Moscovici says confident will have important economic role in EU Commission

PARIS Wed Jul 30, 2014 8:48am EDT

Pierre Moscovici speaks to media after an official meeting with Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Bern March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Pierre Moscovici speaks to media after an official meeting with Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Bern March 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ruben Sprich

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's candidate for the European Commission Pierre Moscovici is convinced he will have an important economic portfolio, he told Reuters on Wednesday, rebuffing German concerns that France lacked the budget credibility to take such a job.

President Francois Hollande proposed his former finance minister on Tuesday to be France's representative in the next European Commission, which takes office early November.

A keen admirer of Keynesian economics, Moscovici said it was crucial for Europe to refocus on growth and jobs via higher investments.

However Germany, the EU's biggest economy, has voiced reservations about France's interest in the powerful economic and monetary affairs job, given its failure to respect the bloc's deficit limits.

There has also been talk of a possible vice-presidency economic portfolio that might include competitiveness and industry but not public finances.

Le Monde daily has written that Paris is also interested in the competition commissioner job, an important economic portfolio which France has never held.

"I am convinced that the French member of the European Commission will have an important role in the economic field in the next European Commission," Moscovici said in an interview, stressing his experience as a two-time EU lawmaker, former European affairs minister and former finance minister.

"France is a credible country, a country one can trust ... It is carrying out credible reforms."

Moscovici declined to say which particular portfolio he would be interested in.

Each of the 28 nations of the European Union has a commissioner and they must nominate their candidates by the end of July. The European Commission's president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker will then decide who gets which portfolio for the next five years, with the economics, trade and energy jobs particularly coveted.

Moscovici has pushed back against Berlin's insistence on strict budget discipline in Europe, fighting with some success for a more growth-friendly focus in EU policy-making.

"We must make sure that growth and jobs are the absolute priority for the next five years, in particular through investments," Moscovici said in the phone interview, adding that Europe "must absolutely" carry out the 300 billion euro ($402 billion) public-private investment program promised by Juncker earlier this month.

Juncker's plan would combine existing and perhaps augmented resources from the EU budget and the European Investment Bank with private sector funds, over the next three years, to build energy, transport and broadband networks and industry clusters.

"WARNING"

The May European Parliament elections, in which the far-right came in first in France and Eurosceptics scored well in other countries, was a warning that the next European Commission must take seriously, Moscovici said.

"Many see Europe as a source of doubt, as a problem, we cannot continue with business as usual," he said, also calling for an ambitious industrial policy.

"We clearly need a European industrial policy that is not conservative but that is dynamic and aggressive," he said.

France has in the past criticized the EU's industrial policy for preventing the creation of European champions in the name of competition among member states.

Comfortable speaking English and well-versed in many of the EU's technical dossiers and procedures, Moscovici is viewed by many in Paris as a good fit for Brussels.

While Germany has voiced doubt on the economic and monetary affairs portfolio, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said he has nothing against Moscovici.

Hollande's campaign manager in the 2012 presidential election before becoming finance minister, Moscovici was replaced in an April government reshuffle.

He brushed aside the argument that France's failure so far to bring its public deficit under the EU's 3-percent-of GDP cap could make it difficult for him to get an important economic portfolio, saying he had the right resume, having been "an actor in the battle to pull the euro zone out of its crisis."

"France is cutting its deficit in an environment of low growth and it is carrying out reforms. It has always respected EU rules," he said. "When I obtained an extra two years to meet our deficit targets I did it, obviously, in full agreement with the European Commission and Germany."

(1 US dollar = 0.7462 euro)

(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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