The European Union should apply “corrective measures” against member states that fail to meet their obligations under a new 10-year plan to improve the bloc’s competitiveness, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s premier, said on Thursday night.
In a proposal likely to stir controversy among other EU governments, Mr Zapatero said the European Commission should be granted powers to police compliance with the plan, which is expected to be adopted in March and is known as the “2020 strategy”.
Mr Zapatero was giving his first big statement on European economic policy since Spain took over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency from Sweden on January 1.
He said the EU was at its most effective when all 27 states operated under binding common rules, such as those governing competition policy. It was the absence of strong enforcement, he added, that had doomed the Lisbon agenda – a plan approved 10 years ago that aimed, and failed, to make Europe the world’s most competitive economy by 2010.
“What failed? Compliance. Because compliance was purely rhetorical,” he told reporters.
“The Lisbon treaty allows for more co-ordination, and for that to be truly effective, we need to equip the European Commission with new powers,” he said. “If Europe wants to keep its economic strength and wants to compete and become more prosperous, Europe has to unite. Anything else is a waste of time.”
EU heads of governments are due to discuss the 2020 strategy at an extraordinary summit that Herman Van Rompuy, EU president, has called for February 11.
Mr Zapatero said one of Spain’s priorities for the 2020 strategy would be to extend the EU’s single market in the fields of energy and digital business.
He said the February summit “must bring up incentive measures and, if advisable, introduce corrective measures regarding the objectives set forth in our economic policies”.
Under a fiscal rulebook known as the stability and growth pact, the 16 EU governments that share the euro are in theory subject to financial penalties if they ignore repeated instructions from the Commission and fellow states to keep their public finances in order. In practice, no government has been punished in this way.
Mr Zapatero also said he favoured more summits of eurozone heads of government, along the lines of the first – and so far only – such event, which was held in Paris in October 2008 and which, he said, had saved Europe’s financial system.
The proposal is likely to go down well with France but less well with Germany, which has resisted calls for more eurozone summits for fear they might over-politicise the conduct of economic and monetary policy.
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