Tuesday

21st Sep 2021

Member states agree to fast-track youth money

A low-key EU summit finished Friday (28 June) with an agreement to fast-track money to tackle youth unemployment and boost lending to small companies, but the meeting was nearly overshadowed by side issues, including a colouring-book featuring fictional MEPs.

"It has been a very productive summit," said EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, with governments pledging to spend €6 billion over the next two years to support getting young people into jobs or training.

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  • Kenny (l) - Ireland's reputation has been "damaged"

They also agreed to "prioritise" any unspent money from the budget for employment issues, although critics say the sums are too small to make a difference to the EU's 26 million without work.

The European Investment Bank was given the nod to lend hundreds of billions of euros to small businesses - seen as the backbone of the economy, but currently starved of credit.

There was no progress on further steps to banking union, considered essential for ensuring the longterm stability of the eurozone. But the commission said it would come forward with plans on how to wind down failing banks - a key and controversial part of banking union - within two weeks.

"The bridges are ready or under construction," said Van Rompuy referring to the legislative process.

Looking ahead, member states said they would discuss what makes an economy competitive at their next meeting in October and how to make Brussels' economic policy recommendations binding at their December summit.

"We can only agree on what to do next once we agree what is important. It lasts longer, yes, but now we have a clear calendar and by the end of the year we'll be a step forward," said German Chancellor Merkel, responding to criticism about the slow pace of progress.

Meanwhile, the relative calm of the summit compared to previous panicked meetings at the height of the eurozone crisis meant that other 'events' came to the fore.

To the bemusement of his colleagues, UK Prime Minister David Cameron brandished a colouring book representing the privileged lives of "Mr and Mrs MEP" at the meeting, as an example of how EU money is being wasted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent several minutes looking through the book, before remarking afterwards in a press conference that she could not be sure that the book was not a spoof.

A lengthy, but ultimately ineffectual, discussion about the British rebate, was not, as had been first assumed, started by London, but by France.

The French, for their part, also kept media ink flowing by continuing to batter away at European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Trade minister Nicole Bricq remarked on the eve of summit that the former Portuguese leader was doing much good in the job.

Her comments followed similar jibes by other left-wing French politicians that Barroso - seen as not appreciative enough of Paris' efforts to protect French culture from liberalisation - ought to resign.

Barroso, having entered the fray previously, this time said only that "some comments are not worth commenting on."

Ireland's Enda Kenny, for his part, tried to wrap up the country's six-month EU presidency on a positive note. But he was forced to admit that leaked tapes by two Anglo-Irish bankers - mocking Germany and the Irish government's decision to guarantee the bank's liabilities - had "damaged our reputation."

The Irish government offered a guarantee to Anglo and other lenders to keep them afloat, a move that eventually meant Dublin had to seek a bailout in 2010, funded largely by Germany.

In a lengthy apology, Kenny condemned the "toxic nexus between the banking world and the world of government and senior personnel," but said it belonged to a "past" Ireland.

Merkel, for her part, said: "For people who go to work each day and earn an honest living, this kind of thing is very hard to take, it's impossible to stomach."

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