The differences in French and German opinion on how to solve the euro-crisis are still very clear after the informal EU summit yesterday. Francois Hollande is still very keen on the thought of eurobonds, while Angela Merkel strictly disagrees on this issue. With eurobonds, the eurozone debt would be pooled and shared between the eurozone countries. According to Hollande, this would enable countries to access financing more easily on money markets and allow governments to finance investments that could create jobs in the short-term and underpin economic growth down the line, while helping countries paying high borrowing costs. Currently, such countries as Italy and Spain pay as much as five times more interest than Germany in issuing national bonds. But in Berlin eurobonds are feared since they may well result in German taxpayers permanently underwriting the public finances of weaker eurozone economies. Hollande wants eurobonds “written into the agenda” of the EU, and according to Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, “a majority” of leaders was in favour of this. Backed by the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, Merkel said that several participants expressed doubts about the benefits of eurobonds.
Another major issue of the summit was the situation in Greece and their membership of the eurozone. The EU evidently still wants Greece to remain in the eurozone, but they were also warned to stick to their bailout terms if they want this. President of the Council Herman Van Rompuy said, “We want Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitments”. There has been some talks about EU leaders preparing for a Greek exit, fearing the Greek election in June. Van Rompuy said that restoring sustainability, among other thing, is vital and added that “We expect that after the elections, the new Greek government will make that choice”.
Herman Van Rompuy said after the summit that he will present a report in June on boosting the economic union. He said in a statement that “There was general consensus that we need to strengthen the economic union to make it commensurate with the monetary union”, and that he would “report in June, in close cooperation with the President of the Commission, the President of the Eurogroup and the President of the European Central Bank, on the main building blocks and on a working method to achieve this objective”.
Having held a meeting in Paris prior to the summit, Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy decided to take the train to the summit in Brussels. Hollande clearly wants to be viewed as more down-to-earth than his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was known to be very flamboyant. And Hollande’s choice of travel method does go in sharp contrast to Sarkozy who would use two aircraft to travel from Paris to Brussels, one of them infamously known as “Air Sarko One”. Hollande’s train trip took approximately 90 minutes.
The EU Commission adopted a new communication yesterday on national strategies for Roma integration. The four pillars for national efforts to improve the integration of Roma are access to education, jobs, healthcare and housing. According to a study conducted jointly by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the UN developmment programme and the World Bank, 15% of young Romas in the EU have a secondary education compared to 70% for non-Romas who live in similar conditions nearby. Half of the Roma minority across Europe, a population of 10-12 million people, live in a home without either a toilet, a shower, electricity or an indoor kitchen, and only 30 percent have paid work. FRA director Morten Kjaerum says: “The magnitude and the similarity of exclusion patterns across EU member states is striking and leaves no excuse for delaying swift, effective action to improve the situation”. According to Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos from the FRA, the most shocking finding in the report was that Roma communities in Western EU countries like France, Italy and Spain share a common characteristic with Roma communities in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. “One would have expected to see that their situation is far better in countries that have better conditions of life for their general population”, he says.