A first debate opposed Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP (centre-right) candidate, and Martin Schulz, the PES (socialist) candidate on Wednesday evening, in French, on France 24. The two men who hope to take over from José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, presented their views on the economic crisis (origins and recommended solutions), the French budget deficit, immigration and free movement, and the European foreign policy. Here is our summary. You can also watch the debate on Youtube.
Origins of the crisis and potential solutions
- “The crisis is not behind us, but the policies put in place will help to get out of it. The worst is behind us, but a difficult period remains ahead.”
- The current rigour is the result of previous excesses.
- “It is obvious that there are several explanations for the crisis.” The excessive deficit and debt are not the only reasons!
- We need budget discipline – there is no alternative – and an investment policy.
- “You can stimulate the economy with other means than public expenditure.” Public spending must become more efficient.
- There were unacceptable levels of unemployment already before the crisis, because of bad policies in some countries.
- The EU is part of the solution; “the EU is not responsible for bad employment policies.” The euro has protected the Europeans: it is not the source of the crisis. Without the single currency, many economies in the euro area would be much more vulnerable to external shocks/tensions.
- “The crisis is not over. The crisis will be over when we will have won the fight against youth unemployment.”
- The European Parliament has always advocated a combination of budgetary discipline, which is inevitable, and investment in growth and jobs.
- “SMEs are the backbone of the economy.” Many small entrepreneurs have ideas and can create jobs immediately. The problem is they have too many difficulties in accessing credit. The EIB (European Investment Bank) can help alleviate this problem.
- Leaving the Eurozone does not create jobs, contrary to the claims of the populists. We talk too much about billions… For 95% of people, €1000 is a lot of money!
- “We totally agree that we must reduce the debt.” But we must take into account the circumstances and reasons for the debt increase.
The French fiscal deficit
- “France has already received two extensions of time;” we must see if the conditions are met to justify a third one. “We must respect the procedures.” France needs reforms to boost growth.
- I support Manuel Valls, who has an “ambitious” program. We must support France if it is ready to provide the necessary efforts.
Agreements and disagreements on economic policy
Martin Schulz: “I’m happy if Jean-Claude Juncker agrees with my programme.” Jean- Claude Juncker: there are still some “significant differences” between the two parties.
Martin Schulz criticised Jean-Claude Juncker for having seen too late (at the Council) the need to add an investment policy to that of fiscal consolidation. Jean-Claude Juncker disagreed with this analysis and recalled that Member States agreed at the European Council to implement stimulus programs (€200 billion across the EU) to counteract the effects of the subprime crisis.
Martin Schulz also pointed out that Jean-Claude Juncker supported Eurobonds in the past. Jean-Claude Juncker said there are conditions to meet before introducing Eurobonds and highlighted that SPD had not pushed for the inclusion of Eurobonds in the program of the grand coalition.
Immigration and free movement
- “We need a system for legal immigration and a system of temporary protection for refugees.”
- We need a better distribution of immigrants among the 28 Member States.
- There should be no free movement for those who want to abuse workers.
- The EU needs immigration, but in a coordinated and organised manner. The far-right and populists of all kinds play on the fear of the stranger, the rejection of the other. The EU must remain a welcoming land.
- “Freedom of movement is a basic principle of the EU.” There is no question about questioning this freedom. It is up to Member States to properly tackle abuse.
The next five years
- Before a prospective British referendum, we will need to discuss the issues raised.
- “Europe should not do everything.” Europe must be big on some subjects and regulate less in other areas.
- “The countries with lower deficits have higher growth and lower unemployment.” The EPP (European People’s Party) has promoted the right direction.
- “Germany is not the only country against Eurobonds!” There are conditions to be met before introducing them; it is not a miracle solution.
- Everyone has stimulated the economy in 2008-2009. Countries which previously had less debt fared better.
- The key question for the next five years is: how to rebalance Europe? We must combine fiscal discipline and investment in growth and jobs. We must introduce the most ambitious model taking into account the characteristics of each country. One model does not work for all countries.
- The interest rate on the debt fell thanks to the ECB, so Eurobonds are no longer on the political agenda of European leaders…
- The German example shows that investing and temporarily accepting a little more debt may favour growth.
- The problem is the vicious circle between sovereign debt and bank debt (cf. the situation in Spain).
European foreign policy
- Lady Ashton has often been criticised, but it is often the Member States that are reluctant to act. Member States must find common lines quicker.
- The EU needs a coherent policy.
- I agree with Jean-Claude Juncker on the fact that France has saved the honour of Europe in Mali and the CAR.
- Nobody wants a war in Ukraine. Ukraine needs elections and support to maintain the unity of the country.
Jean- Claude Juncker:
- France can be proud of what it has done in Mali and the CAR. It saved the honour of Europe.
- The behaviour of Vladimir Putin and Russia is unacceptable. “The EU could not pass it over in silence.” The alternative was war. But we do not want war. So, we must follow the line of graduated sanctions.
The future European Commission
Jean-Claude Juncker: “The EU must not take care of everything but must deal with major issues.” The Commission should focus primarily on growth and employment over the next five years.
Martin Schulz: The Commission must “open its doors”, “make public who does what on what basis”, and “involve citizens in the decision-making process.”