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José Manuel Barroso

President of the European Commission

"Engagement with Europe:
an opportunity, not a threat"

Liberal Democrat Annual Party Conference
Brighton, 17 September 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me start by thanking you for the invitation to be the first President of the European Commission to speak at the Liberal Democrat's Annual Party Conference. And thank you to Graham in particular for your typically warm – and typically shameless - introduction, and of course my thanks to the Liberal Group in the European Parliament.

I have to admit that this is not an easy speech to make.

To put it in athletic terms very familiar to your leader, giving a speech on Europe in Britain is like turning up for a 100 metres athletics final, looking up and realising that you actually have been entered for the 100 metres high hurdles.

Ten minutes later, you find out it’s the 3000 metres steeplechase.

Anyway clearly it is a bad idea for me to talk about the Constitution, or ... should I say...the C word. And equally dangerous to mention the T word, or indeed the R word. If we carry on like this the English language could soon die out.

Of course, it was not like that for one of the foundation stones of your party, the late Roy Jenkins, one of my most distinguished predecessors. Today, I want to pay tribute to his work and regret that his wisdom, wit and talents are no longer with us.

With an inheritance from people like Roy Jenkins you have traditionally been seen as the party of Europe in UK politics.

Of course I welcome your commitment to Europe. But we will not take it for granted. Europe is changing and needs to keep reforming. Europe must continue to be relevant for both supporters and those that have concerns. You should make your judgement based on the policies, on the added value of Europe. I’m not asking for a blank cheque.

Nonetheless, I am struck by how close my vision of Europe, as President of the Commission, is to that set out in your consultation paper.

You acknowledge that Europe has done a huge amount since 1957 to safeguard the peace, to increase prosperity and promote freedom in our continent. The truth is that the European Union remains the only credible option for European cooperation. When my country, Portugal, suffered the difficult and long years of dictatorship, it was to Europe that we naturally looked for the solution.

But it’s not all roses. Your consultation paper highlights that for all the achievement, Europe is still seen as remote, bureaucratic and undemocratic.

Intentional fabrication of stories like the notion of removing the Queen from UK passports, or claims that the UK will lose its UN seat do not help.

Nor, by the way, are we planning to force acrobats to wear helmets, and we don’t have the intention to paint all British ambulances yellow.

Occasionally, a flash of reality slips through. Apparently someone in the press just last week discovered that we in the Commission are no longer a threat to the pound, the inch or even the mile. But we need to take the next step, beyond putting the Euro-myths to rest.

We collectively need to demonstrate more concretely the benefits that membership of the European Union brings, that there’s more to Europe than late night horse trading, that we are tackling the issues that matter to Europe's citizens.

One example is the fear of globalisation. Globalisation is not just producing vast economic and social upheaval across Europe. It is compelling us all to face up to the true nature of our economic challenge: not just within Europe but also from outside: from China, from India and the new emerging markets. So we have to take up the challenge of economic reform in Europe.

We have to compete to survive in the globalised world. On climate change, on counter terrorism, on poverty reduction, we can only act effectively if we act together.

Europe, in short, must be global or we will fail. Our challenge is to equip Europe for globalisation. And we need sustained leadership from the United Kingdom to help ensure we go in the right direction.

Of course, globalisation has greatly expanded the possibilities for the material development of mankind. But all this has happened at a cost that our planet can no longer sustain. You know what is happening to the trends in the world climate, to oil prices, to our energy dependence.

Certainly, to shift the whole basis of the economy from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy will test us all.

Of course our citizens recognise that the environment and pollution know no borders. They understand that progress depends on international action. The European Union provides a unique, legally binding framework for this. We have already taken action together to make major improvements in the field of environment protection - in air and water quality, for example.

But climate change has the potential not only to redraw the face of our planet, but to cripple our economies and threaten global security. In the last three months I have been to Greenland and Greece, and have seen extraordinary things. Melting ice caps, fatal forest fires. Two extremes but a single reason. Climate change is happening quicker than we could ever imagine. Ask the victims of floods in England if they don’t believe in climate change. We have to act.

This is a message I and other European leaders conveyed to the last G8 meeting, and which I will carry forward strongly to the UN conference on climate change in New York next week.

The Commission's integrated climate and energy package, approved by European leaders in March, sets out a clear and ambitious strategy for action. It is nothing less than a commitment to restructure Europe's economy. We need a new industrial revolution, the development of a low-carbon future.

And remember please that this will bring opportunities as well as costs. Markets for low-carbon technologies could be worth at least $500bn by 2050 if the world acts on the scale required.

Our policy is based on three central pillars:

  • Accelerating the shift to low carbon energy with binding renewable energy targets;
  • Energy efficiency; and
  • A true internal energy market creating a better deal for consumers.

On Wednesday I will present legislative proposals that will guarantee fairer, more open energy markets. But we have to remember there is an external dimension to this. One foreign state controlled company is the sole gas supplier to five EU member states. To protect the openness of our market, we need to place tough conditions on ownership of assets by non EU companies. We can be open, but we mustn’t be naïve.

And on climate change, in December, on the eve of the Bali conference, we will propose legislative proposals on renewables, burden sharing of greenhouse gas reduction targets and revisions to improve and strengthen the EU emission trading scheme, the cornerstone of EU climate policy.

But as I have said, Europe cannot work alone. That means convincing our international partners to follow our lead and start negotiations on a bold new global climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

The European Union and Member States. Working with the G8. With the UN. British problems are European problems are global problems. We must act together, under the UN process, by 2009, with real ambition in terms of cuts in greenhouse gases.

Ladies and Gentlemen

A few concluding remarks.

Reform of our policies must be the priority. We cannot face the challenges of tomorrow with the policies of yesterday. More jobs, cutting crime, clean water, safe food, cheaper travel are what our citizens want, which in turn means safeguarding our internal market and keeping our competition rules strong.

Secondly, if you want a Europe of results, then you must have the means to deliver them, which means effective European institutions, including the Commission, the European Parliament, the Council, and the Court. I make no bones about that. Strong modern institutions only work if they are reformed. We cannot operate as 27 with a system created for 6.

That is why we need a Reform Treaty. We need to modernise our institutions so that they are more democratic and have more coherence externally. But above all the institutions must work more effectively in partnership with, and in support of, the member states. Put simply, we need to prepare Europe's institutions for globalisation.

So the two R's I do want to mention are reform and ratification. I strongly believe that the Reform Treaty is good for Europe, and good for Britain.

The Treaty, including the hard fought UK red lines, is not the Constitution.

I now hope that we can reach agreement in October and move swiftly to ratification.

The how of ratification is of course for each individual Member State to decide, including here in the United Kingdom. But I share the feeling that the sooner we move beyond the institutional debate and focus on issues of concern to our citizens, the better.

So my message is that we in Europe must avoid false choices such as between policy reform and institutional reform. Reform is the name of the game. We need both for a competitive Europe in a globalised world.

Every time I come here, I feel very strongly a sense of admiration for this country and its people. You have given so much to Europe and the world that we can all be grateful for. The Commission and the United Kingdom share many fundamental policy goals, and I think many share my sense that the effective exercise of British interests is not defined merely by the ability to say no.

It is defined by your ability to seize and shape the European agenda that makes a difference to British citizens – from trade openness and economic reform, to climate change and energy markets. Perhaps it is time that the gloomy media perception of Britain’s role in Europe caught up with the rather rosy reality.

Europe is not full of hidden plots. The more the UK leads the debate, the more you will get out of Europe. Europe is an opportunity not a threat.

So thank you very much: to all of you in the Liberal Democratic party and to the European Liberal party for everything you are doing to make Europe a better place.

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