• City of London: scientists need access to venture capital and less red tape, the nine countries said (Photo: harshilshah100)

Nine EU countries set out post-crisis growth plan

18.03.11 @ 09:24

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU risks a future of high unemployment and economic decline vis-a-vis new world powers unless it looks beyond just saving the euro, nine member states have said in a joint letter.

"Without stronger ambition and fundamental reform - to unleash enterprise, open markets and promote innovation, including in green technologies - we face a future of low productivity, high unemployment, lost investment and relative economic decline," the group-of-nine warned.

"Putting public finances on a sustainable footing and promoting growth are not alternatives. We cannot delay the first to achieve the second ... We need swiftly to reach agreement on a stronger Stability and Growth Pact," it added.

The five-page letter dated 18 March and seen by EUobserver was sent to EU Council President and EU commission head Jose Manuel Barroso ahead of next week's summit. It was signed by the leaders of the mostly non-eurozone and pro-open market member states Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

The statement comes after the 17 euro-using countries agreed in principle on a new 'Competitiveness Pact' designed to save the single currency from a sovereign debt crisis.

"This [the new group-of-nine] is not an exclusive group. It's not a group against anybody. It's a group for something," Polish junior minister for EU affairs, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, told this website.

The Stability and Growth Pact extends to all 27 member states and has all the necessary tools," he added, referring to a 1997 EU agreement on budgetary discipline covering the whole bloc. "The pact for competitiveness, the pact for the euro, is a nice idea. We think it can be helpful. But the Stability and Growth pact is essential to ensure the euro and the EU can recover from the current crisis."

The letter sets out four priorities for economic reform: opening-up the single market for services; opening-up global trade; helping start-up companies; and promoting innovation.

"We must do for services markets what we have done for markets in goods - removing the restrictions that hinder access and competition," it says.

Zooming in on digital services, it urges "overhauling the current arrangements for e-commerce, building an efficient cross-border framework for copyright and establishing clear and transparent consumer rights" and tasks Mr Barroso with tabling "bold and ambitious proposals ... so that a fully functioning digital Single Market is in place by 2015."

In an important footnote for Russian-gas-dependent eastern countries with Communist-era energy networks, it adds: "We must also complete the internal energy market, put in place smart, upgraded and fully interconnected transport and energy infrastructure."

It calls for the EU to finalise the Doha agreement on world trade by the end of 2011 and to clinch bilateral trade deals with India, Canada, Japan, Mercosur and the Asean nations.

The letter notes that small businesses in the EU suffer from "ever greater regulatory costs" and recommends setting "a target to reduce the overall burden of EU regulation over the life of this Commission."

It says that scientists should have better access to venture capital, especially in the area of green technology. "We must also break the deadlock on an EU patent to ensure that firms have access to affordable, continent-wide intellectual property protection in a system free of all unnecessary legal complexity," it adds.

Poland's Mr Dowgielewicz called the letter a "post-crisis strategy" and said time has come for the bloc to "move on" from firefighting on the euro.

"Of course you could still have a particular crisis here or there. But the sense is that we now have the mechanisms in place to save the euro and we have full confidence the euro is on the path to recovery," he answered when asked if a debt crisis in Portugal or Spain could undermine the new initiative.

He noted that Poland remains "fully committed" to adopting the single currency. But he added that "it is not the right time to declare a date" for when it might join.