Promise of growth, not only austerity
"Listening to decision makers here in Slovenia, I can say I am in full agreement on two fundamental issues: one is that we need a deal regarding the future as soon as possible – that is by the end of November – because it gives predictably for Europe and is a sign that even in crisis we can have agreement and compromise," Lewandowski said during his visit to Slovenia. The second is that "the European budget should be seen in the context of a growth agenda for Europe. Europe needs a promise of growth and not only of austerity, because we have to regain the confidence of the younger generation, which is now very pessimistic regarding their prospects". The Commissioner said he was already familiar with most Slovenian positions on the EU's 2014-2020 financial framework, but that it was always good to hear what individual countries are sensitive too.
40% of public investment in Slovenia co-financed by the EU
The Commission and Slovenia are allies when it comes to the fundamental budget questions, "because Slovenia, given its experiences, understands how important it is at the local, regional and municipal levels, cohesion funds are not only to finance projects but also to encourage authorities to plan for investments in times of money shortages". He stressed that Slovenia had 40% of its public investment co-financed by EU funds. "This is the major source of funding in Europe where banks are no longer generous in credit activities, especially for local authorities and SMEs." Regarding Slovenia's wish to keep the EU safety net mechanism in place also for regions that have exceeded the development threshold – such as in the western part of Slovenia – Lewandowski said this was realistic, given that the Commission was supporting the safety net for countries and regions that are no longer eligible for full funding. The real issue is the less affluent eastern part of Slovenia, which does not deserve a funding cut because Slovenia as a whole has exceeded 75% of average EU affluence.
EU Budget Proposal 2013 must be balanced, aiming for growth
Commenting on the potential impact, especially on cohesion funds, of demands by a group of influential countries that the Commission's budget proposal be cut by at least 10%, he said the demands come in spite of already modest plans in the face of additional financing burdens, including for new member Croatia, and include "no agreement among them on what should be cut". "I am fully defending our proposal, also as a balanced proposal. What would be in contradiction with political declarations by these same leaders of Europe that we need growth, job, competitiveness – would be to cut cohesion policy…the areas of the budget which are really about investment, growth and job opportunities." He announced Slovenia would be a net beneficiary in the next EU financial framework, provided that it does not fail to make use of what is allocated to it. The latter scenario is however not likely, according to the Commissioner, who said that Slovenia is not perfect when it comes to the phasing of EU funds but is not among the problem countries in Europe, some of which need technical expertise. Turning to the prospect for reaching agreement on the 2014-2020 financial framework at the November EU summit, Lewandowski said there is "a commitment by political leaders to try". He is happy about plans to hold a conclave style of summit that can be extended, "because Europe needs, as soon as possible, the good message that it has agreed on the investment horizon for 2020". Regarding the possibility of the Commission fully defending its proposal, he said he would be very optimistic if times were normal. "Never has the environment for negotiations on the future of Europe… been so difficult."