European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services
European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 9 March 2005
given the wide-ranging issues raised I do not have time to deal with all these points, but on software patents I clearly indicated that the ball is in the court of the European Parliament. If Parliament wishes to reject it, then the Commission will respect that decision. I have heard what Members are saying on that matter. I said it in the committee meeting I attended. I repeated it at the Council presidency last week and I repeat it here today in my speech. It is up to the European Parliament to do its job on this particular matter and we will take on board your concerns.
Some questions were asked about the matter at the Council of Ministers yesterday. The Council of Ministers issued a statement and it is now a matter for the Council of Ministers.
I turn now to the services directive. One thing I have learned in my political life is that it is always easier to come up with reasons not to do something than it is to do something. Secondly, I believe that there is never a right time to take a new or brave initiative. There are always good reasons not do anything. May I also say that it is easier for ministers or Commissioners to sit in their offices and say that they will do absolutely nothing, because the only way to avoid making bad decisions is to make no decisions! But we in Europe do not have the option of sitting on our hands and praying and hoping that something will turn up, as in Beckett’s novel. We have to do something to galvanise the European economy.
I respect the views of people on the left and on the right. I respect the political philosophy of people who have looked at things differently from me over the years. I respect the different economic philosophies that can be pursued with legitimacy. I have my own particular ideas in that regard. But no matter where you stand on this particular problem regarding the European economy, you have to conclude that standing still is not an option.
And if 70% of the European Union’s economy comes from services, you do not need a higher degree in economics to realise that you must do something about services in Europe in order to galvanise the European economy.
For a number of years, the European economy has been growing at a rate less than its full potential. That will not allow us to sustain the social model that we have built up, or to have sustainable development, unless we do something dramatic to galvanise economic activity in the Union. Whatever perspective you take, if we keep heading in the present direction we will not be able to do the things we have taken for granted for many decades. Nor will we be able to do things in the future, such as dealing with our ageing populations, unless we do something about the economy.
The services directive, as proposed by the previous Commission, was a noble and very innovative attempt to do something dramatic in this vital area. I could take a pristine, pure view of this – as some Commission officials might want – and stand in my office on the ninth floor of the Berlaymont, open the window, get a trumpet and broadcast that ‘this is wonderful! I am going to stand on the barricades for ever and ever and defend this proposal from the last Commission! It is absolutely brilliant and I am going to defend it from now until death – and into the Valley of Death I would ride!’ However, I realise that the services directive as initiated has not a snowball’s chance in hell of getting through either the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament. I could be pristine and pure and say that I will make great speeches about it, get nothing through, offer no services directive at all and do nothing to address the problems facing us all over Europe.
However, I have taken the pragmatic view. I have listened to what parliamentarians have to say. I have been here on many occasions. I have met people individually and collectively and at committees and they have given me very good ideas as to what we should do. Some people strongly believe we should continue as we started, but that will not succeed either.
Therefore, I have taken everybody’s views into account and have stated that the Commission is willing to listen and to accept changes to ensure that we will end up with a services directive that does something positive for the European economy. That is why I am here today, and that is what I set forth here this afternoon and last week.
It is a very important point I must say that the members of any organisation – be it a local political party, a local sports club, a local trade union or a local employers’ organisation – all like certainty and do not like change. We always like change for the other person but not for ourselves. Politicians are the same. We would prefer not to have to face another election but just be elected time after time. That would be great for the politician, but very bad for democracy. Therefore, we do not want to create the impression that we are going to deny the new Member States that recently joined the Union the same opportunities that the existing 15 have had for a long time, including the country I know best.
I respect the views of people who look at this problem from a different perspective. However, we cannot be here just as the voice of the ‘ins’ and forget about the ‘outs’. That is not what social democracy, as I know it, is meant to be. We must guard against people who are lulled into defending the interests of the status quo. It is the easier political thing to do, because they are the people you are certain of and who probably voted for you before. However, remember that there are millions of people coming on to the job market who are waiting for the opportunity to have a decent standard of living and social inclusion. They must be given the same opportunity as the rest of us have been given.
It is important that we come up with a services directive that makes a positive economic impact and takes on board genuine concerns. I am prepared to take those on board and to work with the European Parliament on getting a services directive through. It is now for the European Parliament to deal with the matter. I will be as constructive as possible. I hope to be able to come up with the best solution possible, based on the broadest consensus, because that is what we and Europe need.