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President of the European Commission
Swedish Parliament speech
It is an honour for me to address this House and I am especially pleased and grateful for the chance to make a direct contribution to the debate in Sweden on the future of Europe. It is particularly appropriate that I should do so in the Riksdag, which represents the Swedish people, who I would like to reach out to at this critical juncture of European politics.
The first thing I wish to say to all Swedes is that the Commission is determined to deliver results on the main concerns of 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 Sweden. Your country is a great example to others on issues which are a priority for the Union, such as economic competitiveness, social justice, the environment and also the way it faces globalization.
The Swedish experience is at the heart of Europe. Your economic growth, consistently one of the highest in Europe, and your innovative social reforms are widely recognised and admired beyond your borders. It serves as an inspiration to many in the European Union.
The Commission has developed an excellent relation with the Swedish government. This morning we had a very fruitful meeting and it is clear that we share many views on crucial European issues, such as Lisbon Strategy of growth and jobs, the energy/climate change package and the need for an open and global Europe. I am committed to work closely with the Swedish government to prepare the EU Presidency in the second half of 2009.
I would also like to take the opportunity to emphasise the commitment and the support of the Swedish Commissioner, Vice-President Wallstrom, who works closely with me on the institutional development of the Union and who is strongly engaged in communicating Europe in a more transparent way to our citizens and in developing the relations between the Commission and national parliaments.
The renewed Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment offers an outstanding example of how Europe can produce results that have a tangible impact on the lives of its citizens. That is why it has been a top priority of my Commission from the beginning.
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 despite the current financial turmoil. Economic reforms under the Lisbon Strategy have made our economies fitter and more resilient.
These facts justify confidence, especially in countries like yours which have pursued economic reform and budgetary restraint. Sweden is an excellent performer in terms of the Lisbon Strategy: growth has been consistently good in recent years and is forecast to continue exceeding 3%.
The Lisbon Strategy aims at a European economy based on three principles: dynamism, openness and innovation.
Greater economic dynamism means reforming and modernising our social models, in full respect of the principles of justice and solidarity.
I am sure you would agree 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.
This approach is making progress in Europe. Only last October, European employers and unions reached an important agreement at the Tripartite Social Summit. This agreement, which lays down the principle of flexicurity, represents major progress towards achieving the goals of the Lisbon Strategy and modernising the labour market, while at the same time upholding the European social model.
I invite Sweden to take the lead and encourage other Member States to pursue the reforms mapped out in the Lisbon Strategy.
An open economy is the second goal of the Lisbon Strategy. The internal market is the central mechanism for opening up the European economy and stimulating competitiveness. The reinforcement of the European common market provides citizens with a practical demonstration of European added value. When the Union adopts measures which directly improve lives of 500 million Europeans, our citizens see the benefits of an open market. The reduction in roaming charges for mobile phones is a perfect illustration of this.
Let me state clearly that the Commission remains committed to achieving an internal market that operates smoothly, but one which also fully respects diverse national traditions, and different social models, within the limits set by Community law.
I know that you have paid close attention to the judgment by the European Court of Justice in the Laval case. It is very important to emphasise that 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. It also confirms that the trade unions are able to take actions to combat social dumping, provided this is done within the limits set out by the Community law. I also welcome the fact that the Swedish authorities and the Swedish social partners are now discussing the issue.
To be successful, a dynamic and open economy requires innovation. The Lisbon Strategy is set to enter a new cycle soon which will be more oriented towards 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. We must work hard to ensure that no one is left behind. That is why the Lisbon Strategy is also emphasising support for early school leavers and lifelong learning.
The emphasis on education and skills led the Commission to propose 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. The construction of a common European area of knowledge and innovation has been given a decisive boost by the recent approval of the Galileo project and the European Institute of Technology.
The fight against global warming is undoubtedly the main challenge of this century and the key issue on which future generations will judge our own. Energy is the motor of our societies and will remain so in the future. So it has a crucial place in the European project, just as it did in the early days of the Union.
My Commission is proud to have put forward last month a package of legislative proposals on energy and climate change that can be regarded as historic: it is not only the most important European action plan for the 21st century, but the world's most comprehensive and ambitious project to combat global warming.
Stepping up energy efficiency, cutting emissions and increasing the use of renewables are 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 also a fair and balanced action plan that takes account of the various interests and resources at stake in the different Member States. Overall, the plan has received a favourable reception from the Governments of the Member States, including the Swedish Government.
Sweden 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.
It is also quite encouraging to learn that 95% of Swedes believe that the EU must act to combat climate change. Your country grasped what is at stake: we face crucial choices as to the kind of societies we want to leave to our children and future generations. I count on your support.
The ambitious binding targets proposed by the Commission strengthen Europe's legitimacy 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. When the candidates to the American elections discuss climate change and the need to do something, they always refer to the example of Europe. The words are often, 'we need to join Europe in the fight against climate change'. This is an example of European inspiration and leadership.
With the invaluable contribution of Sweden, the European Union will be in an even better position to lead international negotiations on a global climate change agreement in 2009. I am hopeful that an international agreement would be reached during the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, when the UN conveys the Copenhagen climate change meeting.
I arrive at last to the Treaty of Lisbon. This is not the moment 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 as Plato once put it, "on the same fundamental things, say always the same things". Let me then 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. We spent too much time, in 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. This will reinforce accountability and subsidiarity in Europe.
Since its early days, this Commission has been strongly committed to talking and working with national parliaments. In the context of our Plan D, of democracy, dialogue, and debate, I have had the privilege of visiting 18 national parliaments – if you include my intervention today and my visit to the Latvian parliament tomorrow. Moreover, all the Commissioners of the College have already made 206 visits to national parliaments. No other Commission in the history of European integration has addressed national parliaments so many times.
This Commission has always welcomed a greater role for national parliaments. As proof of this, we implemented measures to closer associate national parliaments to the European political process. In May 2006, I announced the intention of the Commission to transmit its new proposals and consultation papers to the national parliaments, inviting them to react so as to improve the process of policy formulation. Since September 2006, this new Commission mechanism has been working in a smooth way. On 31 December 2007, the Commission had received 167 opinions from 27 national Houses, from 17 Member States, including your own Parliament, one of the most active.
Our analysis so far of the results led us to draw a very positive assessment of this new process. Our contacts with national parliaments suggest that they have found the new mechanism useful in three ways: it provides an opportunity for them to take a more pro-active attitude about European issues; it reinforces the right of information; and it allows them to better scrutinize their own governments. The interest of national parliaments in using this new mechanism is also proof of their commitment to the European Union.
Thirdly, 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.
This leads me to the final reason.
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 facing Europe in the context of globalisation. Have no doubts: no European country can resolve global problems such as climate change or international terrorism on its own.
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.
For various reasons, 2008 and 2009 will be decisive years for Europe, both internally and externally. In the second half of 2009, Sweden will take over the Presidency of the European Council, hopefully, after the new Treaty of Lisbon is ratified. For that reason – among others – Sweden will be called on to play a special part in a crucial stage in the European project.
It will be the responsibility of the members of this House and all national leaders to explain to the Swedish people the issues at stake in a global Europe, where promoting the European interest also means defending Swedish interests.
I would like to conclude by once again emphasising the contribution of Sweden to our common European project. I believe, if I may say so, that I have some personal legitimacy to make this judgment because – and this may come as a surprise to most of you – I was one of the signatories of Sweden´s Accession Treaty in 1994.
Since 1995, Sweden has provided a very relevant contribution: your commitment to transparency in public life, to fiscal and budgetary responsibility, to protecting the environment and fighting climate change, to supporting non-discrimination and gender equality, and to an open economy and overall open Europe are some of the many ways in which Sweden left a positive mark in the European Union.
In twenty first century Europe, those that act and contribute in a responsible and committed way are the truly great countries. I trust Sweden will continue its role as one of the great countries of the European Union.