EU’s Juncker pledges investment plan for jobs

The incoming head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, told the European Parliament on Wednesday that he would present his 300-billion-euro plan for investment to bolster growth and jobs by the end of this year.

Switching significantly to German during a keynote address ahead of a parliamentary vote to endorse his new European Commission, Juncker said investment was vital to restoring growth and creating jobs. Germany, Europe’s dominant economy, is resisting calls for it to spend more to kick-start growth.

Juncker, a conservative former prime minister of Luxembourg, stressed, however, that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, that much of the 300 billion euros should come from private investors and that governments should continue to contain their budget deficits.

“If you give us your support today, we will present the jobs, growth and investment package before Christmas,” Juncker told parliament in Strasbourg, adding that investment should focus on improving economic efficiency, not short-term spending.

Berlin has been resisting calls from other eurozone states and beyond for it to increase public investment spending to rekindle economic growth on the continent.

Juncker also said that the European Union’s budget rules that limit the size of government deficits and public debt will not be weakened. The Commission is preparing a review of the rules and their effectiveness with a report due by the middle of December, while France and Italy are pushing for more leniency in required budget consolidation efforts.

“The rules will not be changed,” Juncker said. “But they can be implemented with a degree flexibility.”

Investment, he said, was only one part of a three-pillar strategy, along with structural reforms of national economics and renewed fiscal credibility for governments.

The major parties in parliament are set to endorse the 28-strong new Commission in a vote after noon (1000 GMT) and the new executive will take office on Nov. 1, replacing that led by outgoing President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Juncker pledged a “very political” team that would focus during its five-year mandate on carrying out major programs while leaving lesser matters to national governments – a key demand from Britain, where there are strong demands for the country to quit the EU.

He said a new, two-tier hierarchy Commission whose number has soared with the expansion of the EU to 28 member states, was designed to make it more efficient and to break down “parochial attitudes” in which commissioners pursued individual projects. A new layer of vice-presidents would coordinate them.

Acknowledging the surge in anti-EU sentiment during elections to the parliament in May, Juncker said the Union had to show Europeans it was working in their interests.

“Citizens are losing faith,” he said.

“Extremists on the left and right are nipping at our heels. Our competitors are taking liberties. It is time we breathed a new lease of life into the European project.”

He stressed that economic improvement was vital: “Either we succeed in reducing unemployment. Or we will have failed.” [Reuters]

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