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President of the European Commission
Over the past two years, I have talked a lot about a "twin track" approach: that providing results to European citizens creates the right political conditions to address institutional issues.
2007 has proved that this is the best way to move Europe forward. First, we have seen the negotiation, agreement and signature of a Treaty which will give Europe the institutions for the future and the tools to make them work. It will give us a stronger and more democratic Union to deliver on our citizens' expectations and aspirations. I think we should take a moment to pay tribute to Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Socrates for their skilled leadership. There was no shortage of doubters at the start of the year. But the European Union has been steered into harbour: showing a powerful determination and an effective focus.
This political success needs to be carried forward to a conclusion. Member States have agreed to ratify the Treaty in time for it to enter into force on 1 January 2009. This commitment should be taken very seriously. By signing the Treaty, governments have taken on the responsibility of making the argument for the improvements that the Treaty will bring. This work needs to start now.
I wish to warmly salute Hungary, its government and its parliament for the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon yesterday. The Treaty was ratified with an overwhelming majority, 385 yes votes and only 5 no votes. It is a very positive political signal that a new Member State is the first country to ratify the Treaty. Hungary deserves our applause.
At the same time, we have seen the European Union taking a lead on policies that affect every European, every day: economic growth and job creation, climate change, energy, migration, innovation. These are the issues which will determine the success of Europe, now and in the future.
An important achievement this year was the launch of an Integrated Maritime Policy for the Union. This brings to fruition extensive work begun by the Commission almost three years ago in March 2005. Following wide public debate of a Green Paper issued by the Commission in June 2006, we have now reached a clear consensus in the European institutions on how important Maritime Policy is for the Union to meet the challenges of globalisation and competitiveness, of climate change and energy, and to maximise the potential of our oceans and seas in a sustainable manner. Following in the footsteps of the European Parliament's excellent 5-committee report of July, the Commission's vision of an Integrated Maritime Policy for the Union and an action plan, have now been fully endorsed by the European Council last week. A particular note of appreciation is due to the Portuguese Presidency for making this a clear priority for the Union.
So how have we made this possible? Central to this has been the effective cooperation between the three core institutions. This Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers has been able to work together to develop a real consensus across a wide range of the EU's work.
We have also benefited from a growing realisation that the European Union offers the right vehicle to address today's big challenges. Just look at the Eurobarometer figures released today. They confirm the figures from Spring this year – that overall support for the EU is higher than at any time over the past decade. We are winning the trust of European citizens – now we must show that we deserve it.
(The European Council)
Last week, in a matter of days, we saw the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by the three institutions; the signature of the Treaty of Lisbon; and a European Council focused on key issues of direct interest to citizens.
After the historic steps of Wednesday and Thursday, on Friday the European Council returned to the crucial task of turning the Europe of results into reality. We now have a framework in place for the results the EU should deliver in 2008.
Critical to our future action is the importance of globalisation. It was not so long ago that policymakers tended to shy away from globalisation. It was seen as too difficult, too divisive. The Declaration on Globalisation has turned this around. We now know that Europe can unite around an activist approach to globalisation. Not all the impact of globalisation is positive – but that is no reason for passivity. It should rather redouble our efforts to make the most of our opportunities. The EU has every reason to feel confident about its future in the age of globalisation. It is showing how the values which govern European society are fully compatible with a proactive approach to globalisation. That is the message to come out of the Declaration on Globalisation. There is now a real sense of momentum in our agenda for succeeding in the age of globalisation – a momentum we will keep up by a series of Commission initiatives in the coming months.
I was pleased that the Portuguese Presidency decided to devote particular attention to migration. If we manage the issue of migration well, everyone can benefit: Europe, the countries of origin and the migrants. The European Council backed the integrated approach proposed by the Commission early in December. To back up the proposals we already have on the table, such as illegal migration, undeclared work, and the Blue Card for highly skilled workers, we will come forward with new proposals next year.
Before this, we will come forward with our package of measures to realise the Union's promises on climate change and energy. Just a few days after Bali, there is a palpable sense that the wind of change is blowing in our direction. But we need to keep up the pressure, to give meaning to our leadership. The best way to do this is to show we mean business – by driving on with our proposals. I want to work closely with this Parliament over the next year and agree a common goal of a political agreement on the full package by the end of next year.
The European Council also took the opportunity to look further ahead. The Reflection Group is an innovative approach, but one which can pay off. Looking ahead to 2020-2030 requires discipline and imagination, but the result can help us to keep focused on the big picture, in particular on global challenges. The Group can count on the support of the Commission when the full team starts its work later next year. I also welcome the choice of Filipe González, a very experienced statesman and a committed European, as Chairman of the Group, and the two Vice-Chairs, Mrs Vike-Freiberga and Mr Jorma Ollila.
The European Council also looked at more immediate challenges. The stability of Kosovo is heavily dependent on a united EU, and the solution for Serbia and for Kosovo lies in Europe. They know that, and we know that. We must carry this through into determined and united EU action. This is a stern test for Europe, one that we cannot afford to fail.
Before I finish, let me say that the Commission is extremely satisfied that the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid has been adopted by the Parliament and the Council. The Declaration is a wide-ranging policy statement encompassing objectives, principles and good practice approaches to humanitarian aid delivered both bilaterally by Member States and by the European Community.
The Consensus is a milepost for EU humanitarian aid, lead by the Commission. The Commission alone is the second largest humanitarian donor in the world and by driving forward this Consensus, has responded strongly to the increasingly challenging environment facing humanitarians.
The lifting of the Commission "policy voice" in this area in light of its considerable experience in provision of humanitarian aid and its unique role at the heart of the European Union is positively welcomed by the Member States, Parliament and the humanitarian partners. Internal work has now been launched to translate the commitments contained in the Consensus into a draft action plan that should be presented in first semester 2008.
The overall message from 2007 is one of great hope, and no little expectation. The eyes of Europeans are turning to the European Union for the answers to so many questions. The past few months can give us confidence that we are up to the task.