Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

Katainen vague on €300bn investment plan

  • Katainen was the second commissioner to eat chocolate during the hearing (after Denmark's Vestagher) (Photo: European Parliament)

A parliamentary hearing of Finland's Jyrki Katainen, one of the seven vice-presidents in the new EU commission, has shed little light on where the money for a vaunted €300 billion investment plan will come from.

Incoming EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has promised to raise €300 billion to be spent over the next three years in the 28 EU member states.

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He has put Katainen, vice-president for "jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness" in charge of this money-raising project.

Katainen was repeatedly asked by MEPs on Tuesday (7 October) where the new money would come from and how he will avoid it being wasted on not-needed bridges or airports.

"How can you persuade us that the €300 billion are not a 'mythical plan' that stays on paper or that it is simply redistribution of existing money?" one MEP asked.

Katainen, who is currently an economics commissioner after his predecessor Olli Rehn stepped down in June to take up an MEP seat, fielded the questions with smiles and composure.

He always called other commissioners by their first name, to dispel the impression that he will be their superior, even though Juncker appointed him as "team leader" over 18 commissioners.

Katainen said he will sit down with "Pierre and Jonathan" - the economics and financial services commissioners - once appointed and divide tasks and draw up a list of concrete projects to be funded.

He said his main three priorities will be "economic stability, public money for an "investment wave" where private money is not flowing, such as research, and, thirdly, energy and transport."

Katainen also said "surplus countries" - a reference to Germany - should spend more to help out the rest, while those who are still struggling with recession should concentrate their few resources on research and innovation.

His predecessor Olli Rehn, now an MEP in the trade committee, asked him how much of the €300 billion will be put into decreasing Europe's energy dependence on Russia.

Katainen listed a few projects, including one in Finland, and said interconnections and green energy were the answer.

He also described himself as "obsessed" with renewable energy, in reply to a question as to why green energy is not part of his portfolio or in the job description of any of the other six vice-presidents.

His own political family, the centre-right European People's Party, was quick to applaud his performance.

"The EPP Group is looking forward to working with Jyrki Katainen to set up the new European Investment Programme. He is our man for jobs and growth. Today he showed that he is well prepared for this extremely important job", said German MEP Burkhard Balz on behalf of the group.

But some MEPs remained unimpressed.

Katainen's performance was that of a "helpless schoolboy", said German MEP Bernd Lucke from the anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland party.

He criticised the Finn for not being able to say where the €300 billion would come from.

"If Katainen says EU funds should be spent more efficiently, then he obviously has no idea how much €300 billion are," Lucke said.

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