Van Rompuy: Direction of Budget Reforms More Important

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said the pace of reform is less important than whether nations take the right steps to overhaul their economies, according to an interview published in De Tijd and L’Echo today.

“We are not fundamentalists,” Van Rompuy was cited as saying. “Reforms heading in the right direction, that’s the main thing. Not the speed.”

The European Commission this week gave France, Spain and Slovenia two extra years to meet their budget targets, compared to timelines set out in previous guidelines. The Netherlands and Portugal got one extra year, and the commission also refrained from fining Belgium for not taking strict enough measures.

Van Rompuy said citizens in EU countries face more tradeoffs than they used to for being part of the 27-nation bloc and the 17-nation euro zone.

“It used to be more of a win-win situation, with no passports, no foreign exchange at the borders and more trade with one another,” Van Rompuy said. “The euro crisis hit into the heart of the economy and hence into people’s wallets. You can’t get any closer to people than through their money.”

Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, said it’s too simple to say that the EU has wielded too much power during the crisis at the expense of elected leaders. He noted that voters have brought in new governments in 18 of the bloc’s 27 nations since he took up his EU post in December 2009.

“Paternalism would mean that the measures are imposed by people who are not elected,” Van Rompuy said. “Europe sets out the framework, but the reform programs still need to be decided and implemented by national governments. They must be accountable to the voter,” he said. “The political courage of European governments is seriously underestimated. They reform under pressure, but they do it anyway.”

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