José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Opening remarks by President Barroso at the Friends of Europe working dinner
Friends of Europe working dinner
Brussels, 14 October 2010
I would like to start by thanking Friends of Europe for inviting me to be with you this evening, with my good friend, Étienne Davignon, and all of you.
I think it would be very hard for you to listen to a speech after this dinner so I'm going to start, before we move on to the debate, by giving you my candid assessment of where Europe is now and where Europe should be.
Let's think, first of all, where we were one year ago. It's been an incredible year. One year ago, the Lisbon Treaty was not in force, there was no Commission, the Commission was just "gestion d'affaires courantes", and since then we have seen this big crisis of sovereign debt and we have seen all the answers that we have been able to provide.
So my assessment, to put it simply, is the following: we are now solid on substance but still fluid in terms of process and communication. Solid on substance because we were able to give a strong response to the crisis. I remember when I had to give some interviews, on American television, to explain that the euro is not going to disappear. No, this is not the end of the European Union! Because at that time, in January, February, March, and even later, there were doubts about the very existence of the euro.
I think today, most people would complain that the euro is too strong.
So those people predicting the demise of the European Union were wrong. And if we indulge in a little feedback exercise and think, would it have been possible one year ago to predict that the European Union Member States would agree on having a supervisory package, a supervisory architecture for the financial market, most people would say no. And we have it now – based on a proposal I made to the Council and to the Parliament, based on the work of the de Larosière committee.
If we had asked one year ago if it was possible for the European Union to present a set of proposals for the regulation of financial markets, most people would not have believed it; nor the recent proposals on economic governance. And I believe that these are going to be the basis for the future of the governance of the euro area and the European Union, trying to match European monetary union with European economic union.
If you had asked, one year ago, anybody, internally or externally, would the European Union be ready to mobilise 1 trillion dollars, so EUR 500 billion, directly from the member states and the community budget, add to that a possible further EUR 250 billion from the IMF (where the European Union and the United States are the biggest contributors)? Most people would say it would not be possible. But it was possible.
That is why I say, on substance we were showing that we were committed to a response to the crisis and are committed now to stepping away from crisis management towards structural reform.
And I think the blueprint we have now, around Europe 2020 but not only Europe 2020, in terms of linking fiscal consolidation and structural reform, and investing in new sources of growth, is the right one for Europe.
Because Europeans are now ready, after what has probably been the most challenging times throughout the existence of the European Community, where there was a real existential crisis in Europe, not only for the euro area but for the Union as a whole, where our solidarity was put under great stress - the real stress test was not felt by the banks, it was felt by the European Union as a project – I think now we have this blueprint that can give us an answer.
Investing in new sources of growth, structural reform, based also on fiscal consolidation, with many initiatives which, since most of you are real experts in, I'm not going to detail tonight.
Where I believe there is still some fluidity, and where our achievements are not yet so solid, is in process and communication.
I'm not speaking now just about the Lisbon Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty is still in a transitional phase, let's be absolutely honest about it. When major changes such as those of the Lisbon Treaty are introduced, some people have to spend some energy to adapt and we are still in the midst of that transition.
But where I see the biggest changes is now in the need to implement this culture of cooperation, this community approach to all the issues we have been deciding upon. For instance: implementing the so called European Semester, having a real common script with our member states for the governance of the European Union, for sharing common objectives in terms of economic policy. Because we know that, the Lisbon Treaty states it clearly: economic policy is no longer just a matter of national concern, it is a collective concern.
To implement all those reforms, with a common script, while at the same time accepting diversity of situations, this is now the big challenge. That's where we need to make the process work in a proper way with ownership from the European Commission, from the European Parliament and from all our member states because the leadership for Europe cannot come only, as I have always stated, from Brussels or Strasbourg. It has to come also from all the European Union and all the different levels. And this is the biggest challenge.
And also communicating, communicating not in terms of marketing, but communicating in terms of inspiring confidence and leadership. Just before coming, I met with a delegation from Business Europe and one of the leaders of one of the biggest multinationals in terms of retail was telling me about consumer confidence. We cannot have consumer confidence when the leaders are always sending negative messages; where the leaders are systematically giving up to what I call the "intellectual glamour of pessimism".
Today in Europe everybody wants to show that they are smarter by becoming negative regarding Europe and its economy and this is a fundamental mistake. This is not just about the process; it is about the attitude regarding the situation. When we see where we were a year ago, the decisions we took to respond to the crisis and now the more structural decisions that we have taken recently – the proposals on financial markets, the proposals on economic governance; this month we will make proposals for the deepening of the internal market based on a report I have asked from Mario Monti to present; and many other proposals including the budget review that will come next week. When we look at all the clusters where we are going to make proposals, we see that we need a kind of "perfectioning" of our process and our communication and ownership regarding the process and if we do it I am sure we will succeed.
So the point where I want it to be absolutely clear this evening is the following: the current President of the European Commission is fully confident that the European Union will win all its battles. I am absolutely confident not because of any kind of idealism about the European Union, but because I have seen day and night during all these months the leaders working, the leaders not only from the European institutions, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank and in our Member states, sometimes coming from very different positions, but being able to reach a consensus, first to resist the crisis, secondly to lay the foundations for a more structural response.
I believe once again that the crisis is a great opportunity for change and this is the transformational process where Europe is. I want to conclude with this remark of full confidence in the European Union and I will be happy to discuss these issues with you in the debate.
Thank you for your attention.