Eurogroup President Spokesperson
Good evening and welcome to this press conference.
Let me first report on our discussion on fiscal surveillance. In our meeting of 8 December we identified risks that seven Member States might not comply with the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) in 2015 and that we should follow up in March. We have done so today based on analysis from the Commission. We have also taken into account the Commission's EDP reports on Italy and Belgium and the Commission's proposed new EDP recommendation on France. The new statement reflects our discussions today. For a number of countries the situation looks little more positive than 3 months ago. This concerns Belgium, Malta, Italy and to some extent also Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless - risks remain and in many of these countries, additional efforts are needed. This is particularly the case for Austria, within the preventive arm of the Pact; and for France, in the corrective arm of the Pact.
I welcome that again all Member States have made firm commitments to do what is needed in 2015 to fully respect the SGP. France, in particular, has made very specific promises. The Commission has proposed to give France two more years to bring its deficit below 3%. In return, France has promised to come forward in April with four billion euros of additional savings in 2015, and to fully respect the new deadline for correction of excessive deficit. France has also committed to come forward in May with more detailed plans to reform the economy. The Commission will closely monitor implementation of the rules in all Member States, and we will come back to this issue at the Eurogroup in June.
After the last Eurogroup decision on the extension of the current programme, today we had a short discussion on Greece, focusing mainly on the process which should have been started after that decision. We agreed today that there is no further time to loose. The discussions between the Greek authorities and the institutions must and will start as from Wednesday (11/03/2015), with a view to achieve a speedy and successful conclusion of the current review. In this context, we agreed that the discussions with the institutions will take place in Brussels. In parallel, as needed, technical teams from the institutions will be welcomed in Athens, with a view to support this process jointly and together also as of Wednesday.
We also underlined the importance of close and efficient cooperation between the Greek authorities and the institutions and underlined the commitments of no unilateral actions and no rolling-back on measures previously agreed needed to be respected at all times.
Few remarks about the discussion we had on the structural reforms in particular on services sector. As you know we had a couple of rounds of debate in the past months on structural reforms. We talked about high tax burden on labour in different countries and what reforms would be considered on that issue. We talked about stimulating investments in number of occasions. Today we exchanged views on the reform of the service sector.
The service sector, I don't need to explain, is of great economic importance for the whole euro area and improving its performance would generate significant gains that would spread to the rest of the economy. For example, Commission estimates suggest that reducing restrictions to the level of the five best performing countries in the EU would bring gains amounting to around 2.4% of GDP at the EU level. This is extra potential growth if we could bring down the level of restrictions in services to the level of the best five performing countries.
Since the euro area countries do not have exchange rate flexibilities, other mechanisms are particularly important to adjust to shocks and correct imbalances. This adjustment needs to be facilitated through a proper functioning of markets, where services are an essential element.
Today we focused on the political challenges of reforming the service sector, number of colleagues shared their experiences, successes and failures in tackling vested interests and reducing the burden of excessive regulation. Several Ministers have spoken about examples where the opening hours of shops were extended, or removing unnecessary restrictions in the way of accessing regulated professions such as notaries and pharmacies. We heard some good examples on specific and detailed regulations some countries have. They highlighted key lessons such as the importance of broad consultation, including of experts and stakeholders.
We will return to this issue later this year and we've asked and the Commission will be glad to provide this further analysis of steps forward, sharing best experiences and developing some common ground there.