(Bloomberg) -- French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for a small group of countries to kickstart near-dormant efforts to bolster European capital markets as the continent risks being mired in economic stagnation.

“I’m fed up with discussions,” he said at the start of a two-day meeting of EU finance chiefs in Ghent on Friday. “I’m fed up with empty statements. Do you really think that China and the US will be impressed with our statements? We need decisions. And we need strong decisions.”

Le Maire proposed creating a capital markets union on a voluntary basis, which could include joint supervision, a common savings product and guarantees for securitization. He said three or four countries could be a good starting point as it isn’t possible to reach an agreement now among all 27 member states.

Le Maire didn’t say which countries could join the CMU club, and initial reaction in the Belgian city was mixed. EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni welcomed the initiative, but defended the “ambitious” work to get an agreement between all 27 member states. 

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner indicated the largest EU economy wouldn’t join Le Maire’s initiative. 

“I’m not pushing for a multi-speed CMU — as my friend Bruno says — but for a top-speed CMU with all 27,” he told reporters.

Completing CMU has become a top priority for the EU as it faces huge financing needs for the climate and digital transition that can’t be met by public funds. There are also increasing concerns that countries are emerging from the double blow of the Covid pandemic and energy crisis with persistently weak economic growth.

“No one can accept European growth being one point below American growth,” Le Maire said. “No one can accept that the perspectives for growth in Europe are either recession or stagnation. We need to free European growth from its chains.”

Despite nearly a decade of work on CMU, officials say underdeveloped markets compared with the US are still undermining the EU’s strategic autonomy and encouraging businesses to seek funding abroad, or even leave the continent entirely.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has added to the sense of urgency, saying progress would be the best way to prepare the EU for the potential economic disruption from Donald Trump returning as US President.

A key objective, also highlighted by Lagarde, is to create a European version of the US Securities & Exchange Commission, potentially by granting more powers to the European Securities and Markets Authority. 

According to a draft statement seen by Bloomberg, harmonization of supervision to improve stability and simplify processes could be achieved by ESMA coordinating supervisory colleges, or allowing large entities to opt for single oversight. 

In addition to improving the architecture of regulation, finance ministers are also considering tax incentives and cuts to regulatory burdens to drive equity investment. Another aim of CMU would be to channel retail savings into more productive investment.

Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau on Friday suggested that the EU re-brand its efforts as a “Financing Union for Transition.”

“We must shift from a mere stabilizing purpose to an allocation purpose,” he said in a speech at the Eurofi conference in Ghent. 

EU finance ministers are due to discuss a draft statement on CMU measures in the Belgian city on Friday, led by Eurogroup President Paschal Donohoe. 

“I’m here to decide, not to publish a 10th, 15th or 20th statement on CMU in which there is nothing or almost nothing,” Le Maire added.

Even if officials can advance toward greater union of markets in Europe, it is unlikely to provide a quick fix to economic problems. Speaking ahead of Friday’s meeting, an EU official said it would be unwise wait for CMU before embarking on more urgent needs to invest to counter climate and digital challenges.

--With assistance from Kamil Kowalcze and Sanne Wass.

(Updates with comments from Bank of France governor starting in 14th paragraph.)

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