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EU's new economic chief Moscovici vows 'change'

06 November 2014, 19:05 CET
EU's new economic chief Moscovici vows 'change'

Pierre Moscovici - Photo EU Council

(BRUSSELS) - The EU's new top team must be a "commission of change" in order to boost the stalling economy, the bloc's economics chief Pierre Moscovici told AFP in an interview, signalling a departure from years of austerity.

The former French finance minister, who in just a few days time must decide whether to order Paris and Rome to cut back on spending, said he did not see his job as being a "budget supervisor."

In his first interview since taking office, Moscovici added that Jean-Claude Juncker's new European Commission had to balance strict budgets with the need to invest to create jobs and growth.

"This commission must be a commission of change," Moscovici told AFP at the Berlaymont building, the European Commission's huge glass-and-steel headquarters in Brussels.

He insisted he would not give any special treatment to France, which last month submitted a budget plan with a deficit way over the tight EU limit of 3.0 percent, putting the country at risk of Brussels demanding more action.

"It's difficult for a Frenchman. I'm not a masochist," he said.

Moscovici, whose appointment raised eyebrows because of his own record presiding over the French deficit, compared his approach with his Finnish predecessor Olli Rehn, known as a strict fiscal disciplinarian.

"It's not about abandoning a strict budget, it's not about abandoning the rules.

"But it's about adding a strict budget as an element of stability in a dynamic economy which is lacking from the EU, and which is vital if we don't want the EU to be in the doldrums with low growth, low inflation and high unemployment."

- Key investment plan -

On his second day in the job on Tuesday, Moscovici found himself unveiling a grim set of EU economic forecasts which slashed growth in the eurozone, raising global fears just two years after a nearly catastrophic debt crisis.

Moscovici underscored the importance of a 300-billion-euro ($380 billion) investment plan that Juncker has vowed to unveil at a summit of European leaders before Christmas.

Juncker has given no details about the plan, but Moscovici said it should be the "cornerstone" on which the new commission is built and that the funds should be new.

"It must be new money, not necessarily fresh, but new, extra. If it is not, it will look like a trick, recycling, or it will be a flop," Moscovici said.

He said it should also include a mixture of public and private funding.

Moscovici said his first trip abroad in the new job would be to bailed-out Greece and Cyprus, amid concerns over a plan by Athens to leave its international assistance scheme at the end of the year.

"I will go to Greece in November because it is necessary to offer these countries opportunities," he said. "Not without rules, not without discipline, not without effort, but opportunities, little by little, because we are in another phase, the priorities are different.

He said the "idea of a credit line was in the air, the idea of a backup programme", but would not give further details.

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