Speech by Paschal Donohoe after the Eurogroup meeting of January 17, 2022

I’m going to start by sending my best wishes to everyone for the new year. Today we paid tribute to the recent death of the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. We then welcomed the new members of the Eurogroup. We have four new colleagues joining us today – Christian Lindner, Sigrid Kaag, Yuriko Backes and Magnus Brunner. We opened our meeting by giving everyone the opportunity to present their priorities for the coming year.

With regard to the policy discussion we had, our first item on the agenda was to compare the performance of the eurozone at this stage of the recovery from the pandemic against the performance we are seeing in other parts of the world. This was facilitated by a paper prepared by Commissioner Gentiloni and a presentation by OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone. What this discussion has underlined for all of us is that the efforts we have made to help the European economy recover from COVID-19 have been appropriate, they have been of the right magnitude and they have made a huge difference to help people in the European Union. If I look at where we are now, we can now see an economic recovery that is strong despite the many risks, the many challenges. For many members of the European Union, we can see that levels of economic output are already where they were before the pandemic or approaching it. What we have also talked about is the impact of our measures on the preservation of employment, the preservation of income and the creation of savings. We are convinced of the positive impact that our measures have had on the recovery of our economies.

We remain acutely aware of the risks and challenges ahead. That’s why the second item on our agenda was a discussion of where we are with corporate solvency and the potential vulnerability that employers might face as we move away from general levels of economic support to levels more targeted economic support. We had a good discussion about this and we heard the Commission tell us about the different policy areas to which it gives priority. It is important to help employers prepare for this moment of change. We have had insolvency levels that have been lower than they would normally be during the most difficult times of the pandemic. As we move forward into 2022, we hopefully continue to be able to make changes to our response levels as we move into a different stage in the fight against the pandemic. We agreed that this is something we want to continue to focus on. We will continue to monitor this and discuss what changes we can make to national insolvency proceedings. Many of us already have measures in place at the national level to help our economies and our workers transition into new and growing sectors of our economy.

We then moved on to the approval of the recommendation on the economic policy of the euro zone. It was actually quite a short discussion, given the consensus we had before this meeting and all the work that has been done to prepare for our agreement today. So we agreed on the right fiscal stance for the Eurozone for 2022, and we agreed on the kind of policies that need to be put in place this year to help support our recovery. But we have also been clear about where we need to improve. In a moment, I will discuss the banking union and the capital markets union.

Before that, we had our first substantive discussion on the euro area dimension of the economic governance framework. And in this part of our meeting, we heard many views from governments about the draft budget plan process, about the oversight procedures in place, about the fiscal rules, about the value of national economic policy coordination, and also in terms of how we can ensure that we have made commitments regarding our national finances, that they are respected and that they are transparently monitored. This was the first discussion on this particular topic. It is fair to say and indeed obvious that we will have many more discussions on this subject in the coming period. But we had a good tone in this discussion, colleagues intervened aware of the importance of this discussion and while setting out their national views, they were aware of the need to find agreement in this area as we move forward until 2022.

In an inclusive format, we then moved on to a debriefing on the Eurozone Summit and an assessment of the state of play of Banking Union. I pointed out to my colleagues that we have an economic imperative to act. There is also a political window of opportunity in which we had to act. This was approved by all ministers. In the coming period, I will present another initiative on banking union which will set out how we want to move forward and reach agreement on the different work streams and files. To emphasize, it is not a question of reaching an agreement on a particular policy area within the Banking Union at this stage. This is a process to move all banking union projects forward and to reach agreement on how we will sequence them and how we will engage with them.

So we covered a lot at our first Eurogroup meeting of the new year. We also had the opportunity to assess where we stand with the implementation of the revised ESM Treaty, which the Eurogroup continues to commit to implementing. I am convinced that we will make progress on the banking union and I am equally convinced that we will have a political environment and a political space in which we can engage in the revision of the budgetary rules and help, I hopes, Paolo in his efforts to advance this vital process for the European Union

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