Kubilius backs EU’s disputed duo

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius has claimed the leadership position of Germany and France “is not a bad development.”

Kubilius told Austrian daily Die Presse today (Mon): “I don’t think it is a bad development that France and Germany take leading roles trying to solve this crisis. Solving crises needs new ideas and leadership. (…) We need a strong, consolidated Europe which is able to act.”

Kubilius added: “Power will soon move from the federal capitals to Brussels. We must not be afraid of this.”

The politician’s statements come as European Union (EU) government leaders and opposition party chiefs are at odds over whether the importance of the European Commission (EC), which is based in Brussels, Belgium, should increase as some of the Eurozone’s 17 members experience immense financial difficulties.

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said at the weekend Europe must act in a better coordinated and united way in today’s globalised world to determine its position in global economics. “The European Commission must be strengthened,” he said.

Kubilius’ support for the disputed leadership roles of France and Germany among the EU-27 comes shortly after former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi claimed that large European countries were solely concerned with their own interests. “Germany and France aren’t the engines of the European integration anymore. Who is taking responsibility for European interests? No one does,” he told Austrian weekly profil.

Former ÖVP Foreign Minister and Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel defended the criticised countries. “There are several excellent politicians (in Europe) like Angela Merkel and (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy. (…) I have always been a huge fan of Angela Merkel and I am even more so today,” he said a few days ago.

Kubilius stressed today his country “is not afraid of global competition.” The head of the Lithuanian Christian Democrats told Die Presse: “We want to be a dynamic country. (…) We had to lower our economic predictions due to the troubles in southern Europe. We are now expecting a growth of just 3.5 per cent in 2012.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in September the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Eurozone would increase by 1.1 per cent from 2011 to next year. The organisation initially predicted an improvement of 1.8 per cent. Lithuania is not part of the Eurozone. The Baltic country accessed the EU in 2004.

Asked how his country planned to tackle the issue of high emigration numbers, Kubilius said: “The Baltic region’s economic strength is still weaker than the European average. I think it is not unusual that people hope for a better future abroad. There are many countries which have experienced this – Portugal and Ireland, for example.”

Economists have also warned Austria that it would keep failing in persuading scientists, researchers, university lecturers and high-skilled workers to settle in the country due to a lack of immigration, healthcare, labour regulations and the public pension system. The government coalition – formed by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP recently introduced a points system called Red White Red Card (RWR Card, Rot-Weiß-Rot Card) which considers aspects like immigrants’ age, profession, work experience and whether an Austrian firm plans to hire them or not. The coalition said the RWR Card would positively influence migration to Austria whereas many experts claimed that the step was long overdue and maybe too late.

Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) chief Bernhard Felderer told magazine profil in May: “Austria must invest a lot into the education of poorly skilled immigrants these days. We would have saved much money had we created clear immigration policies 30 years ago.”

The economist added: “Keeping people from the new EU member countries from looking for work (in Austria) is one of the biggest stupidities of Austria of all times.”

Austria came 18th among 59 investigated countries in the International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) 2011. The alpine country, which joined the EU in 1995 and the Eurozone in 2002, reached 14th place one year earlier. Hong Kong topped the most recent WCY. Sweden was the best European country in fourth place.

Felderer said in September that the Austrian economy would grow by only 1.3 per cent from 2011 to 2012. IHS research suggested a GDP increase of 2.1 per cent in July. The Institute for Economic Research (WIFO) warned that the domestic economy would increase by only 0.8 per cent in 2012. It initially saw an improvement of 1.8 per cent. Felderer and WIFO head Karl Aiginger said now was the “final chance” for reforms.