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President of the European Commission
The European Council starting tomorrow has a heavy agenda, covering many issues where citizens expect Europe to act: the surge in oil and food prices; climate change, energy security; migration and asylum, to name but a few.
But of course, foremost on everybody's minds will be the no vote in Ireland.
This no vote was a disappointment to all those in favour of a stronger, more efficient and accountable European Union. The Lisbon Treaty remains essential to help us respond to the challenges that Europe faces today.
To have a more democratic Union, increasing the powers of the European Parliament and recognizing the role of national parliaments in European politics.
To enhance Europe's capacity to act in areas like migration, energy, climate change and internal security.
To increase Europe's coherence and effectiveness on the global stage.
These challenges have not gone away. The truth is that the no vote did not solve the problems which the Treaty seeks to tackle.
For the last six years, we have spent a lot of energy on institutional issues. With so many key issues pressing for action today, we cannot afford this energy to go to waste. And the world does not stop and wait for Europe.
As I said last week, I fully respect the outcome of the Irish referendum. We must show the same respect for all national ratifications, whether they have chosen to take the route of referendum, or of parliamentary ratification. There have been nineteen democratic decisions in the process so far: eighteen in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon; one against. Eight other Member States still have to take position.
The Irish government has set out clearly their respect for the right of other countries to continue their ratification processes. An Irish vote decides on the Irish position, but cannot determine the position of other countries. I expect the Member States that did not ratify the Lisbon Treaty to continue their own ratification processes.
The European Council gives us all an opportunity to listen very carefully to what Prime Minister Cowen will say. Then we must work very closely with the Irish government to help solve this problem. Let me be clear: Ireland has a responsibility to contribute to finding a solution. When governments sign a Treaty, they assume a responsibility to have it ratified. But let me be equally clear: this is a time for us to be serious about solidarity. 27 Member States signed the Treaty. We must make every effort to make sure that 27 Member States find the way forward. But Member States are equal in their dignity and we should be clear about that.
This will take time and effort, for the Irish, but also for all of us. I do not think that we can rush into a premature decision about the next steps. We need to take the time to find a real consensus, and see what is possible for Ireland. But equally, we should not take too long. I know that this Parliament is keen to give voters clarity on the way forward by the time of the European elections.
The European Commission and, I am sure, this Parliament, are ready to make their contribution. But there is no way around the fact that governments have a particular responsibility:
in signing the Treaty
in making sure it is ratified
in promoting the European project in their national public opinions.
And on this last point, let me make a general comment: years of treating the European Institutions as a convenient scapegoat leaves fertile ground for populist campaigns. In the end, it only serves to make life easy for the euro-sceptics. As I said before, you cannot bash Brussels or Strasbourg from Monday to Saturday and expect citizens to vote in favour of Europe on Sunday.
Tomorrow in the European Council I will also stress that the no vote must not be a reason for the EU to fall into the trap of institutional navel-gazing. We have made important progress in the past couple of years, and it has been on the back of a determined effort to deliver policies in the interests of European citizens. At a time when rising food and oil prices are leading to great expectations for action, we cannot afford to abandon this path. That is why I very much welcome Prime Minister Jansa's and the Slovenian Presidency's decision to ring-fence the debate on Lisbon to the dinner on Thursday night, and to devote the rest of the European Council to furthering our policy agenda.
Today, everyone is feeling the pressure of price rises on food and fuel. But for some, there is an extra burden. For poorer households, these costs are a bigger share of the household budget, so the rises hit even harder. The same is true for some economic activities, with fuel so critical for some industries.
In two communications on food and oil prices, the Commission has made a careful analysis of the causes of the price rises, of where the squeeze is most intense, and of what we can and should do.
The European Union needs to show that it is bringing to bear the full range of measures available at European and national level. We need to take a dynamic and imaginative look at the tools at our disposal – to look at what will have a real impact in the short, medium and long term. Let us remember previous oil shocks, where Europe failed to learn the long-term lessons.
To alleviate problems on food inside the EU, we will come forward with proposals to extend our scheme to distribute food to the most deprived. We foresee a two thirds increase in budget for this specific area.
In addition, the EU has tools which can and will be brought to bear: to monitor prices, to use competition powers to check the food supply chain, boosting research, and ensuring that the CAP is well attuned to the current realities of the agricultural market.
As for oil prices, immediate steps are justified to help the most hard-pressed households, but it would be futile for governments to use public money to offset energy price rises that are here most likely to stay. We should also look at the levers available to the EU in areas like competition and taxation. The Commission will come up with proposals to increase transparency in emergency and commercial oil stocks. We will come with proposals on taxation to support and facilitate the transition to a low carbon economy. We will support a high level meeting of producers and consumers of oil.
Specifically on fisheries, we will come forward with an emergency package to address problems of economic and social hardship, allowing Member States to give short term emergency aid, and we will look again at the rules on small-scale state aid. But three points here. First, we must be coordinated – we should avoid a rash of national initiatives which simply displace the problems elsewhere in the Union. Secondly, we must target our alleviation efforts on the worst hit segments of the fleet. And thirdly, we must find structural solutions to overcapacity in the fishing industry.
The pressures being faced by Europeans today show why the EU's goals on energy security, energy efficiency and climate change are so crucial to the well-being of European society and this why they are more urgent than they ever were. As demand continues to outstrip supply in oil and gas, the goals agreed last year provide a ready-made path to reduce Europe's vulnerability and to reduce the economic pain of future price hikes. The key aspects of the package of proposals now being actively considered by this Parliament will make a decisive contribution.
The structural response to the structural challenges we face is to save and diversify. Saving is about increasing energy efficiency where we have a huge unexploited potential. Diversification covers both sources and geographical origin of energy. Both are about increasing Europe's energy security. Adoption of our climate change and energy security package is therefore a matter of urgency. We need a political agreement by December at the latest.
That will be the task of the European Council this week. To show that setbacks like the no vote do not mean paralysis for Europe. To show that we will find the right way to secure the efficient and democratic Europe the Treaty has been designed to deliver. The world is changing, competition is tougher than ever. We need a Europe that works for citizens, on issues they care about: growth and jobs, climate change, energy, migration, terrorism.
We must not fall into the trap of pessimism or "crisophilie". The case for an effective European union is stronger than ever.