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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Response by President Barroso at the post-European Council debate
EP Plenary debate
Strasbourg, 19 January 2011
Thank you very much Mr President!
First of all, this debate has shown the complexity of the crisis and the complexity of the answers. One thing I want to say namely to those, and it's clearly a huge majority, that shares the European ideals, and we need to have a European response, is that we should not be divided by some differences that are not the most important ones. As some of you said, there is indeed a real challenge, sometimes a threat, to European integration today. Also in this debate we have seen that threat. I have heard some nationalistic, prejudiced comments that I am not used to hearing in the European Parliament. They were a minority, but those comments were made, trying to deepen divisions between Europeans, so called "rich" and so called "poor" Europeans.
To those who made those comments, and I am amazed with those comments, against European solidarity, trying to deepen the cleavages between rich and poor, I ask them – where were you when Europe was financing your farmers after the war to feed your own people? Where were you, when Europe was financing your infrastructures for development and competitiveness of you countries? Where were you when Europe provided the internal market for selling your services and your products? Where were you when Europe was the basis for the prosperity and the growth of your countries after the war?
So only selfish, short sighted, short term views can sustain this kind of statements against European unity.
I think this is a serious problem. Several of you have shed light on it.
So my appeal to all those who share the European ideal is that we should be united, trying to have a comprehensive response in a matter that if you want to be serious you have to admit requires building consensus.
And sometimes it is not easy in a European with 27 member states, with the euro area now 17 member states – and I very much welcome Estonia as a new member – and with a process of decision making that is not always the simplest one, because we are based on the principles of democracy.
And we have not only the European institutions: we have 27 democracies.
So it is an extremely difficult task, the one we have in front of us. That is why I want to appeal to all those who share the European ideal: let's not be distracted by some differences in policy orientation.
Mr Stephen Hughes, I very much respect your concern with social Europe. But let's be completely open about this: what is the best way to support governments like the Greek government, the Spanish government, the Portuguese government, that are led by very important members of your political family?
Is it to support the reforms they are taking courageously? Or to say simply that those reforms are against European values?
Indeed we need structural reforms in Europe, including in the labour sector. This is the reality. If you ask Prime Minister Papandréou, if you ask Prime Minister Zapatero, Prime Minister Socrates, this is exactly what they are doing. And they are planning even to go deeper in those reforms.
So I really believe the best way to support the courageous efforts that all of us are trying to make in Europe – at different paces – is to have the language of truth.
In the current world of competition with the pressure of some stronger emerging economies, either we adapt or we'll be putting at risk our social market economy. We need it.
We will do it, I believe, without putting in question workers' rights.
And I want once again – (interruption) I'm going to respond to you in a minute, I've not forgotten your question.
I believe it is extremely important that we respect the principles of social dialogue. I stated it yesterday, I reaffirm it today. But in fact if we don't make this kind of fiscal consolidation and structural reform we will not have confidence. And without confidence we won't have growth. And without growth we will not be able to provide employment to our citizens.
And to the distinguished member of this parliament that comes from Ireland, who asked a question suggesting that the problems of Ireland were created by Europe, let me tell you: the problems of Ireland were created by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions. And by the lack of supervision in the Irish market.
Europe is now part of the solution; it is trying to support Ireland. But it was not Europe that created this fiscally irresponsible situation and this financially irresponsible behaviour.
Europe is trying to support Ireland. It is important to know, where the responsibility lies. And this is why it is important that those of us, and this is clearly the majority, who believe in European ideals, that we are able as much as possible to have a common response.
Another point that was made by some of you was: 'what is the level of ambition'? Once again, let me make clear the position of the Commission: we are for the most ambitious position in terms of integrated response. That's why the Commission will be ready to support some of the measures that some of you have proposed.
But we are living the situation: when we believe that in times of crisis like this, in times of the instability of the markets, that it is critically important that we give a contribution to a consensus regarding member states. And there were some divisions, in fact, on the way to address this crisis.
On the revision of the Treaty: you know what the position of the Commission was. We said from the beginning that we thought it was possible to make a permanent mechanism without a revision of the Treaty. But at least one member states (and you need unanimity in those matters) stated clearly that a revision of the Treaty was needed.
And since we believe it is important to have a permanent stability mechanism, the Commission played a constructive role, supporting this limited revision of the Treaty. So I think it will be a complete mistake, now, to be divided on this matter.
Since we want to reinforce stability, I think it is important that we agree on this limited revision of the Treaty. Some of us would like to go further. I personally would like to go further in terms of the structuring and deepening of the Community approach. But we have to be responsible in this very specific moment we are living, and we have to try to have the most ambitious solution, the highest and not the lowest common denominator solution.
And that is why I want to state again that some of the proposals put forward are indeed interesting ones, but they are not able at this moment to generate the necessary consensus. The Commission has to be very attentive to the contribution it gives to forging this consensus.
Finally, I think everybody has to give a contribution. I don't like those divisions of rich and poor, new and old, or centre and periphery. In Europe all the states have exactly the same dignity and those ideas of discriminating between member states are in fact very dangerous ideas for the European project.
So what should we do? We should ask all member states that are in a more vulnerable position to do whatever they have to do to restore confidence in their economies: through appropriate macroeconomic stability, fiscal consolidation, and structural reforms – this is of critical importance at this moment.
We are not helping them if we are suggesting that they can escape their truth. This is not helping them. At the same time, those countries that are now in a better position, they should show solidarity to those countries as well.
I think it is critically important that we have a strong response regarding the stability of the euro area. That we are not – as it has happened sometimes in the past, to be honest – that we are not behind the curve but ahead of the curve; that we give a comprehensive response that inspires confidence in the determination of the euro area and of the European Union as a whole. Not just through statements, but by acting – that's the most important thing.
It's a question of credibility: statements are important but they are not enough. It is important to act. And as a whole, all of us, to commit to stronger governance in the euro area and in the European Union, this is indeed something that markets are asking of us. There is a problem of perception: how can we take decisions and how can we implement decisions? We need stronger governance in the euro area. We need stronger governance in economic policy coordination in the European Union as a whole. And basically we should, all of us, commit to the principles of solidarity and responsibility.
It's not just a question of responsibility, it's a question of solidarity.
It's not just a question of solidarity, it's a question of responsibility.
Only then can we achieve stability. And stability is the basis for our future prosperity.
I thank you for your attention.