21st Sep 2019

Cyprus overshadows EU leaders' Berlin meeting

  • Merkel, Hollande, Barroso and the big bosses: next meeting will be in Paris (Photo: European Commission)

A dinner on Monday evening (18 March) in the German chancellery with Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso that should have been about Europe's competitiveness was overshadowed by the growing Cyprus backlash.

Fighting a cold, Merkel joined her guests in front of the press on Monday evening and said that Cyprus was not on the agenda.

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"We normally meet in political circles to secure the stability of the eurozone - this is what we have done over the past few years. And we will continue to do so as it is the case these days with Cyprus. Here too, we want the euro to remain stable. But this is not the topic of our meeting today."

With the leaders meeting the heads of 15 major companies, the German chancellor said: "Today we look to the future and say we need to create a Europe which has growth again."

Merkel, Hollande and Barroso held a brief trilateral meeting that evening on Cyprus, one EU source told this website. Their talks came just as finance ministers were in a conference call trying to alleviate the pain of a recent bailout deal forcing losses on small savers.

"This was again a German error, like the Greek PSI," another EU official told EUobserver, in reference to a deal struck between Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 to make banks pay for the Greek bailout - a negotiation process that lasted almost two years and drained the big money out of Greece.

Moratorium on EU laws?

Meanwhile, the gathering itself with the European Roundtable of Industrialists - a powerful lobby group - has raised eyebrows among transparency campaigners.

"It is deeply worrying to see Merkel and Hollande meet with the ERT on what to do with competitiveness in the European Union," Kenneth Haar from Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels-based watchdog, told this website.

"The ERT has a provoking and entirely undemocratic approach to that issue, in that they're lobbying for nothing less than abolition of any kind of regulation that is not entirely in the interest of big corporations in Europe."

Haar was referring to a position paper of the ERT calling for an "immediate moratorium on all business-related regulation."

Speaking to EUobserver ahead of the meeting, ERT secretary general Brian Ager said that "a moratorium was perhaps a clumsy way to say it, we were being too black and white."

"We will definitely going to look at the paper again, what we meant was that we want to look at regulation from a growth perspective: will it help employ young people, will it bring an added value?"

He insisted that the organisation has nothing nefarious about it and promotes goals such as more funding for education, research and innovation.

But Haar from Corporate Europe Observatory was not convinced: "What we see play out is a deceitful spin. A crisis that was set off by the behaviour of the financial sector is being portrayed as a crisis of competitiveness."

If the ERT has its way with the next step of the EU competitiveness agenda, there is reason to be worried about labour laws, pensions, environmental protection, consumer protection, social expenditure and public services," he continued.

The ERT has regular meetings with EU leaders and top commission officials. This was the first time, however, to meet both Merkel and Hollande, as well as Barroso. Part of the delegation were the CEOs of Ericsson, Siemens, Telefonica, Thyssen-Krupp, Lafarge, Deutsche Telekom, OMV, British Petroleum and EoN.

A next meeting will take place at an unspecified date in Paris.

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