Growth for Europe – Is the Juncker Plan the answer?

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Series Details March 2015
Publication Date March 2015
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The euro area is still suffering from low growth and high unemployment. For the recovery to become a reality, there needs to be a balance between fiscal discipline, supply side improvements and actions aimed at stimulating demand and growth. Increasing investment, both private and public, are important components in overcoming the recession. This becomes especially clear when comparing investment dynamics during the crisis with pre-crisis levels. Total investment is still much lower than before the crisis and public investment is well below its pre-crisis peak as well.

In late November 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker submitted a long-awaited proposal for a European Investment Plan that aims to stimulate private investment. Apart from the creation of the new European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), through which private investors will receive public guarantees, the investment plan also aims to provide project assistance and improve the Single Market by removing sector-specific or other financial barriers to investment.

While generally perceived as a first positive step towards increasing private investment, some commentators have expressed reservations about the plan. These include, among others, the lack of fresh money for the initial contributions to EFSI. Since a substantial amount of these contributions is reshuffled from other places in the European budget, the question was raised whether EFSI can fund additional projects or just replicates investment projects that would have happened without the plan.

Other criticism relates to the high estimate of the expected leverage ratio of 1:15, and to the risk that the plan will only have a limited impact on stressed economies. The Juncker Plan addresses private investment, but so far there really is no clear strategy to stimulate productive public investment on the European and national level. Countries with fiscal space are reluctant to engage in higher spending, while those willing and in need of it the most are restricted by the rules.

Member States and the Commission should therefore discuss options for further improving the euro area's economic governance. In addition to urging countries with fiscal space to increase investing in national public goods, investment could be treated with budget flexibility. One could, for instance, upgrade the importance of public investment in the European Semester. Additional deficit granted for public investment purposes could be attached to certain Country-Specific Recommendations. Another solution would be to allow some form of budget flexibility, such as the formulation of a new Golden Rule for productive public investment becoming part of the Stability and Growth Pact's application. Besides relying on a larger amount of flexibility in the rules, the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) could be another solution to fund investment in European public goods. It will also be necessary to overcome the mistrust among Member States that is preventing further action. The political bargain of stronger conditionality, such as through contractual arrangements, could improve the situation. Increased trust will also be an important condition for tackling long-reaching economic governance reforms such as the creation of a Fiscal Capacity, which could take the form of a macroeconomic shock insurance. Such a Fiscal Capacity could make a real difference in providing the necessary funding to maintain productive public investment, even in times of deep recessions.

The proposals presented do not attempt to be conclusive, but shall rather be an input for a wider debate on how to increase growth and employment in Europe. The paper draws heavily on the discussion of a Workshop on Growth and Investment, which the European Policy Centre (EPC) hosted on 10 December 2014 under Chatham-House Rule, with a group of economists and representatives from the European institutions.

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Related Links
ESO: Background information: Project financing: Council agrees negotiating stance on European fund for strategic investments
ESO: Background information: Delivery of €315 billion Investment Plan on track: Commission presents law for the European Fund for Strategic Investments

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