Juncker package: It's not just about figures, says Catiuscia Marini, First Vice-President of the CoR and rapporteur on the quality of public investment
​Catiusca Marini
What is your general assessment of the Juncker package presented on 26 November? Is this "investment offensive" a U-turn in the Commission's approach?

Catiuscia Marini: Speaking about a U-turn is certainly excessive. I would say that I feel a wind, or rather, a light breeze of change in comparison with the austerity dogma that Juncker's predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, used to defend.

I see in particular two major developments:

First, the European Commission has acknowledged that the EU is currently suffering from dramatic under-investment. Indeed, public investment fell by 20% in real terms between 2008 and 2013 and, according to the latest Commission forecasts for 2013 and 2014, public investment in the EU-27 in 2014 will reach a record low, which was already the case for the private sector in 2013. The investment levels are at 2% of GDP in the European Union compared to 4% in the US. And a last figure: the European Commission admits that current investment levels are EUR230 to EUR370 billion per year below the historical average. While the Commission's analysis goes in the right direction, the same figures also show that the Juncker package will not by itself address the investment deficit with EUR21 billion, which would under the extremely optimistic scenario presented by Jean-Claude Juncker be levied to EUR315 billion over three years.

The other positive point I see is that there is a substantial move on flexibility. The European Commission proposes that the voluntary participations of Member States to the Investment Fund will not be included in the calculation of the deficit under the Stability and Growth Pact.

Now the ball is in the court of the Member States both in terms of adding fresh national or regional money to the Fund and also of accepting the exemption of the national contributions from the deficit calculation set in the Stability and Growth Pact.

What is in the package for local and regional authorities?

Catiuscia Marini: Local and regional authorities certainly scored high in the battle of words around the topic of investment, considering the many references made to them in the Commission Communication. This recognition is fair enough given that sub-national governments carried out around 55% of total public investment in the EU-28 in 2013.

Another positive note is that the means of the EU cohesion policy remain untouched contrary to earlier fears.

However, it is the implementation phase which will really show what could be in the package for local and regional authorities. One worry relates to the leverage effect. Alongside the Fiscal Compact investment package two years ago, the leverage capital injections for the EIB were estimated at 1 to 4. Now President Juncker expects a leverage effect of 15. This means that the Investment Fund would be targeted mainly at highly profitable projects. But is there a real need for capital injections into already highly profitable projects? Will it be possible that the future Fund supports investments for example in public transport at local or regional level which are profitable in the long-run only? Will broadband infrastructure in rural areas or programmes to increase energy efficiency be eligible? Very much will depend on the independent investment advisory "Hub", which will have a filtering role in assessing the projects.

What next steps do you see in relation to the "investment strategy" launched by the European Commission?

Catiuscia Marini: President Juncker has committed to a fast-track procedure. Provided that Member States agree on his proposals at the European Council of 18 December, he would present a regulation in mid-January, which should then be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in time for the apparatus to be in place in June 2016. The Committee of the Regions will follow up the topic and make its voice heard where necessary because as we all know, on the devil in the details. We will also encourage regions which are in a position to contribute to the funding and the setting-up of projects to play an active role.

However, the Juncker package should be seen only as a kick-off initiative on a European investment strategy.
 
More needs to be done in relation to the flexibility clauses in the Stability and Growth Pact. Indeed, everyone talks about flexibility without anyone knowing exactly what it is. We will pursue our fight to have the investments made by local and regional authorities in the framework of the European Structural and Investment Funds excluded from the deficit calculations of the Stability and Growth Pact.

We also want the European Commission to present a White Paper setting out a typology at EU level for the quality of public investment in public spending accounts, according to their effects on the long term.

In the context of the revision of the Europe 2020 Strategy, we will also put forward the proposal that the investment rate per Member State is included in the macroeconomic surveillance.

And finally, we will keep on wondering what has happened to the idea of creating a European savings account.

In other words, the European Commission made a first step in the right direction on a long path to go.

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