Remarks by J. Dijsselbloem following the Eurogroup meeting of 11 February 2016
Eurogroup President Spokesperson
Good afternoon and welcome to this press conference.
First of all, we discussed in the Eurogroup today the economic situation in the euro area, on the basis of the recently published Commission winter forecast. Overall, the economic recovery in the eurozone continues and is expected to strengthen this year and next. At the same time, there are increasing downside risks and there is volatility in the markets all around the world.
The euro area is structurally in a much better position now than some years ago. And this is true also for European banks. With Banking Union, we have developed mechanisms in the euro area to bring stability to the financial sector and to reduce the sovereign-banking nexus. Capital buffers have been raised, supervision has been strengthened, and we have clear and common rules for resolution.
So overall, structurally we are now in a better position and we need to continue a gradual recovery.
To conclude this point, many of the global risks come from outside the euro area at the moment and should not be underestimated. We are all keenly aware of the need to be particularly vigilant in the current situation. And in this context, we reaffirmed in our discussions the need to continue the reform agenda to boost the potential growth in our countries and continue to follow a growth-friendly fiscal path and fully abide to the common rules and frameworks of the Banking Union.
Secondly, we exchanged views on the quality of public expenditure in the euro area. An important topic from the point of view of fiscal sustainability and the provision of an adequate level of social services and public goods. Ultimately, it is about delivering value for money for our citizens. This is critical also because currently several member states have limited or no fiscal space. So spending wisely is very important. The Commission had prepared the discussion and kicked it off to show us where we can spend better and how it can be done, how can we learn from each other.
Enhancing the efficiency and the effectiveness of our public spending is also important for the growth potential of the euro area. We are going to zoom in on this issue on a number of themes on specific spending areas in more detail in the coming months. In particular, we are going to look closer at the efficiency and effectiveness of our public spending on investments, healthcare and ageing.
We discussed a couple of countries as we always do. This time we discussed Portugal from two angles. The institutions reported back to us on the main findings of the third post-programme surveillance mission and we discussed the Commission's assessment of the Portuguese draft budgetary plan.
On the PPS mission, the institutions informed us that the Portuguese recovery has been underway for three years and the unemployment rate is close to pre-crisis levels. However, the economic recovery continues to be held back by macroeconomic imbalances and rigidities in labour and product markets. And that underlines the importance of continuing of the reform agenda.
On the DBP, we have issued a statement: As you know, the DBP submitted on 22 January showed, according to the Commission, a significant deviation from European fiscal rules. And then the Commission and Portugal entered into a process of fruitful and intense negotiations. The Portuguese authorities submitted additional measures, which help to avoid a significant deviation.
We agree with the Commission's assessment that there still remains at risk of non-compliance with the requirements of the SGP. And therefore and on the basis of tonight's discussions, we welcomed the commitments of the Portuguese authorities to prepare upfront, as of now, additional measures to be implemented when needed to ensure that the 2016 budget will be compliant with the SGP.
And we will return to the Portuguese budget and maybe also to other budgets on the basis of the spring forecast in our May meeting.
We then moved to Greece. We discussed the state of play of the first review of the ESM programme, following the visit of mission chiefs to Athens last week. This important review deals with the key fiscal and structural measures. We were informed that there is good cooperation, a lot of ground has been covered, progress achieved on important issues, but further work is still needed in a number of areas before a staff-level agreement can be reached.
We called on both the Greek authorities and the institutions to pursue the discussions on the review further, in particular on items such as pension reform, the fiscal issues and the privatisation fund, with a view to reaching that staff-level agreement.
Finally, we discussed ways in which transparency of Eurogroup meetings could be improved, to answer to public interest and to bring more consistency to the level of information that reaches our citizens and our parliaments in different member states. I consider this of prime importance for the legitimacy of our work.
We agreed to publish Eurogroup agendas in a more detailed, annotated format, and to publish summing-up letters recapitulating the main conclusions from Eurogroup meetings.
There is also general support in principle to publish documents as much as possible and we have asked the EWG to further fine-tune the practical implementation of that part of the proposals.
That's all from me for the moment.