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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso at the press conference following the first day of the European Council
Joint press conference with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council
Brussels, 23 June 2011
President Van Rompuy presented a very objective and comprehensive report of the work of the European Council this first session, so I will not repeat everything he have said, with which I fully agree. Let me just highlight from the point of view of the Commission what is our evaluation of this exercise. I really believe this is a very serious exercise, I want to thank President Van Rompuy and all the colleagues in the European Council for the way they engaged. Because it was completely new compared to previous experience in the sense that following the Country-Specific Recommendations presented by the Commission and the different discussions at the Council level, there was the endorsement of those Country-Specific Recommendations and also a very free and open discussion about the most important challenges the European Union and its Member States are facing in the current circumstances.
I have the occasion to present a report in terms of panoramic general, not so much focused on specific countries, but making a comparison according to some indicators and also relating to the targets of Europe 2020, about where we are in addressing those challenges. I will not repeat everything I said during this working session, but, of course, it will not be a surprise for you that I insisted on the need to continue fiscal consolidation, the need to fix the banking sector, the need to correct macro-economic imbalances, the importance of pursuing a pension system reform, the need to frontload growth and at the same time tackling the social impact of some of our reforms. But afterwards we can give you in more concrete details the assessment in terms of comparison, in terms of benchmarks of the commitments of different Member States regarding not only the objectives of Europe 2020, but National Reform Programmes that they are now committed to implement. So I can tell you that on the basis of the experience that I have now in the European Council, this was the first time I saw this kind of engagement at Heads of State and Government level discussing these kind of issues, including sensitive issues of national decision and national responsibility. I think that from this point of view, while we can always make it better, this was in fact a very serious exercise and I am happy that, as the President of the European Council has just said, there was not the attempt to water down the very objective, and sometimes very direct recommendations made by the Commission. So there was a real commitment to pursue the reforms that we believe are essential for Europe’s competitiveness.
We also discussed the situation in terms of the countries under programmes of the European Union and more specifically regarding Greece. I want to underline that the European Council has welcomed the progress made in Ireland in the implementation of the programme which is well on track. It also welcomed the strong commitment by the newly-elected Portuguese government to fully implement its programmes of reforms, building on a cross-party consensus on the need to reform. Strict implementation of those programmes will ensure debt sustainability and will support the return of Ireland and Portugal to the financial markets. When we discussed Greece, we also underlined the need for this national unity in the implementation of the necessary measures.
Regarding Greece I would like to brief you on an initiative I took recently regarding the needs to promote also growth and employment. I want us to use every available possibility to stimulate jobs and growth in Greece. Fiscal consolidation is indispensable, structural reforms are indispensable, the privatisation programme as well, but we have to make it clear that this is a contribution for growth and I have presented this initiative after consultations with Prime Minister Papandreou to look at how we can use the existing European funds, structural funds in Greece, so that they maximise their immediate impact on growth and jobs. We are ready to consider all proposals for reprogramming and restructuring funding to deliver rapid and better results on the ground. We are also prepared to increase the co-financing rate up to 85% which can be done without changing legislation and further frontloading of funds. And we are ready to make technical assistance available to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Greek administration,
The European Union budget provides over €20 billion for Greece in the current 7 year financing period. It has only been possible to spend a quarter of this up until now. €675 million is available for technical assistance for all Greek programmes. €420 million of this has not been contracted. I have asked Member States to work together with the Commission to bring all the technical assistance available to help get this money as quickly as possible to the Greek people in terms of growth and employment. I am extremely happy with the clear endorsement by the European Council of the intention presented by the Commission, namely where the European Council states that it welcomes and supports the preparation by the Commission together with the Member States of a comprehensive programme for technical assistance to Greece.
So I think it was a very good meeting and the fact that in such a determined way, after a very brief discussion it was possible to agree on the Conclusions that are going to be distributed to you, namely on Greece. I think it was once again an indication that there is a real will by the Member States in the Euro area and in the European Union in general to do what is necessary to preserve the financial stability in the Euro area and to work together with our Greek partners and to work for a reinforced governance in the European Union and today it was an important step in that direction.