19th Feb 2019

Brussels seeks to regain lead on economic crisis

The European Commission and Czech EU presidency on Wednesday (11 February) sought to stamp their authority on dealing with the current economic crisis as concern mounts that member states will retreat into economic nationalism.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said there was "no magic" fix for the situation, which has seen thousands lose their job across the bloc, but that it could be fixed if the 27 member states work together on a "co-ordinated" European solution.

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  • Mr Barroso is keen to regain the initiative on the economic crisis (Photo: European Community, 2006)

He noted that the commission would on 18 February begin assessing member states' various economic recovery programmes while a few days later a high-level group is to publish its recommendations on how to deal with regulating the financial sector.

The commission will also publish its proposals for tackling the crisis on 4 March - a paper that is supposed to feed into the EU leaders spring gathering on 19-20 March.

Brussels is also set to produce guidelines for supplying state aid later this month. This is the political hot potato of the moment as some capitals rush to bail out home industries. The commission fears that if such moves are left unchecked, the bloc's internal market - the heart of what the EU is - will be undermined.

Summit on 1 March

For his part, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek drew a line under the damaging spat he had with French President Nicolas Sarkozy over French aid to its car sector.

"I will not continue this media exchange with my friend Sarkozy, which is very damaging for both of us. This exchange was not necessary. I have learnt a lesson. Next time I will call him up."

The high-profile exchange had raised eyebrows both for its tone and for the fact that it involved the EU presidency country, normally expected to rise above intra-EU mud-slinging.

Mr Topolanek confirmed that he has called his EU colleagues for an informal meeting on 1 March with the objective of the summit "to avoid protectionism."

"My goal is to hold a political debate at the highest level in order to strengthen EU co-operation in countering the crisis."

"We have to realise that the individual member states have different approaches to solving this issue. Some member states call for more protectionism, others call for adherence to rules." The Czech leader added that he belonged to the latter camp.

He admitted that if political steps were not taken, including keeping the lines of communication between EU leaders open, then the bloc risks descending into a political crisis on top of the economic one it is already struggling to deal with.

Calling the whole situation "a great challenge for the European project", Mr Topolanek noted that the crisis is raising problems that were thought to belong to the last century.

The Czech presidency also announced it would hold a jobs summit in May to look at the employment situation across the bloc while noting it feels the best way to handle the situation is to be a moderator of discussion and not "control" countries.

The last was an apparent reference to the constant trickle of criticism coming from Paris, as well as insinuation in some of Europe's media, that Prague is too small and too ineffectual to be skippering Europe at such a time of crisis.

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