President of the European Commission
Each European Council is different. This one could have been more complicated, taking place at a difficult moment: only one week after the Irish "no" vote, and at a time of growing concern about the surge in food and oil prices.
It was a tribute to the effective chairmanship of Prime Minister Janez Jansa and to the constructive engagement of all Members of the European Council that the meeting found a way to move forward, without the sense of drama that some have tried to suggest. Rather, emphasis was on Member States and European institutions working together to find solutions to both institutional and practical problems of direct concern to citizens.
On the Lisbon Treaty, there was broad consensus around the positions that emerged from our debate in Strasbourg: Nobody challenged the benefits of the Lisbon Treaty, or that Member States had every right to continue ratification – and indeed should be given every encouragement to do so.
It was recognised that the decision in the referendum had to be respected and properly understood, and that some time was needed to agree on the way forward. At the same time, the EU must not be diverted by institutional concerns from delivering its policy agenda for citizens. Returning to the issue at the October European Council was seen as striking the right balance in both allowing the Irish authorities time to analyse and consult, and at the same time recognising that there remains some urgency to find the way ahead.
In the meantime, the European Council showed its determination to press ahead with a policy agenda focused on citizens' needs. In particular, there was a detailed discussion on the contribution the EU could make in the face of rising prices for food and fuel, for which the European Council clearly believes that the Commission Communications on food and oil prices provide the right framework.
There was a lively debate between some Member States who want the EU to focus only on longer term, structural measures, leaving short term measures to the national level, and others who wanted to be able to show to citizens that we are capable of responding to their concerns with specific action at EU as well as national level. I strongly supported the political need to show that we are ready to act to counter the impact of high oil and food prices on the most vulnerable in our society. Indeed I confirmed our intention to bring forward the proposals I outlined last week in Strasbourg, notably the extension of EU support to food to the most deprived inside the EU, support to agriculture in developing countries, and the package to help fishermen facing the need to restructure.
And of course, Member States have a variety of tools available at national level in the tax and social security system to bring help that do not require Community action.
I don't see a contradiction between the need for a structural response and the need for immediate help to those in need.
Such measures can bring real help. But they work best if they are properly targeted and coordinated – and in particular if they are well attuned to our long-term interests.
That is why I was particularly pleased that the European Council gave strong backing to pressing on with the package on climate change and energy security. As we discussed last week, the best way to make us less vulnerable to oil shocks in the future is to be less dependent. And the best way to be less dependent is to pursue exactly the route of more energy efficiency, and more energy produced inside the EU, that we mapped out in the proposals in January. I know that the Parliament is giving particular attention to the package, and it is important for the three institutions to work effectively to progress the package towards agreement as soon as possible.
As you know, the Commission has been making clear that the internal market for energy is critically important for a comprehensive policy addressing climate change. Indeed, one policy cannot go on without the other. That is why it is important to note the broad agreement reached on essential elements of the internal market legislative package, in particular on the issue of effective separation of supply and production activities from network operations in the gas and electricity sectors. In its conclusions, the European council urges the Council and the European parliament to reach final agreement on the package before the end of the current legislative term.
I am particularly delighted that the European Council backed another important long-term measure in the shape of agreement to locate the European Institute of Innovation and Technology in Budapest. Research on climate change and energy efficiency will be top of its list.
Among many other issues we discussed at this European Council, I would mention the western Balkans, the Mediterranean Union, the Eastern Partnership and the Millennium development goals. Let me underline the importance of this last point. The European Council strongly reaffirms its commitment to see annual EU ODA reach over 66 billion € in 2010. At least half of this collective increase will be allocated to Africa. Following a Commission proposal, Member States were encouraged to establish their indicative timetables illustrating how they aim to achieve their annual ODA targets.
Let me conclude with a tribute to the Slovenian Presidency and its remarkable achievements during its tenure. Your commitment, your intellectual and political honesty and fairness have been key to ensuring the progress we have seen over the last 6 months on a large number of key files. Il all member states show these same qualities, I have no doubt that we can overcome the current difficulties.
Ladies & gentlemen, this European Council faced unexpected pressures. It was able to adjust swiftly to the new realities, and reach a consensus about the way forward. The result has shown a resilient and resourceful European Union, one which is determine to stay the course of delivering the right results for our citizens.