EU must find ‘enormous amount’ of money to face global challenges, says Draghi

Brussels: The European Union needs to invest an “enormous amount of money in a relatively short time” to deal with the deep challenges the bloc is facing, former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said this week.

Draghi, who has been tasked with producing a high-level report on the EU’s competitiveness, met with EU ministers on Saturday in Ghent, Belgium, to discuss the best way to come up with the needed funds.

He presented EU governments with his diagnosis: The three pillars the EU has relied on — energy from Russia, exports from China, and the U.S. defense apparatus — are no longer as solid as before, and on the green and digital transitions alone the EU would have to spend €500 billion a year. The funding gap between Europe and the United States in terms of investment is equivalent to half a trillion euros a year, and a third of that would be public money, Draghi told the ministers, according to his assistant.

All the participants appeared to agree on what needs to change to boost EU competitiveness, from lowering energy prices to reducing regulatory burdens, but divisions emerged when talking about public money.

“They made clear that a lot of discussions would be needed in the months to come,” the Draghi aide said, adding that Draghi called for “bold action” on the matter of investments.

Draghi stressed the necessity to channel European private savings, because “public money will never be enough,” but he also put on the table options to find funds at the EU level, according to the aide.

The EU could create a new common cash facility, such as debt or loans, or use private partnerships where the European Investment Bank would have a role to play. French President Emmanuel Macron and others support the idea of new common debt.

EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni has pitched many times the idea of a sort of second Next Generation EU fund, but the proposal has not generated enthusiasm among all countries.

Asked about the need for new common funds earlier this month, Germany’s Economy Secretary Sven Giegold told POLITICO: “It’s well known” that the German government is in favor of “increasing the spending path into research and development, climate, innovation and so on, which is certainly needed in global competition. But as you know, at the moment, about 70 percent of the EU budget does not go into these future-oriented sectors.”