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President of the European Commission
Mr Speaker Niinisto, Honourable Members of the Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to address this House today, and a great pleasure for me to be back in Helsinki for the first time since your very successful Presidency of the European Union. I have just come from a very good meeting with President Halonen, and I shall be later having a working lunch with Prime Minister Vanhanen. This afternoon, with the Prime Minister, I shall be inaugurating the European Chemicals Agency, before leaving for the Summit meeting of the Council of Baltic Sea States in Riga this evening.
But it is always a particular highlight for me, when in the different Member States, to engage - on the key European questions of the day - with the national Parliament.
This Commission is strongly committed to working with national parliaments. I have now had the privilege of visiting 20 national parliaments – if you include my intervention today. Moreover, members of this Commission have now made over 200 visits to national parliaments, and we have set up a new mechanism to ensure that our proposals and consultation documents are transmitted directly to the national parliaments. So I am very proud that we have established a new way of working.
Indeed, your own Parliament is already well placed in the European policy making process inside Finland. I note, for example, that before attending Council meetings in Brussels, Ministers are called to the Grand Committee ahead of each Council meeting. I am sure, Chairman Tuomioja, that you and your colleagues use this to ensure transparency and accountability. I am struck that – unlike some other Member States - Finland rarely tables parliamentary reserves at the Council, and perhaps this is because the Parliament is so well integrated into the policy process. While I am praising the Eduskunta [maybe add "Riksdag" in Swedish], I should also tell you how impressed I was to discover that right from its debut in the early part of the twentieth century, even under the yoke of the Tsar of Russia, you established both universal suffrage and the right for women to vote and run for office. Indeed I particularly remember my visit to Pori in 2005 when I participated in the 100th anniversary of the Parliament. As so often, you have led the way in women's rights. These rights have only more recently become commonplace throughout the European Union. I am proud to say, in my own Commission, I now have 9 women Commissioners – one third of the total. This, I stress, is better than the average of Member State governments, although I acknowledge that we are a little way behind Finland !
In my speech today, I will restrict myself to some broad themes, so as to leave time for your comments and questions.
Firstly, the Commission is determined to deliver results for European citizens. And, at the beginning of the twenty first Century, a Europe of results demands a 'global Europe'. I have no doubts: the Union's role on the global stage will increasingly promote the values and the interests of its citizens and of its Member States.
My second message is that the EU needs the special contribution of Finland. Your country is a great example to others on issues which are a priority for the Union, such as economic competitiveness, innovation, social justice, the environment and also the way you are facing up to the challenges of tackling globalization.
In particular, your economic performance, consistently one of the best in Europe, and your innovative social reforms are widely recognised and admired beyond your borders.
The European Commission has developed an excellent relationship with the Finnish government, going back to your very successful Presidency of the EU. We share many views on the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs, the energy/climate change package and the need for an open and global Europe.
Your "voice" in Brussels is also helped by the excellent work of your Commissioner, Olli Rehn, to whom I have given one of the most important portfolios, enlargement. Enlargement remains of strategic importance to the European Union and I am very grateful for the solid and consistent support of Finland over the years.
A few words on the first of two "Lisbons" in this speech. The renewed Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment is a top priority. It offers an outstanding example of how Europe can produce results that have a tangible impact on the lives of its citizens.
This Strategy is already bearing fruit: the unemployment rate across the EU, at around 7%, is the lowest for 25 years. 6.5 million jobs have been created in two years and 5 million more are expected by 2009. Our economic fundamentals are sound and we are forecast to remain on a growth path, although clearly there are substantial and growing pressures on the real economy – and that means on real citizens.
Despite these pressures, I do believe that the economic reforms under the Lisbon Strategy have made our economies fitter and more resilient.
The Lisbon Strategy aims at a European economy based on three principles: dynamism, openness and innovation, and Finland has a good story to tell in each area.
Greater economic dynamism means reforming and modernising our social models, in full respect of the principles of justice and solidarity.
It may appear obvious to you here in Helsinki that the best way to promote living standards, maintain social security and reduce exclusion is to implement a flexicurity-based economy which invests in people throughout their lives; which supports them financially with training, and back into employment if and when they need it. Others have yet to be convinced that this model, rather than protecting jobs which are no longer competitive, is the way forward.
Yet, we are making progress. Only last October, European employers and unions reached an important agreement at the Tripartite Social Summit which both modernises the labour market, while at the same time upholding the European social model. I should note that my colleague Commissioner Vladimir Spidla is here also this week to participate in an important seminar on flexicurity.
An open economy is the second goal of the Lisbon Strategy, centring on the reinforcement of the internal market. This provides citizens with a practical demonstration of European added value. When the Union adopts measures which directly improve lives of 500 million Europeans, they can see the benefits of Europe. The reduction in roaming charges for mobile phones, an area where once again Finland is providing major leadership, is a perfect illustration of this.
Of course, we also fully respect diverse national traditions, and different social models, within the limits set by Community law. In this regard the judgment by the European Court of Justice in the Swedish Laval case is very important. Without going into the details, the judgement recognizes the fundamental right of labour unions to take measures to defend their rights. It would be unthinkable otherwise, as those rights are included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was proclaimed last December in the European Parliament. I know this is an area to which you attach a lot of importance here in Finland.
Finally, to be successful, a dynamic and open economy requires innovation. This, in turn, means investment in Europe's greatest resource: human capital. The aim is to give priority to skills and education, to make a qualitative leap in employment levels and to create a competitive, knowledge-based economy able to offer opportunities to all European citizens.
Our intention overall is to complement the "four freedoms" of the Single Market with the creation of a “fifth freedom” of the Union – the free movement of knowledge - by speeding up innovation and opening it to the largest possible number of citizens. So I am pleased by the recent approval of the Galileo project and the European Institute of Technology. These are major steps towards the creation of a common European area of knowledge and innovation.
I don't really need to tell you this, here in Finland, but I wanted to demonstrate that we are very much on the same lines. We are very interested in your plan for a National Innovation Strategy, for instance, which is being drawn up under Matti Vanhanen.
One area where innovation is going to be absolutely essential is in the fight against global warming. This is undoubtedly the main challenge of this century.
My Commission is proud to have put forward in January a package of legislative proposals on energy and climate change that can be regarded as historic, in the sense that we believe it is the most comprehensive and ambitious project ever presented to combat global warming.
I call this initiative the "20 – 20 – 20 by 2020 plan". A 20% increase in energy efficiency, a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (rising to 30% in the event of an international agreement) and a 20% increase in the use of renewables.
It is, in my view, not only a necessity for the planet. It is also a necessity for Europe’s economy. By acting now, we save exponentially greater costs in the future. And reducing dependence on oil will cut prices, ensure sustainability of supply and guarantee energy security.
The energy and climate change package presented by the Commission is a fair and balanced action plan that takes account of the various interests in the different Member States. We are pleased at the reaction it has received in the March European Council, and happy that the Governments of the Member States, including the Finnish Government, continue to argue strongly for Council agreement during the course of this year.
Here in Finland, you realised a long time ago that, far from being an economic burden, measures to combat climate change and reduce oil dependence are both an economic necessity and a platform for growth and employment.
Renewables already account for fully 28% of Finland's energy mix, and you were the first to adopt a carbon tax back in 1990, since when you have vigorously developed your environmental taxation system. Neither of these measures appears to have adversely affected your economy. In fact, your economy has grown in real terms by almost 40% since 1990.
You have shown it is possible to act on climate change, and maintain economic growth.
It is therefore unsurprising that such a strong majority of Finns believe that we must act to combat climate change. Your country has grasped what is at stake: we face crucial choices as to the kind of society we want to leave to future generations.
The ambitious binding targets set by the leaders of all 27 EU Member States strengthen Europe's bid to play a leading role in the fight against climate change, and its credibility and influence in the world. Europe's global leadership on this issue is a perfect demonstration of the added value of European cooperation, and of how the general European interest and national interests can complement one another.
It is also an example of Europe's ability to shape globalisation, serving as a model of inspiration for the rest of the world.
This is clear from the American election debate. Later this month, PM Jansa of Slovenia and I will meet President Bush for his final EU-US summit. He has moved a long way on climate change, but whoever wins the election, it is clear that the leading contenders to succeed him want to move further and faster. We welcome that, because we will need the US for a successful outcome at the crucial meeting in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.
Last, but not least, I arrive at the Treaty of Lisbon. I don't have time today to enter into a detailed discussion of the contents of the Treaty. Rather, I want to tell you why we need it. At this moment you may be thinking that you have heard all this before. But in politics, we must never be afraid to repeat a good message. So let me give you four reasons.
The first reason is that the ratification of the Treaty will allow all of us to focus on policies and on concrete results. Institutions are important as means, not as ends. Lisbon puts this debate behind us. We have spent too much time, over the last six years, discussing institutions and treaties. Let's now spend our energy on the right policies to tackle Europe's challenges. This is what our citizens expect from us.
Secondly, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and its successful implementation will pave the way for a more democratic and more transparent Union. We will be more accountable and responsive to our citizens. And they will be better able to exercise their rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Moreover, with the new Treaty, the European Parliament and the national parliaments will exert a stronger influence on the decision-making process. National parliaments, in particular, will see their rights increased. You may already have such an influence here in Finland, but I firmly believe that general application of this principle will reinforce accountability and subsidiarity in Europe.
Thirdly, and you understand this very well here in Finland, this is the first Treaty of an enlarged Union. For the first time, countries that once belonged to two different 'Europes' are now united in support of a common treaty that they negotiated and signed together.
Rome was the Treaty for a divided Europe recovering from a war.
Maastricht was the Treaty for a Europe in transition from one age to the other.
Lisbon is the Treaty that consolidates an enlarged Europe.
This leads me to the final reason.
Over the last 50 years, Europe has fully overcome the enormous challenges it has faced at continental level. It is now a continent that shares peace, freedom, prosperity and democracy from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea, and from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
Over the next 50 years, we shall have to tackle the new challenges now facing us, which are no longer on a continental, but on a global scale. A new Europe to face new challenges needs new tools.
Those tools are more economic and social than institutional, but in Lisbon, we have done the necessary house-keeping to bring European institutions into this century. The Treaty of Lisbon will provide the Union with greater external coherence. Only a stable institutional framework will enable us to take on the new challenges of globalisation. No European country can resolve global problems such as climate change or international terrorism on its own.
So I very much hope we will soon be able to declare the Lisbon Treaty "ratified", including here in Finland, where I want to thank you for the hard work you have been doing, here in the Eduskunta, to ratify the Treaty.
Herra puhemies, hyvat kansandeustajat
I said at the outset that I wanted to leave some time for your comments and questions, so I will end here.