José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech at the European Parliament Plenary in advance of the European Council
European Parliament Plenary
Brussels, 24 March 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed a very good and timely opportunity for us to meet today one day before this important Spring European Council. We have challenging tasks ahead of us. For these tasks, the fresh and forceful backing from the European Parliament is of great importance. Having said this, I want to thank and congratulate the Parliament for its resolution on Europe 2020 which it adopted in Strasbourg two weeks ago with a broad political support. I also want to thank the Spanish Presidency for the support of Europe 2020 Strategy that has been expressed in many different Council formations.
Now we come to the European Council. Every European Council must do two things. It must show that it is responding to the needs of the moment. And it must work on Europe's long-term strategic framework.
The crisis means several pressing concerns for communities and businesses across Europe.
And as we know, at national level we see public finances under unprecedented strain. The EU must of course tackle these issues, including financial stability, and I will come back to this again later.
But Europe must not make the mistake of neglecting the imperative of working now to bring about long-term change. That is why the European Council will deal with two of our most obvious long-term challenges: our economic future, and climate change.
We have already debated the Europe 2020 Strategy together in this Parliament. Your contribution and your commitment will be indispensible in carrying through our ambitions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
So too will be that of the European Council.
Our level of ambition must be set by the scale of the task ahead. We need to show that the EU is an essential part of the solution. That we have the vision and the coherence to act.
And we must be able to communicate this, to show people that our actions will make a difference where it matters. This is why I believe it is so important that the European Council agrees clear targets this week.
The targets which the Commission has put on the table are carefully chosen. They address the need to increase the level of employment, to invest more in research and innovation, to meet our 20/20/20 climate and energy targets, to improve our educational performance, and to combat poverty.
These five headline targets pinpoint objectives which people can relate to, and show that the EU is leveraging reform in areas that they know are important. This is also about the political will to tackle tough problems.
Of course the targets must be achievable. But they should also require an extra effort compared to the status quo, a recognition by our Member States that change is needed. And I will try to convey to the European Council this sense of urgency.
What is really important is the measures each Member State will take to boost its growth rate and address the shortcomings we all know are there - national measures to address national problems defined according to national circumstances and in full respect of subsidiarity, but set within a common European framework. If there is a lesson from the crisis is that we are all interdependent.
A common framework, too, which is supported and stimulated by particular EU measures, what we call our flagship initiatives.
These flagship proposals will show the EU level acting in critically important areas like the digital agenda, innovation, resource efficiency and industrial policy - and of course in some cases, will also help targets to be achieved at a national level. What we are proposing here is a new departure. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty we can go for a new approach to economic coordination, a reinforced economic governance of Europe – one which gives the freedom necessary to target at the national level, but which brings a strong European dimension, and using all the instruments at European level to kick start the economy. Accepting this approach will be the real test for the European Council. I am encouraged by the results of the Informal European Council. I hope that the leaders will say yes.
I know that this Parliament shares my conviction that climate change is not a subject that can be put on the back burner. We need to keep this top of our agenda.
The EU has been in the lead, and we still are – we have the only reduction commitments clearly backed up with the mechanisms to deliver, we are the number one donors of aid to developing countries on climate issues. So let us move on from soul-searching about Copenhagen and take the initiative once again. We need a clear, unified and ambitious position. That is why the Commission has put forward a Communication setting out the steps needed to reinvigorate international negotiations. At the same time Commissioner Hedegaard has started a set of consultations with our key partners.
So we should make a serious effort to advance at Cancun – building on the very real substance of the Copenhagen Accord. We should keep Kyoto on the agenda, but make clear that it can only be assessed in light of a global agreement and not before. We should step up outreach activities and build trust, most obviously with developing countries – which is why respecting our pledges on fast start finance is so important.
Of course at the same time, we will continue to implement the 20-20-20 package, showing in particular how it is compatible with the work of economic modernisation and reform set out in the 2020 strategy.
These two areas show vividly how Europeans are looking to the EU's political leadership for action. I am convinced that if we have the will to be bold, we can show Europe as the decisive influence in building the right future for our citizens.
It is in the same spirit that I will present to the European Council some of the key challenges for the G20 Summit in Toronto
Financial Stability and Greece
Financial stability and the situation in Greece are not on the formal agenda of this European Council. However, frankly speaking, I cannot see how it is possible for Heads of State and Government, notably those in the Euro area, not to discuss this issue. Let me therefore state our position on this:
Greece is currently in the process of correcting its government excessive deficit. Bringing the deficit down vigorously is crucial and Greece has been taken measures for that effect.
In particular, Greece is taking measures leading to a reduction of its deficit this year by 4% of GDP. Such fiscal effort is in line with the course of action recommended by the Commission and the Council, as acknowledged by the Council on 16 March.
Naturally, Greece's fiscal effort must be continued, it is the only way to secure a lasting reduction in the cost of debt financing.
In response to the economic and financial situation in Greece, the informal meeting of the Heads of State or Government on 11 February stated that, and I quote "Euro area Member States will take determined and coordinated action, if needed, to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole".
The Commission believes, it is now appropriate to create, within the euro area, an instrument for coordinated action which could be used to provide assistance to Greece in case of need. It should be clear that the creation of such a mechanism would not imply its automatic activation. Creating such a mechanism is also a question of responsibility and solidarity. Solidarity is a two way street. Greece is making an economic effort at this point and by supporting these efforts we do not only help Greece but the stability of the Eurozone as a whole.
The framework for coordinated action should be understood as a safety-net to be used only in case that all other means to avoid a crisis have been exhausted, including first and foremost exhausting the scope for policy action at the domestic level.
Beyond technical aspects, any possible solution must reinforce and strengthen the unity and the coherence of the Eurozone and its governance. The world economy needs stability. The Eurozone is a pole of stability, and it is important that its capacity to provide stability is further enhanced. We may need to resort to inter-governmental instruments for some issues, but they need to be embedded into a joint European framework.
Honourable members, it is my firm conviction that the response to the specific challenges will also be a test to the European leaders and to their commitment to the European and Monitory Union. What is at stake is the essential principle of financial stability that is at the centre of the euro, and the euro is one of the most important creations of the European project and the European construction process so far. I hope this issue will be solved in a spirit of responsibility and solidarity: that is the European way to do it.