On Thursday April 16, 2015 the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted European Union Commissioner Pierre Moscovici for an event on “The Recovery in Europe: The Way Forward.” The event was on the record and was well attended with over 65 attendees from the government, media, diplomatic, and think tank realms.
Barry Lowenkron, Executive Vice President of GMF, opened the breakfast discussion by pointing to four key areas for the European Union: Europe’s south; Europe’s east; overarching trends in European economics and politics; and the role of the EU in the world.
Commissioner Moscovici, who serves as the European Union Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation, and Customs, began with remarks on the state of the EU and of the transatlantic relationship, a relationship he believes is vital, in all of its forms, in the current unstable world. He stated that Europe is moving past the financial crisis and now must deal with the crisis’ long shadow on society. Commissioner Moscovici noted the wave of EU skepticism with unprecedented support for far-right and far-left political parties as the major effect of the financial crisis. The EU as a target of the public’s discontent must portray the recovery to the public in forms such as lower unemployment; otherwise, the European project will be in peril.
The Commissioner spoke of the positive indicators of economic growth and of the strategy for work still to come: spurring lagging investment; far-reaching structural reforms; and ensuring responsible economics. He outlined investment in areas such as energy, education, and transportation services that are of key interest to the EU. Reforms, notably in the areas of the common digital marketplace and labor markets, are considered imperative by the Commissioner to make the system inviting to small business and increase investment potential.
Towards the transatlantic relationship, the Commissioner indicated the commitment of the EU to completing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He noted the current U.S. administration’s commitment to the trade agenda and that the Commission would be happy to conclude a far-reaching agreement with this presidency. The event moderator, Peter Sparding, a Transatlantic Fellow with GMF, asked Commissioner Moscovici if he was concerned over divergent economic policies among the transatlantic partners. The Commissioner responded by asserting there have always been diverging policies and both the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve are perfectly competent to fulfill their responsibilities.
The Commissioner discussed potential threats to the EU’s recovery, noting the instability in Ukraine and the MENA region as possible obstacles. Regarding Ukraine, Commissioner Moscovici noted that the sanctions are linked to the progress of Minsk II. If expectations are not met, sanctions must remain despite an economic burden, as unity amongst the EU member states is imperative.
On the topic of Greece, Commissioner Moscovici was optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement. He noted that all the parties involved want Greece to remain in the Eurozone, and he would not consider a “Plan B” as it would lessen the commitment to the original plan of an agreement with Greece. As the conversation moved to participant questions, the topic of a “Grexit” arose, with the Commissioner stating that he would not hypothesize on such matters, as such a scenario would be a catastrophe for the EU. Commissioner Moscovici hopes that at the upcoming Eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Riga can act as an “intermediate” meeting wherein the Greek government should demonstrate its capacity for reform. Further, the May 11 meeting of the euro group has the potential to produce a set of reforms as the basis for a clear agreement with Greece. When asked a question comparing France to Greece, the Commissioner stated that any comparison between the two states is ill-informed as, while they both require reforms, their economic situations widely diverge.