President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker has unveiled details of a 315 billion-euro investment plan to kick-start Europe’s economy.
At the centre of his five-year agenda, is a new 21 billion-euro fund, which would be used as ‘seed money’ to entice private backers to bankroll most of the rest.
“What we need is a smart use of public money, geared to unlocking investment”, announced Juncker. “Public expenditure could be used for what it is best at doing: funding our schools and welfare systems, not servicing our debt.”
Parliament’s response to Juncker’s plan was largely positive. But they called for measures to facilitate the use of these funds.
Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt pointed out the need for unity in investment:
“You can do whatever investment you want in energy, in digital.. If we are at the same time not unifying these markets, and it is also still 28 different markets, it shall not work.”
British Conservative MEP Syed Kamall asked for certain underlying issues to be addressed first.
“Sometimes government projects are too fanciful, there is no real return”, he said. “Secondly, legislation makes it (investment) difficult. Other times it’s national red tape. So I think we have to tackle those problems, that’s more important than the issue of money.”
The European Trade Union Confederation is sceptical, suggesting the Commission was relying on “loaves and fishes”.
One journalist asked the president outright if he thought the plan was too optimistic.
“It’s not optimistic, it’s not pessimistic”, Juncker replied, “It’s realistic.”
The Luxembourg national is also facing wider problems with the onset of a tax break row in his native country. Juncker was Prime Minister of Luxembourg at the time of the alleged tax avoidance schemes, but denies any wrongdoing. A vote of no confidence against the President of the EC is scheduled to take place at the European parliament on November 27.