Nov 26, 2014 4:20 AM
EU proposes $380 billion investment plan
The Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) The European Union's executive has proposed a plan to boost investment in the bloc's flagging economy by 315 billion euros ($380 billion) by attracting reluctant private investors with guarantees and seed money. Experts warn, however, it alone will not be enough to restart growth.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that the long-awaited plan will use 21 billion euros in money from EU institutions to entice spending on projects in education, transport, the digital economy and the environment.
Juncker estimated that every euro invested in the three-year scheme could attract private and public investment of about 15 euros. The Commission said the plan would create up to 1.3 million jobs to help alleviate high unemployment, which has been hovering around record rates in the EU since the financial crisis.
"We are offering hope to millions of Europeans disillusioned after years of stagnation," Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Europe's economy has been struggling to grow since it emerged from recession over a year ago, partly because many governments are still cutting back on spending to reduce debt. The European Central Bank has offered economic stimulus, but says it can only do so much, and that investment needs to pick up.
Juncker hopes to do just that with what he called "a grand bargain to put Europe back to work." Many independent experts, however, called it too little to achieve so much.
"Whether that is enough to create a complete turning point, I very much doubt it," said Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Centre think tank. "There is not enough new it in. It is not ambitious enough, so we should have seen something bigger."
Adalbert Winkler, a professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, said the program would satisfy those who oppose more government deficit spending but did not get to the root of Europe's stagnation. "We need more demand from government spending from those governments that have both the means and the credibility to do so," Winkler said.
He said financially solid countries such as Germany could spend more and finance themselves at current very low interest rates. German officials, however, have focused instead on balancing their budget.
Reactions from social organizations to the employers' federation underscored skepticism about the program's size. "Its success will depend on more ambitious steps to follow," said BusinessEurope President Emma Marcegaglia.
The proposal will be discussed by the 28 EU leaders at the Dec. 18-19 summit.
Under the plan, a European Fund for Strategic Investments will rely on 21 billion euros ($26.5 billion) in guarantees from the EU budget and the European Investment Bank. It will be used to offer loans worth over 60 billion euros ($75 billion) to stimulate investments of at least 315 billion euros.
Juncker said the fund was necessary to jump start Europe's economic engine, since investors on the continent are wracked by uncertainty.
Investment in the EU is down some 430 billion euros ($540 billion) compared with 2007, before the financial crisis exploded. And while investment is back on the rise in the United States, Europe is lagging behind.
EU Vice President Jyrki Katainen said the seed money from the EU budget would be coming from funds that are now badly used and will be redirected. "We need just enough money to get the motor running," he said.
AP Business Writer David McHugh contributed from Frankfurt.
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