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Vice-President of the European Commission - Responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration

Statements on the European Council meeting of 16 September

European Parliament plenary session

Strasbourg, 22 September 2010

The Parliament has always been clear that one of the main goals of the Lisbon Treaty is to make the EU stronger on the international stage. The Commission shares this goal to the full. Maximising the EU's voice is good for Europe, and I believe, good for the world as well. It allows us to promote our interests, to uphold our values, and to make our contribution to worldwide efforts to address common challenges from climate change to security, from shortage of resources to pulling out of economic crisis. We have opportunities, and we have responsibilities, and the Lisbon Treaty has given us the tools to secure our goals in both.

As we all know, this is "work in progress". At home, we need to learn how to use the Lisbon structures to best effect. With our partners, we need to show that the EU is a convincing interlocutor. This does not happen overnight. But last week's European Council was an important stepping stone to this objective.

In the nine months since the entry into force of Lisbon, we have made important steps forward. Baroness Ashton is now established as a voice for Europe in the global arena. With the support of this Parliament, and I believe we will soon have the European External Action Service up and running. The EU institutions have gradually taken over functions of the rotating Presidency for representation and coordination.

The European Council identified the next steps, both on procedure and on substance.

In particular, there was a recognition that EU had to do more to achieve a more consistent and coherent policy towards strategic partners. It made a start, looking at China specifically.

It was very important that the European Council will come back to the task of building a common approach on a regular basis. We all know some of the problems faced. That a lack of prioritisation, “Christmas-tree” approach, suggests to our partners that we cannot agree what we really want. And that discordant messages between the EU and the Member States undermine our message.

We need to reach a position where, when President Van Rompuy and President Barroso speak for the EU at summits, they do so with the authority that comes from a genuine consensus, a combined commitment of the EU and the Member States to a shared agenda.

So the Commission believes that it was an important first step to recognise the need to identify specific interests in relation to each of our strategic partners, and how to deliver the same consistent messages.

We need to start applying this spirit to the key summits this autumn – with China, India, Russia and of course the United States – as well as for the G20, the Asia-Europe Meeting and the EU-Africa summit. And of course, all these events need the democratic dimension brought by the interest of this Parliament.

Trade was recognised as a key issue. It was a powerful symbol that in the margins of the European Council, agreement was finalised on the EU's far-reaching Free Trade Agreement with Korea. This shows what is possible – an agreement which was not easy, but which holds out the prospect of huge commercial benefits.

It was also agreed that we should find ways through trade to help Pakistan. Of course we are already doing a lot in terms of humanitarian aid, and development aid will be crucial to reconstruction. But it is also right that we should help the longer-term prospects of the Pakistan economy through trade measures. The Commission will be making specific proposals next month.

The forthcoming French chairmanship of the G20 and G8 was also identified as a particularly good opportunity to ensure that European objectives were prominent. The Commission is committed to using this as an important platform for the EU for the coming year.

I also want to say a few words on two other subjects. On economic governance, the work of the Task Force chaired by President Van Rompuy, and the preparation of detailed proposals by the Commission, mean that we have come a long way since May. The Commission will put proposals on the table next week. Now is the right time for us to launch the co-decision phase, to start detailed examination of legislative proposals with a view to having the new system in place by the middle of next year. I know that the Parliament is fully conscious of the desirability to start quickly on your examination of these proposals.

The package will have three objectives. First, to reinforce Member States' compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact. Second, to broaden economic surveillance to tackle imbalances. Third, to make economic surveillance work better through incentives for compliance, and financial sanctions – progressive, fairly-applied, and coming early enough to work effectively. This adds up to a major reinforcement of the credibility of our economic governance, for the Euro area in particular.

This agenda will be deepened still further when the Task Force makes its final report to the European Council next month. Finally, the issue of the Roma. I simply want to make one point. The Commission has a responsibility here as the guardian of the Treaties. Our responsibilities are clear, and we will not compromise on respect for Community law, and we will defend our European values in full.

So we have been looking at whether EU law has been respected on free movement, and on anti-discrimination. We are now in a phase of legal analysis. Very soon this analysis will be looked at by the College itself.

But we must no forget what the very important, even essential, point of this discussion is: how to alleviate the plight of Roma people and support their integration.

Therefore, in parallel, we are looking at how to follow up on our April proposals to use EU funds to give real help to the integration of the Roma. We have set up a Task Force to look at how we can take tangible steps to support inclusion. The Task Force meets for the first time this morning, and will give its first findings by the end of the year. I know that this Parliament will want to be kept informed about progress on a regular basis.

To conclude, this European Council discussed how we can reinforce our capacity to act – externally and internally – to deliver better results for EU citizens. On all these subjects, the Union's institutions and instruments have been shown to be working as the Treaty intends. The Commission looks forward to cooperate with this Parliament to deepen this work and to ensure the effective delivery of our policies.

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