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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Preserving Europe's collective achievements: the responsibility of social partners
Opening Ceremony of the 12th European Trade Union Confederation Congress – ‘Mobilising for social Europe’
Athens, 16 May 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to address the opening of this year’s European Trade Union Congress. The topic of your congress – "Mobilising for Social Europe" – is a call for action in favour of a united Europe that needs more than ever that people stand up and fight for economic, social and political integration.
We are at a critical moment in Europe: a time when some cast doubts on very important collective achievements. We should remember that the rights and benefits Europeans enjoy today were not simply handed out to them.
They had to be won.
Sixty years ago, some Europeans started to make a dream into reality. The European Union was then built step-by-step, layer upon layer, with the hard work of many who won, through peaceful negotiation and responsible action, the freedoms and social rights that 500 million Europeans enjoy today.
So let us not forget: much of what we take for granted today (free movement, the freedom of expression, the single market, the common currency and of course the social rights) was only made possible thanks to the hard and responsible work of generations of men and women who patiently built the Europe of today. We have a great responsibility towards that achievement.
That is why we should never accept attempts to roll back the EU Treaties, be it our single currency, the Schengen agreement, or the free movement of. You can count on the European Commission that we will take all steps to ensure the full respect of European law and protect the freedoms and rights enshrined in the Treaty and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
European integration, whether economic, social or political, is too great an achievement to be sacrificed to party-political or other considerations.
And it is exactly in testing times that we must unite our forces and show our determination to seek the best solutions and take the necessary action in a responsible manner.
Let's take a quick look at the economic reality in Europe today. The most recent figures of the European Commission’s spring forecast show that the economic recovery in Europe is on its way, with front runners such as Germany of course, but with many European nations following this trend. GDP growth is expected to grow 1,5% in the euro area and around 1,75% in the EU this year. In 2012 the European economies are expected to grow around 2%. These figures are higher than those expected in the previous forecast of last autumn. They are the basis for building a Europe of and for the people.
What we all need to do now, is strengthen these trends of growth and consolidation to ensure that they translate into more and better jobs. Achieving such objective calls for continued fiscal consolidation and determined implementation of structural reforms that help job creation and improve a sustainable competitiveness of our economies. The social partners have a key role to play in helping Europe to achieve this. Because it is you who are involved, through our European social model, in social dialogue. It is the social partners who are closest to the working population. And it is you – better than politicians – who are best placed to advocate responsibility and confidence with our people.
The crisis is at a turning point in several countries. It is this year that we will see whether Europe and will turn the corner in this crisis and stabilise growth. The European Commission has made and will continue to make proposals which allow progress for the economy and for the people. Europe is the solution not the problem.
Because this is certainly not the time for self-flagellation or negativism. But the time for strong determination and self-confidence. If we are all responsible – responsible in our words, responsible in our action – Europe has a good chance to get out of the crisis stronger than it was before.
Just look for a moment to the other side of the Atlantic: the United States of America recently got a negative outlook by an important rating agency. The reaction was a strong rebuttal from all political forces, and a political commitment to tackle the immense budget deficit immediately. No one called in question the single market of the US or the viability of the dollar.
We should take this as an example for us Europeans. Let's be a bit more self- confident and more resolved to tackle the challenges and do our homework in Europe in all European countries, whether small or big, North or South. We all have responsibilities, either in political, social or economic areas. We are also responsible for reinforcing our society in the interest of our own people, and for giving hope and confidence to the next generation – not just improving the economic figures.
If we fail today to make Europe stronger, our children may not have what we have today: a united Europe that can offer its citizens a harbour for their hopes and values, for freedom and solidarity.
All this cannot be achieved if we fight one another. All this cannot be achieved if we put the interest of some groups above the common interest.
This will only be achieved if we unite forces, if, with determination and responsibility we say 'Yes, the wind blowing in the right direction; let's seize it together now.'
In the name of 27 Commissioners - I tell you from all my heart, I admit this – the European Commission is by your side.