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European Commissioner for Competition
Europe – Good for Women and Good for Ireland
"Women for Europe" Event
Dublin, 16 July 2009
I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in many different places during my career so far. I began by criss-crossing Europe with my family's transport business – and I've been criss-crossing Europe ever since.
I'm a trained economist and I've worked in business and academia. I've been involved in politics in my home state
In 2004 I was appointed to the European Commission as the Commissioner in charge of Competition. My role as Competition Commissioner is about creating and maintaining a level playing field – and that is an image we know well from gender issues too.
But when I look at what Europe can do to improve lives, I think about how it can keep Europe from unravelling in the face of the crisis. And my grand-daughter is a great motivation: I want to use the opportunities of the EU to make sure she isn't left with terrible debts or with another banking disaster.
As women we juggle so many roles – it helps us to see these issues from more angles. Don't be afraid to talk about those other roles and angles in your campaign – that is one excellent way to connect with all the undecided women.
Thank you for inviting me here today. I applaud the initiative that you are taking here, to make sure that the real messages of the Lisbon treaty get through to the Irish voters.
At the end of the day politics is about numbers as well as ideas – with 56% of women voting 'no' last time, I think your group is essential for turning those numbers around.
I understand the difficulties that you are facing. In my home state of the Netherlands, a referendum was held in 2005 which lead to the rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty. At the end of the day, the Dutch did not reject the Treaty because they were not good Europeans, but because the 'yes' campaign could not untangle its messages from national issues and from apathy – so every minute spent untangling those messages is a boost to the 'yes' campaign.
Europe helps lift standards and pushes national governments to make the right choices, which are sometimes hard to make in the face of entrenched local interests.
EU legislation has ensured equal rights for women in the workplace: rights to equal pay, rights to maternity leave, rights for part-time workers, and rights against discrimination.
The EU has been at the forefront of advocating and promoting fairness, promoting equality through practical programmes and funding, fighting against harassment and violence against women. It also promotes access to employment, training and support for female entrepreneurs.
The EU has strengthened education and the social safety net – and expanded opportunities – these changes are the bedrock of solid families and effective freedoms.
Europe promotes fairness and provides greater opportunities through the single market.
In fact, Ireland is a good example of the benefits of the single market, because through EU funding and support, Ireland's economy has been completely transformed.
Today, Ireland is one of the most prosperous Member States in Europe and it can successfully compete with its European neighbours and in the global market place.
The European Single market gives us:
The economic crisis is truly global. And while global solutions aren't always practical – we do at least need European solutions.
Otherwise – how else will we keep the single market together? I believe Europe already has the medium-term and long-term policy settings right: an efficient single market that fosters equality of opportunities rather than outcomes. This is what has delivered us the most prosperity for the longest period of time in Europe's history.
The challenge for the EU now is to avoid public interventions which undermine the level playing field that we have created for European companies. This means avoiding protectionist measures which fragment the Internal Market along national lines.
We all sink or swim together. Now I don't have all the answers, but I am sure that we can all cope better together than we each could alone.
Like anyone running a family – the EU needs to make tough, quick decisions that benefit the whole family.
We did that with our Economic recovery plan, and our bank rescues and now we need to clean the banks up once and for all. What's more, business and political leaders need to step up! We need them to transform themselves to respond to the crisis. In order to restore confidence in the markets we need them to be rational and accountable and we need to create open, transparent and honest business environments.
For me, women have a fundamental role to play here. Women account for nearly 60% of university graduates in Europe but their employment rate is 21% lower than that of men. We need to make sure that Europe is making the most efficient use of its human resources so that we can create long term stability and economic growth. This means more women in the workforce, more women in the boardroom and more women in politics.
I've often been quoted as saying that the collapse of Lehman Brothers would never have happened if there'd been Lehman Sisters there with them! Why? Because women managers are naturally more risk adverse and they think about the long-term. They balance out the views of their male colleagues, which gives a wider range of perspectives. In fact, studies show that the more women there were in a company's management, the less the company's share price fell when the downturn came.
Ireland has given State aid of over €400billion to its banks to stabilise the financial services sector.
In addition, between 2007 and 2013, Ireland will receive a further €1501.44 million in Structural funding for investment in growth and jobs and the elimination of regional disparities.
What's more, only around 42% of Irish women are currently in employment, which means that there is a large pool of untapped talent out there…
For Ireland, full economic recovery depends on stimulating exports and foreign direct investment as 50% of Irish exports are into the EU, which is a market of half a billion people.
So, the future importance of the EU to the Irish economy should not be underestimated, especially when media reports are focussing on the downturn in the US and the weakening dollar.
Saying yes to Lisbon means Europe can function efficiently – like a 21 st century organisation.
When the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, we will be able to do more to abolish restrictions on trade, both within the EU and internationally. We will be able to do more to stimulate exports and more to encourage investment in RandD.
We plan to achieve these goals through removing the remaining barriers to the internal market for services, which will help exports and encourage further investment in the EU.
Internationally, we plan to appoint a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will give the EU a single face and a single voice on the world stage. We want to negotiate development aid to open up new markets in third countries and to attract more FDI.
For my part, what I would say to you all is this: Never underestimate the influence that you have on those around you. As I look around this room, I see passionate, successful, intelligent women. I see role models.
Because, you see, you don't have to be a celebrity to be a role model. You don’t even need to be on TV or in the newspapers. The biggest difference we can make on a daily basis is to the people around us- in our work places, in our communities and amongst our families and friends.
So now is not the time to get cold feet. It's time to get the message out there, that Europe has been good for Ireland. And you are the people to do it.