Speech by Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth, in Cesena (Italy): “Boosting the EU economy”

16.04.2015 - Speech

-- translation of advance text --

Signore, Signori,
cari amici,
caro Sandro, caro Harlem, caro Peter!

Sono molto felice di essere qui stasera in Cesena. E questo per una ragione molto concreta: io sono di Assia, è questa la mia regione nel cuore di Germania. La Emilia Romagna è la regione gemellata di Assia. È questa la prima volta che ho l´occassione di conoscerla – per me una esperienza molto importante e benvenuta!

Quindi tante grazie per il tuo gentile invito, caro Sandro, e tante grazie anche a tutti quanti hanno contribuito a questo evento!

Dette queste parole di riconoscimento in una lingua che amo moltissimo però per dispiacere parlo solo pochissimo, permettete mi, cari amici, a passare all´inglese, dove mi sento un po´più sicuro…

Let me thank you, Sandro, not only for your kind invitation to Cesena. It is great to be here in your constituency for the first time. And let me be clear: for me, this is much more than just a chance to return the visit you paid my home region a few months ago.

It is also a wonderful opportunity to thank you and the whole Italian Government for our close cooperation during the last few months, especially during Italy’s EU Presidency in 2014. That was excellent team play, and as we all know, the European Union can only be successful as a team! And that is why I am looking forward to working with you, and of course Harlem and Peter, on the many political challenges which Europe is facing and will be facing over the coming years.

This brings me to the main topic of my short intervention. I would like to share with you some of my ideas on how we can boost the European economy after the crisis. Let me draw your attention to two points:

First, Italy and Germany both welcome a fresh start in European politics and thus strongly support the Commission’s commitment to a new path for Europe towards growth, jobs, more investment and social cohesion.

Second, the crisis has shown that the European Union is not some kind of automatic “convergence machine”. On the contrary, we are confronted with growing imbalances within the eurozone rather than more convergence. I expect Italy and Germany to contribute to this debate by bringing matters of social and economic convergence back to the European front page.

Let me start with the first of those two points.

Germany is occasionally criticised for urging the European Union to stick to austerity measures alone. That is not correct. What has happened is that, inspired by Commission President Juncker and with the support of the German Government, the European Union has finally brought about a remarkable policy shift that has been overdue for a long time.

By the way: this has a lot to do with the Social Democrats and their efforts in the German Government.

With its new Strategic Agenda, the European Union is putting the emphasis on promoting growth and employment and strengthening social cohesion. Structural reform, strong investment and consolidation of national budgets are the cornerstones of this new agenda.

High unemployment and low investment are still problems in those countries severely hit by the crisis. Youth unemployment in particular remains a serious problem. In Italy, 41 per cent of young people do not have a job – this is less than in Greece or Spain, but still unacceptably high. And if we take a closer look at the level of investment in Europe, there is bad news too: investment throughout Europe has fallen by about 430 billion euros since its peak in 2007. If investing means building bridges into a better future, such a dramatic decrease is not a good omen.

If we want Europe to be an economic champion in the future, we have to start investing now – in schools and universities to equip our children with the right skills; in ways of using the sun and the wind to fuel our homes and factories; and in our infrastructure: in electricity grids and broadband, rail networks and roads.

The new Commission has launched an Investment Plan that does have the potential to change things for the better in Europe. That plan may not yet be perfect in every detail. And it may not reflect everybody’s wish list. But that plan clearly demonstrates our willingness to get Europe’s economy out of the crisis.

Therefore, we have to make sure that we give the Investment Plan the best possible chance to succeed. To that end, we shall attempt to reach an agreement on implementing a European Fund for Strategic Investment by June 2015. As far as Sandro, Harlem, Peter and I are concerned, we are behind it all the way! And we are working hard to convince our colleagues in the Council and the European Parliament.

This brings me to my second point.

Over the last few years, Italy has made tremendous efforts to reform and modernise the country – politically, economically and in the social sphere. And it keeps on doing so, with even more ambition and determination, under the Government of Matteo Renzi – by modernising its labour market, by reforming its administration and judicial system, and not to forget by reforming its political system. The constitutional reform and the modernisation of the electoral system, both of which have been discussed in Italy over so many years, are now entering into their crucial phase.

Without doubt, Italy is back! It has indeed regained its self‑assurance as a proud country rich in creativeness and a spirit of innovation. The reforms have restored Italians’ belief in themselves. The upcoming EXPO in Milan will be a brilliant opportunity to present the Italian success story.

I am convinced that the reform policy of Matteo Renzi’s Government will strengthen Italy and enable it to better exploit its huge potential. And if Italy is politically stable and economically strong, this will also help bring growth and jobs back to Europe – and thus restore the social balance that has been shaken by the crisis.

This is urgent, not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. According to the OECD, the number of people living in households without any income from work has doubled in Greece, Ireland and Spain and has risen by 20 per cent or more in Estonia, Latvia, Italy and Portugal.

The findings of a recent study conducted by the German Bertelsmann Foundation are quite similar. Almost a quarter of the people in Europe are facing poverty and social exclusion. According to this study, we will be facing a social division of Europe between the rich northern member states and the poor south‑eastern member states if we do not take appropriate measures now.

Indeed, what we need now is more social and economic convergence in the eurozone – if not in Europe as a whole. The members of the monetary union have such close ties that the decisions of one on matters of tax, economic policy, labour market policy or social policy directly affect all the others.

The crisis has drawn our attention towards the structural weak points of the eurozone. It has shown that it is not enough to have a common monetary policy and to coordinate national fiscal policies. The monetary union has to become a real economic, fiscal and social union.

That’s why we need more binding cooperation on economic, social and fiscal policy, especially in the eurozone. And I’m not talking about blind harmonisation and homogenisation here. What we need in the eurozone are, for example, margins for tax rates and minimum standards for the quality of healthcare, pensions and education.

This is quite heavy stuff and a lot of food for thought. But we need to seriously discuss these questions if we want to get Europe out of the crisis. I am convinced that the EU is able to strengthen social cohesion and solidarity instead of tearing societies apart. A solidarity union, one that gives a fresh kick start to investment and jobs, can lend Europe new appeal – both within the Union and throughout the world.

And I count on your support to make Europe work better. Thank you!

Related content


Top of page