Finance Minister Ιοannis Stournaras presented the priorities of the Greek Presidency of the Council of Economic and Financial Affairs, at a news conference today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here is what Minister Stournaras said to foreign media representatives.
I would like to welcome you to Greece and thank you for your presence in today’s briefing on issues regarding the Greek Presidency, and, in my capacity as the ECOFIN Chairman, on issues regarding the Economic and Financial Affairs Council.
Over the next six months we will have the opportunity to meet on a regular basis. I am, therefore, looking forward to a constructive cooperation with you.
I am very glad to speak before journalists with wide experience and deep understanding of the European affairs. Your contribution will be highly appreciated for a successful presidency.
In the run up to the European elections in May, we have to seize the momentum to bring closer every European citizen, increase ownership and raise awareness, in every part of Europe, on the decisions made at the European level with a direct impact on their everyday life.
By assuming the Presidency of the European Union, Greece will face a real challenge.
A number of issues, we will be dealing with, are complex and demanding, especially considering the tight timeframe.
You are all aware that the European Parliament will conclude its work in April in view of the May elections. Therefore, our Presidency will be de facto frontloaded.
Europe is still in the process of fiscal consolidation while the first signs of recovery are already visible. Unemployment has stabilised, although at unacceptably high levels, particularly in countries that are under adjustment programmes. Broader social condition remains tough. For this reason we need to focus on the promotion of social cohesion and the safeguarding of stability and welfare for everyone.
The need for restoring normal lending conditions to the economy is crucial for supporting return to growth and stimulating job creation.
Greece has come a long way since 2009.
Thanks to the sacrifices of the Greek people and the support of our European partners, we managed to stand on our feet, and reaffirmed our mutual commitment towards the European value of solidarity.
We assume the Greek Presidency, not as a country in crisis, but as a country in recovery.
We wish to contribute to the deepening and strengthening of our economic and political partnership, building on the significant results of the Lithuanian Presidency.
Indeed, the Lithuanian Presidency has successfully launched and completed many key initiatives through a complex legislative process and deserves warm congratulations.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to praise my Lithuanian colleague, Mr Rimantas Šadžius, who has managed to handle very delicate issues and met them with a high sense of responsibility and sound knowledge.
Deepening of the EMU: Coordination of Economic Policies and Social Dimension
By assuming the Presidency of the ECOFIN Council, Greece will work towards further deepening the integration of the EMU and strengthening the coordination of national economic and fiscal policies, in order to preserve the integrity of the common currency and promote the necessary growth-enhancing reforms.
In the same context, the Greek Presidency will focus on ways of strengthening the social dimension of the EMU; we consider this dimension a prerequisite for cohesion and solidarity in the Eurozone.
Following Ireland’s successful management of the European semester process, Greece will seek to effectively manage the fourth European Semester.
Our aim is to enhance the credibility of the procedure and promote the systematic evaluation of reforms in the EU, in particular in policy areas identified by the December European Council, such as reinforcing tax and other incentives for job creation, continuing the modernization of education and training systems and fostering innovation.
This year, the European Commission is planning to submit Country Specific Recommendations after the European Parliament elections. This will be a challenging exercise for our Presidency, since we will have to manage the process within a very strict timeframe. It is for this reason that we urge all parties involved to demonstrate constructive cooperation and strong engagement.
Completing the banking union is a prerequisite for strengthening trust and increasing liquidity in the European economy, as well as safeguarding financial stability in Europe.
Following the final agreement recently reached by the legislators on the Deposit Guarantee Scheme Directive (DGS) and the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRR), the Greek Presidency will seek to progress further the creation of a strong and successful banking union.
We particularly welcome the agreement reached in the Council on the Single Resolution Mechanism. Finalizing the SRM framework is a major priority of the Greek EU Council Presidency. Therefore, we look forward to a fruitful cooperation at the trilogues with the European Parliament and the Commission. We will strive to bring close Council’s and Parliament’s positions and to have a deal acceptable by all parties.
We are fully aware that we will have a little more than three months to complete it.
Therefore, time is of the essence and we should all be quite flexible and show a sense of responsibility, advocating the need to build a stronger eurozone and to reinforce citizen’s trust.
Long – term financing of the economy
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) constitute the backbone of the European economy, representing 99% of all European firms, corresponding to 58% of total turnover in the EU and accounting for 70% of employment in the EU.
Hence, their healthy growth is a key driver for EU competitiveness and investment.
Acknowledging the crucial role of the SMEs, the Greek Presidency will advance discussions for the financing of the economy, in particular SMEs’ facilitation of access to financing, aiming to enhance sustainable growth and promote the creation of new jobs.
We consider as particularly important a number of initiatives, such as the joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the financing of the economy, especially the facilitation of access to financing for SMEs, the recommendations of the High Level Expert Group for the financing of growth, the capital increase of the European Investment Fund and the Long-term Investment Funds Regulation related to the financing of infrastructure projects and SMEs.
In the area of taxation, the Council's work will not be affected by the termination of the current legislative term.Ιt is highly important to carry on with the appropriate actions, at the European level, against taxation practices which undermine citizens’ and investors’ confidence and encourage tax fraud and tax evasion. In relation to third countries, we will strive to promote the exchange of best practices, avoid harmful tax practices and exploit the full benefits of the internal market.
During the next six months, the Greek Presidency will promote all pending legislative or other initiatives to tackle these problems.
At the same time, we acknowledge the potential link between the digitalisation of the economy and the ongoing work in the Council on tackling tax evasion, tax fraud and aggressive tax planning. Therefore, the Greek Presidency will follow up discussions, in the context of the High Level Working Group, as regards tax aspects of the digital economy.
Reform of the financial sector supervisory framework
The work of the Greek Presidency will also aim to revise the regulatory framework for the supervision of the financial sector, in order to strengthen trust and increase liquidity in the European economy.
The Greek Presidency will contribute to a more secure and competitive European payments market, which will allow lower charges, transparency and a wide range of facilities for the benefit of consumers. In this respect, the Greek Presidency will work towards the adoption of the Payment Accounts Directive which will maximise the benefits of the Single Market for the European consumers.
In the area of capital markets, the Presidency will put emphasis to the completion of work on legislative proposals, relating to the reform of capital markets supervision (Markets in Financial Instruments- MiFID/ MiFIR) as well as to the promotion of discussions on the benchmarking legislative proposal, which provides sufficient protection for both consumers and investors.
Regarding the insurance sector, the Greek Presidency will work on promoting coordination, transparency and supervision of the private and occupational insurance sector and its selling practices, through the integration and implementation of the relevant supervisory frameworks.
The annual EU Budget for 2014
In the area of the EU Budget, the Ministry of Finance has set the following priorities:
(a) To ensure the smooth execution of the 2014 EU Budget, on the basis of the principle of sound financial management.
(b) To establish the guidelines for the 2015 EU Budget, by taking into account only feasible assumptions and realistic estimations, so as to avoid consecutive amendments during its implementation.
(c) To conduct the discussions on the discharge to the European Commission for the 2012 EU Budget execution.
(d) To protect the EU’s economic interests.
(e) To further elaborate and evaluate the future revision of the Own Resources System, under the scope of ensuring the smooth and timely financing of EU policies.
EU Representation in the G20
Finally, the Greek Presidency will work on the effective and thorough preparation of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meetings within the ECOFIN Council.
We look forward to a close cooperation with the Government of Australia, which has assumed the G20 Presidency.
During our Presidency, two G20 Finance Ministers meetings have been planned, which I will be attending: the first meeting will be held on 22-23 February in Sydney and the second on 11 April in Washington.
The Greek Presidency will contribute to the formulation of the EU’s common position on G20 priority issues, such as economic growth and job creation, financing of long-term investments and tax transparency.