­el. Nonethe­less, some polit­i­cal actors drew con­clu­sions from the Greek case and stressed the need to review some of the process­es. Even with­out mak­ing any sub­stan­tive pro­pos­al, the Min­is­ter of Finance, Didi­er Reyn­ders, thinks that the mon­e­tary pil­lar (that is linked to the pol­i­cy of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank) and the bud­getary and eco­nom­ic pil­lar (still based on inter­gov­ern­men­tal coor­di­na­tion) should both be bet­ter inte­grat­ed. He is also in favour of the instal­la­tion of a new sub­sidiary of the Euro­pean Invest­ment Bank, which could inter­vene in mat­ters regard­ing the finan­cial prob­lems of mem­ber states.77De Mor­gen: Bel­gie bereid bij te dra­gen aan Europese lening Grieken­land, 16 March 2010. Accord­ing to Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt, a new mech­a­nism is need­ed at the Euro­pean lev­el, com­bin­ing three ele­ments: the cre­ation of a Euro­pean Mon­e­tary Fund, which would be con­trolled by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the cre­ation of a Euro Bond Mar­ket, and the devel­op­ment of a real eco­nom­ic pil­lar and strat­e­gy in the Euro­zone. In addi­tion, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion should be giv­en a real lead­er­ship and ori­en­ta­tion capac­i­ty regard­ing the eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance.88Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de cri­sis rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010.

Europe 2020: the lack of a social Europe

The main crit­i­cism that was addressed to the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy is the lack of a real social pil­lar. Pover­ty should indeed become one of the main tar­gets, but a social Europe should encom­pass oth­er dimen­sions, such as strong social secu­ri­ty, an inclu­sive labour mar­ket, a decent min­i­mum salary and access to qual­i­ty ser­vices.99Com­mit­tee on health, envi­ron­ment and social affairs: Les pri­or­ités de la prési­dence belge de l’Union européenne, report, doc. 52 2378/012. In addi­tion, the cur­rent pover­ty indi­ca­tor should be com­plete­ly revised and enlarged. As Bel­gium will hold the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy of the EU start­ing on 1 July 2010, pover­ty will be one of its trans­ver­sal pri­or­i­ties by cre­at­ing an authen­tic part­ner­ship with the field actors. Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt also crit­i­cis­es the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy that, in his eyes, is mere­ly a new pack­ag­ing of the “old” Lis­bon Strat­e­gy. He pre­dicts that this ini­tia­tive of open coor­di­na­tion, based on good prac­tices and peer pres­sure, will not lead to more suc­cess than pre­vi­ous ini­tia­tives.1010Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de crisi rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010.

In the frame­work of the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy, a Bel­gian ver­sion of this strat­e­gy was set up: the so-called BE 2020. An agree­ment was reached by the fed­er­al, region­al and com­mu­ni­ty gov­ern­ments on the pri­or­i­ties that Bel­gium will put for­ward as its con­tri­bu­tion to the Euro­pean ambi­tions: a com­pet­i­tive indus­tri­al pol­i­cy; an inno­v­a­tive dig­i­tal soci­ety; cli­mate, ener­gy and mobil­i­ty; employ­ment and for­ma­tion; social cohe­sion; and the fight against pover­ty.1111Prime Min­is­ter office: BE2020 – Un agen­da com­mun: de la crise à la crois­sance, press release, 19 March 2010. A sup­port com­mit­tee of the Lis­bon Strat­e­gy was set up for the mon­i­tor­ing and exe­cu­tion of these pri­or­i­ties in the frame­work of the Europe 2020 and BE 2020 strate­gies. More accu­rate objec­tives will be joint­ly defined by the dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments by the end of June 2010.

    Footnotes

  • 1De Mor­gen: Bel­gie bereid bij te dra­gen aan Europese lening Grieken­land, 16 March 2010.
  • 2The euroscep­tic move­ments “No Euro for the Greeks” that appeared in sev­er­al coun­tries were denounced by all Bel­gian parties.
  • 3Finance and Bud­get Com­mit­tee, Fed­er­al Par­lia­ment, doc. CRABV 52 COM 794, 23 Feb­ru­ary 2010; De Stan­daard: De Gucht waarschuwt voor loze beloftes, 16 May 2010.
  • 4Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de cri­sis rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010; De Stan­daard: Ver­hof­s­tadt wil dat Europese lei­ders stop­pen met kake­len, 16 May 2010.
  • 5Finance and Bud­get Com­mit­tee: Par­lia­men­tary dis­cus­sion on the law project allow­ing Bel­gium to make loans to Greece, doc. 52 2576/002, 5 May 2010; Ple­nary Ses­sion, doc. CRABV 52 PLEN 153, 5 May 2010.
  • 6De Stan­daard: Leterme maant Merkel tot dis­cretie over euro aan, 16 May 2010.
  • 7De Mor­gen: Bel­gie bereid bij te dra­gen aan Europese lening Grieken­land, 16 March 2010.
  • 8Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de cri­sis rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010.
  • 9Com­mit­tee on health, envi­ron­ment and social affairs: Les pri­or­ités de la prési­dence belge de l’Union européenne, report, doc. 52 2378/012.
  • 10Guy Ver­hostadt: Is de crisi rond de euro voor­bij?, De Stan­daard, 9 April 2010.
  • 11Prime Min­is­ter office: BE2020 – Un agen­da com­mun: de la crise à la crois­sance, press release, 19 March 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.