Barroso sees growth in Greece with EU help

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday that if Greece implements measures agreed as part of an EU-funded scheme, growth would soon return to the country. Speaking of the «Growth for Greece» program, Barroso said serious problems could be tackled if it is put into effect. “The set of priority actions it proposes range from promoting youth employment to tax reform, and investing in education to smarter regulation,” he said. “These actions, if properly implemented, should quickly unblock growth, create jobs and mitigate the social impact of the crisis.” The Commission chief added that Greece’s European partners are providing it with more assistance than any Marshall Plan could muster. “There have been many calls for greater solidarity, for a kind of Marshall Plan for Greece,” he said. “Let us recall that the assistance provided under the Marshall Plan amounted to around 2.1 % of GDP of the recipients. The total package of assistance to Greece, if you consider the funds, grants from the structural fund, the loans, the write-off of private debt, the total package of assistance to Greece is equivalent to 177% of Greek GDP.”

Barroso slammed the bloc's 27 member states for not implementing laws designed to boost growth on the crisis-hit continent. "It is incomprehensible that member states are still not fully implementing growth-friendly legislation we have in place,» he said The European Commission for years has been pushing states to get rid of administrative barriers that prevent workers from taking jobs and companies from offering services in other EU countries. The EUs internal market «is probably the largest engine for growth within the European Union,» Barroso said. «It gives European business unfettered access to other companies and half a billion consumers and allows them to develop the scale to compete globally." The criticism comes as the Commission approved a series of initiatives to boost jobs and growth in the crisis-hit bloc.

However, many of the proposals in the package have been made before but have failed to overcome resistance by governments reluctant to give up national prerogatives. The Commission's proposals on further opening up Europes service sector could boost growth on the continent by 1.5 percent, Barroso said. "The green economy, the health and new technology sectors will create more than 20 million jobs in the years to come.» The Commission said «concrete measures» to boost jobs would include «reducing taxes on labour." According to his staff, a net 4.5 million jobs were lost between 2008 and mid 2011 -- although the Commission also says some four million jobs are lying vacant across the EU. EU leaders have a target of 75 percent of 20-64 year olds in employment by 2020. "If the target is to be met, employment in the EU will have to increase by 17.6 million additional jobs from its current level,» the Commission says in a proposal for states, the EU parliament and social partners to work on before a September jobs summit. Since the crisis, the EU employment rate has fallen to 68.9 percent (in the third quarter of 2011) and a recessionary outlook this year and substantial imbalances among states and regions make fighting poverty tougher than ever.

EU research on the social impact of the crisis suggested that 80 percent of Europeans think poverty has deepened in the year past and only 14 percent of EU citizens expect their spending power to improve in the next year. The Commission nevertheless sees some bright spots stemming from a «greening» of the economy, a rapidly-ageing population, migratory patterns and fast technological change.

The health sector is central: already, the Commission says health care accounted for around 17.1 million jobs in 2010. The social survey these officials cited said families are increasingly fretting about the affordability of health care services, and Brussels wants to see ever-greater mobility across borders.

[Kathimerini English Edition and agencies]

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