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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso at the press conference following the European Council

Press conference

Brussels, 25 March 2011

This morning our discussion focused on Japan and more generally, nuclear safety.

We express our solidarity with the Japanese people who are dealing with this crisis with great courage and dignity.

The European Union is doing all it can to help. In the last days we have responded to Japan's call specific in-kind assistance to bring relief to the Japanese people.

It is important to say that radiation levels in Europe have not changed, but of course we are following these issues with great care.

The terrible events in Japan remind us that while we have very different views and situations in the EU regarding nuclear energy, we must be united on the issue of nuclear safety. We need to ensure that the highest nuclear safety standards are respected. The Commission has called for a comprehensive safety and risk assessment to be done at all nuclear power plants in Europe and neighbouring countries. These must be done on the basis of clear, common and transparent criteria. This has been fully endorsed today

The Commission will work with the European Nuclear Safety Regulatory Group and all other relevant bodies and authorities in developing the modalities of these safety assessments. I believe the role of the Commission is essential to ensure the credibility of this exercise working of course hand in hand with the independent national regulators. The European Council will assess initial findings by the end of 2011 on the basis of a report by the Commission. We are also calling on Member States to implement the new Directive on nuclear safety in full, and to adopt rapidly the Commission proposal on nuclear waste.

We also need to strengthen international standards and we will make concrete proposals in the upcoming review of the global convention on nuclear safety. We have also decided to put this very high in our priorities when dealing with third countries, namely our neighbours.

I would like to highlight the very important, I would say historic, conclusions of this European Council regarding economic policy and economic governance.

Today we have endorsed very important conclusions on economic governance and I believe this can be a major change. We have reinforced our monetary union with an economic union.

I think we can say that the economic and monetary union will finally stand on both legs.

In concrete terms, we have agreed a course of action with clear priorities for economic policy, where Member States take clear commitments to strengthen fiscal discipline, financial stability, competitiveness, employment and growth, which are agreed by all. And this will be topped-up with a Pact for the Euro or a Euro plus pact for the seventeen members of the euro area, but also the member states that are going to join in the first phase - Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia.

On the basis of the Commission's Annual Growth Survey, the European semester of ex-ante coordination of budgetary and economic policy is well underway. The ball is now firmly in the court of the Member States. It is now up to them to present ambitious national reform programmes implementing the Europe 2020 goals by the end of April. This requires real ownership and drive from within each Member State. I want to underline this point, because as you know this point was very often discussed regarding the post-Lisbon strategy. The need of the real ownership by our Member States in terms of national reform programs and what they can do to achieve goals that have been commonly agreed. This point was also highlighted in the conclusions. We will be vey objective but at the same time firm in the analysis of Member States' commitments and we will of course work carefully on the recommendations we will make.

And we also have agreed an effective backstop mechanism (ESM) to guarantee the stability of the euro area. The "operational features" of the permanent Stability Mechanism were confirmed; in particular it will have the capacity to provide assistance of up to 500 billion euro. In the unlikely event we need it, we have the real firepower in place. I am confident this will not be the case because of the new governance system we are now putting in place.

The reinforced surveillance system is based on our six-pack of proposals made on 29 September. The European Parliament will set its position in April. Then negotiations can focus on reaching a final deal in June. The end-result can only be stronger and I think now we are really very close to finalise all this architecture of stronger economic governance, not only for the euro area, but indeed for the European Union.

This is a very good result for Europe, a result that reinforces the community approach. I was also pleased during today's discussion to see the strong support for our efforts to stimulate growth with deepening of the single market. We will present in April the Single Market Act with a key set of 12 priority proposals. There was today a clear commitment of all Member States to reinforce the actions through the deepening of the single market so that we can boost growth and jobs in the European Union.

So, all in all very successful European Council.

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