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11th Nov 2019

Van Rompuy defends economic taskforce against critics

  • Herman Van Rompuy is defending his task-force on economic governance (Photo: European Parliament)

EU council president Herman Van Rompuy on Wednesday (22 September) defended the working speed of his taskforce set up to look at legal ways to strengthen economic co-ordination among member states in order to avoid another sovereign debt crisis.

"Although some have claimed that our work on this is slow, we have in fact covered an enormous amount of ground in a very short time," Mr Van Rompuy told MEPs during a hearing on the outcome of last week's summit.

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He added that in his view, progress on updating rules on economic governance was happening "very quickly" when compared to the negotiations establishing the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact, which laid down the ground rules for the eurozone.

In the run-up to the summit, several EU diplomats cast doubts that Mr Van Rompuy's taskforce would make any headway in the coming months. "Van Rompuy has probably already achieved what he expected to achieve in terms of the European semester," one source said, referring to the new six-month budget review period agreed by finance ministers two weeks ago.

But the former Belgian prime minister insisted that his report, due on 27 September and likely to be adopted by EU leaders on 28-29 October, will "draw the final right lessons of the crisis."

He admitted however that there are divergences among member states over the scope of sanctions for deficit laggards – the sticking point over how to make economic governance work.

As economic talks at last week's summit were completely overshadowed by the Roma row between France and the EU commission, Mr Van Rompuy stressed that such council gatherings should not be seen as "summits", but as "routine meetings" of an EU institution.

Criticised by leftist and Green MEPs that he appears to be in a "parallel galaxy" for presenting the summit as a "success", Mr Van Rompuy said he prefers to stick to "facts" rather than be "seduced by perceptions."

He defended his stance that EU leaders should meet as often as possible under his chairmanship, because it "gives to the member states a sense of ownership and participation in the Union and reinforces their commitment to its success."

"That is why I am investing time and energy in maintaining regular contacts with the presidents of other institutions, not least the President of the European Commission, the rotating council presidency, the Central Bank, the Euro Group and of course yourself Mr President [of the European Parliament]."

With all his good intentions of making the EU work, last week's summit was however marred by fighting over the extent to which the commission should be allowed to defend EU law.

Speaking in the plenary, Socialist leader Martin Schulz highlighted the problem of applying EU policies "only when it fits my policies back home" - something he said that both centre-right and centre-left governments indulged in.

"This institutional danger puts Europe as a whole at risk. We need the community method and it is the task of the European Parliament to get this through," he said.

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