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Olli Rehn

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement

European elections and the challenges ahead

Helsinki, 10 February 2009

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank the City of Pori ant MTV3 for organising this Winter Arena. I hope we can generate at least half of the swing that the summer arena of the Pori Jazz is usually known for! The speech of President Pöttering certainly paves the way for that.

As the European elections approach, we must ask ourselves: What do our citizens expect from us – from the European Union?

For me it is clear that the economic crisis is the first and foremost concern of the Europeans today. Its impact on jobs, incomes and public services worries our citizens deeply. They expect the EU to respond to their concerns – and rightly so.

For the EU, the top priority now is to prevent the economic downturn from turning into a long and deep recession – even depression. To prevent this, we need a policy for rapid and coordinated economic recovery. Last autumn the EU took the initiative with the lead of Presidents Sarkozy and Barroso.

We adopted an economic recovery package worth 200 billion euros just before Christmas. Finland has since taken decisions to this effect. I hope all member states will follow suit.

While dealing with the economic crisis, the EU is also responding to the citizens' concerns of the climate change.

On a personal note, I can tell President Pöttering that I shared a strange new experience with many fellow Finns last year: It was the first time ever that there was not enough snow for cross-country skiing in Eastern Finland during the winter holidays.

The EU is ready for the climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The support of the European Parliament for the climate package was crucial. I trust the United States, led by President Obama, and other major economies will join us to make a change.

Energy has moved to the top of the EU's agenda. EU mediation in the gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine was crucial to reach a compromise. Without the EU, people might still be waiting for the gas to flow today!

Next, we need decisions to increase our energy security. This will be done by completing the single market, investing in interconnections and ensuring a broad energy mix.

Thus, the citizens especially expect us to provide credible answers to these 3 E's: the economy, the environment and energy.

Let's all work together to make this a European success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Commission is strongly committed to the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. Once in force, it will make the European Union more democratic and effective and reinforce our common foreign policy. Although the EU has evolved as a foreign policy actor in the past 20 years, many things could be done better. I feel this every day in my job as the Commissioner responsible for Southeastern Europe.

Let me look back to the year 2004. I was attending the parliamentary hearings – which President Pöttering will remember well – and was asked what my programme as the Enlargement Commissioner for the next five years would look like.

I said I wanted to deliver on the following six objectives, to be achieved after the present five-year term by the end of 2009:

In 2009 there would be an EU of 27 member states.

Accession process with Croatia would reach its final stage.

The other Western Balkan countries would be firmly locked into the European orientation by Association Agreements.

Turkey would be firmly on a European track.

Kosovo's status would be settled.

And Cyprus would be reunified.

Looking back at the past years, we have achieved five out of these six goals set in 2004. We have done so by working together with the European Parliament and the Council. And by the way, there is now encouraging progress also in Cyprus – our priority this year.

So what next? Here, I want to underline that even the fastest scenario for the next accession of a new member state is still clearly slower than the slowest envisaged scenario for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Yet, the essential thing is that our policy of stabilisation is kept on track, even if it is certainly not any kind of a bullet train, not even a Pendolino. In the Balkans, the European perspective has been instrumental in taming extreme nationalism and stabilising peace through democratic and economic transformation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As President Pöttering rightly mentioned, the role of the European Parliament has become ever stronger. In Finland, we have a long and proud parliamentary tradition, even vocation. Thus, I urge every citizen to make her or his voice heard. Please exercise your citizen rights and vote on the 7th of June.

This year marks a historic, double-anniversary. 20 years ago, we saw the Iron Curtain crumble and the Berlin Wall come down. Germany was reunified, and we saw peaceful democratic change in central and Eastern Europe. And in May this year, we will celebrate the 5th anniversary of the reunification of Europe.

Today's Europe is truly whole and free. Let's keep it that way.

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