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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Hungarian Presidency debate

EP Plenary debate

Strasbourg, 19 January 2011

Mr. President,

Mr Prime Minister

Distinguished members of the Hungarian Government,

Distinguished members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The start of 2011 is a historic moment for Hungary, as it takes over the helm of the Council of the European Union for the first time. But it is also a critical moment for the EU as a whole. So the Hungarian Presidency comes at a time that demands a special sense of responsibility regarding the tasks ahead for Europe.

It is particularly appropriate that the Hungarian Presidency has chosen as its motto: ‘Strong Europe’.

And Europe is at its strongest and most effective when we are united; when we act in a coordinated manner, with strong institutions; when we show a common resolve to steer a course though these stormy waters; when we show that by working together, we are capable of finding solutions to the most pressing problems.

This is important to remember, because we are not out of the woods yet. There can be no back-tracking, no return to business as usual. We must implement our reforms without delay and develop the innovative policies needed to make the Europe 2020 vision a reality.

So I look forward to working in partnership with Prime Minister Orbán and with the Hungarian Presidency to make sure that it is a successful one. Let me tell Prime Minister Orbán here and now that he can count on the Commission's full support in this.

At the same time, the Commission hopes very much that it can count on the Hungarian Presidency's support. A fruitful partnership is particularly important in the areas of financial services, economic governance, the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy, energy and the internal market, so I am pleased that the Presidency’s priorities fully reflect this.

A strong partnership with the European Parliament is also essential, as in some cases, fast-tracking of proposals will be important. For example, we must have the new tools for reinforced economic governance at our disposal as soon as possible; there is a clear target set by the European Council to deliver by June 2011. The rhythm of work already set by the Hungarian Presidency and the comments we just heard form the Prime Minister are encouraging in this respect.

As we start this new Presidency, a comprehensive EU agenda and the appropriate governance tools are already in place: the European Semester, the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagship initiatives, and the Single Market Act - all these key initiatives have been discussed and endorsed by the EU institutions.

But, of course, we need to do more. And it is also now time to act decisively to implement a comprehensive programme.

The European Semester is at the heart of the reformed economic strategy of the European Union. Its proper implementation will be a major task in the months ahead.

The Commission kick-started the semester by adopting the Annual Growth Survey last week [12/1]. Following discussions in several Council formations, the process will culminate at the European Council in March, which will provide essential policy guidance for Member States, to be reflected in their Stability and Convergence Programmes, as well as their National Reform Programmes, both of which we are expecting in April.

Since we have already discussed this in the previous debate, I will not go into details, but of course the priorities and you know them, are macro-economic stability, namely fiscal consolidation, structural reform and frontload economic growth. Employment is, of course, our most important concern.

Final agreement on the European crisis management resolution mechanism will also be a key deliverable during the Hungarian Presidency.

The Hungarian Presidency will also have an important role to play in shepherding through our efforts to re-launch the Single Market. Following the public consultation launched by the Commission on the Single Market Act, the EU institutions will be asked to agree on a definitive action plan to be realised by the end of 2012.

Energy will also be an important area in the coming months and already now, in the course of February, in the European Council. The Commission has already put a series of important energy initiatives on the table, which will feed into the February European Council. These include: the energy agenda 2020, and our Communication on energy infrastructure priorities. We will soon be adopting the Resource Efficient Europe Flagship, in which energy also features highly.

The Commission intends to develop its work around the following five axes: a strong energy policy as the key to competitiveness, sustainable growth and energy security; the internal market in energy as an asset; building the EU's new energy infrastructure; making decisive progress on energy efficiency; and developing an effective and united EU approach to external energy policy.

Support from the Presidency and the European Parliament will also be essential to ensure an agreement on the EU patent. As requested by several Member States, the Commission adopted a proposal for enhanced cooperation in this field on 14 December. The Commission appreciates Hungary's commitment to take forward work on the EU patent under its Presidency.

Negotiations with Croatia are now in the final phase. Conclusion of the negotiations under the Hungarian Presidency is an ambitious goal, especially considering the remaining requirements Croatia still needs to fulfil. This will require an “all out push” on Croatia’s side.

I welcome the fact that the Hungarian Presidency considers the social and economic integration of Roma as one of its priorities.

The Commission set up a Roma Task Force to analyse the use and effectiveness of EU and national funds in all Member States for Roma inclusion. Building on this work, the Commission will present an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies in April.

The new Presidency will also put the spotlight on our Danube Strategy. The Danube Region has great potential which has not yet been properly exploited, due to ineffective cooperation. The aim is to develop a more co-ordinated approach, to bring European added value to this region.

The Commission welcomes the Presidency’s commitment to this strategy. Hungary already contributed significantly to its preparation, including policy papers and hosting a conference in Budapest - which I had the pleasure of attending. Now it will be in charge of shepherding it through the Council and launching the Danube Strategy implementation.

Finally, the debate on cohesion policy will intensify in the coming months. The Commission welcomes the intention of the Presidency to discuss the proposals of the 5th Cohesion Report.

The Commission will present legislative proposals for the future cohesion policy this Summer, following proposals on the next financial framework.

The Fifth Cohesion Forum at the end of January in Brussels will allow for a major stakeholder discussion, and it is encouraging that Prime Minister Orbán himself will participate.

Effectiveness and European added value must be the driving principles of the reform.

The Commission is convinced that cohesion policy needs to underpin more strongly the policy priorities and reform agenda of Europe 2020.

I count on the support of the Presidency in this work. It is our common interest and responsibility to make funding more effective. Only in this way can we defend an ambitious budget for cohesion policy.

And finally, since I know this is a matter of political concern, let me add a final comment on Hungary's media law. The principle of freedom of the press is a sacred one in European Union. I stated it in Brussels and in Budapest, where I had the honour to be received by Prime Minister Orbán. The Commission has looked at the law, and still this week will write to the Hungarian authorities to seek clarification on certain aspects that could create legal problems and that have raised some concerns. On the basis of the Hungarian authorities' answers, we will assess the situation further.

The Prime Minister has already made quite clear that adjustments would be made should the Commission, after this legal assessment, decide that changes need to be made.

Prime Minister Orbán has just said that he is a politician, and I am sure he is indeed a very committed politician and I think he can agree that aside from the legal issues, which will be dealt with in an objective and impartial manner, because we will treat Hungary exactly as any other Member State, we must also concern ourselves with the political aspect. Hungary, like any Member State taking on the rotating Presidency, needs to have the full backing of all the other Member States and the European institutions to make the Presidency a success. I hope that Prime Minister Orbán will take this in consideration.

I have no doubt that this Presidency must be a success, coming at such a critical time for the EU. So let's allow the proper procedures to take their course. And at the same time, let's give our full support to Hungary as it takes on this heavy responsibility. Let me tell you, distinguished members of this Parliament, that I was recently in Hungary and I have been receiving messages from young people from Hungary, saying that they are proud that their country for the first time has this responsibility of leading the Council of the European Union. Let's make Hungary closer to Europe and Europe closer to Hungary.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There’s a lot to do. The Hungarian Presidency can count on every assistance from the European Commission in pushing its priorities forward. Because it is only by achieving these goals, together, that we will build a ‘Strong Europe’. A Europe which delivers growth and jobs, which preserves and reaffirms our values, namely the sacred values of freedom and justice, and which positions our societies to thrive in a changing world.

Thank you for your attention.

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