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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the EP open conference of Presidents
Brussels, 28 June 2011
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
I believe we have completed a very substantive European Council taking some decisions that will have far reaching consequences for the Union.
I am of course referring to economic policy, migration, the Southern Mediterranean, the accession of Croatia. Additionally, regarding the situation in Greece, we have once again shown that we can find agreement when agreement is needed. And I am pleased to report that the implementation of the European Union and IMF programs in Ireland and Portugal is on track.
It is a fact that every single day we are confronted with our interdependence in the most real and practical terms.
Fifteen months after the comprehensive package was agreed, the scope of ambition has been justified and now we need to consolidate a new way of dealing with the interdependence in our economies, a new way of dealing with economic policy in the euro area and the European Union as a whole. Of course, the Commission thinks that more effort will be needed to repair public finances and fully implement structural reforms. And there is more scope, as I have made clear using Greece as an example, to frontload measures to stimulate growth and job creation. I was happy with the fact that the European Council endorsed our proposal to frontload the structural funds and to provide a comprehensive program for technical assistance to Greece. I think this highlights the need to complement some unavoidable, sometimes painful measures, with very important prioritisation of growth. Also the country-specific recommendations of the Commission were very important for the discussion in this European Council and after the debate I can say that they were the basis for a clear orientation for the months ahead.
Overall, this means we are moving towards more growth opportunities, based on greater competitiveness for Europe. So I am also counting on the co-legislators' cooperation to allow us to reach full and final agreement on the Commission's economic governance package by the summer.
Distinguished Members of the Parliament,
I was impressed by the openness of the discussions between Heads of State and Government on the basis of the Country-Specific Recommendations that, as the President of the European Council just said, were uncompromising. We are trying to make a real change to the way in which these matters were dealt under the so called Lisbon strategy, to recognise in real practical terms the interdependence of our economies and to accept a collective effort of real policy making. Those debates were characterised by a welcome sense of goodwill that will be essential in the coming months and years.
My hopes are also boosted by the European Council's willingness to push harder towards the targets and goals of the Europe 2020 strategy and the Single Market Act in particular. There was a helpful emphasis on the need to reduce the regulatory burden on SMEs and micro enterprises. The Commission was also invited to prepare a roadmap on the completion of the digital Single Market by 2015. While progress towards many of the 2020 targets is on track, there was a further honest recognition, based on our communication, that additional efforts are required in some areas: employment, energy efficiency, R&D, poverty reduction and tertiary education. In those matters we are not yet on track.
Of course, we are not naïve about these signs of progress. The real test of these attitudes is the extent of national implementation. This will be in sharp focus as we move from the first so called 'European Semester' into the first 'National Semester,' that is, implementing the country-specific recommendations that have now been unanimously endorsed by the European Council.
Migration, unsurprisingly, continues to be an emotive issue. There can be no denying that public opinion is mixed and highly sensitive to this issue. In some cases the issues of migration are in fact used by extremist populist forces against the European project and against the tradition of openness in democratic societies in Europe. This fact makes it critical for us to take a comprehensive approach to managing migration issues.
I have said many times, and I will say it again, that the free movement of persons is one of the European Union's greatest achievements. It is a pillar of our union, a fundamental freedom, and critical to an economic recovery in the integrated single market, so we don't want to sere the freedom of movement or the principles of the freedom of circulation in the single market put in question. it is something we must not and we will not jeopardise.
In this context, the full recognition by the European Council of the free movement of persons as a core principle of the European Union and as a fundamental right has been of the utmost importance in the context of the political debate on this issue. In essence, it acknowledges the need to protect Schengen and to improve its governance. The Commission will come forward with its concrete proposals for an EU-based effective and reliable monitoring and evaluation system. I want to underline this. This was accepted also by the European Council – a EU based principle. The Commission will also make proposals in the autumn to supplement this system with a safeguard mechanism. We need a coordinated EU approach to the possible responses when our common external borders face serious and unexpected heavy pressure. Different responses will be possible according to each situation. As a very last resort, the EU response could include the reintroduction of internal border controls, for a limited period of time and in cases where a Member State, facing an exceptional pressure, is not complying with its obligations under Schengen rules. But, and I underline this fact, the European Council has also recognised that this mechanism will not affect the right of persons to free movement as provided for by the EU treaties.
On asylum, the commitment taken by the European Council is clear. We have to complete our Common European Asylum System by 2012. To achieve this objective, the Commission proposals are already on the table. I remain confident that we have the momentum we need to complete this goal.
Our vision and our strategy for the Southern neighbourhood were also discussed. I'm pleased that the European Council has supported the communication of the Commission and the High Representative that defines an approach to the neighbourhood, in support of democracy and shared prosperity. The President of the European Council gave a comprehensive presentation of the results, so I will not, for the sake of time, go in details.
Let me just now turn to the Western Balkans, where we have seen an historic decision on Croatia's accession. The European Council agreed that negotiations should be concluded by the end of this month, with a view to signing the Accession Treaty of Croatia by the end of 2011. The accession process has been characterised by strict conditionality and the European Council urged Croatia to maintain its reform efforts so as to be fully ready for accession. We look forward to further peace, reconciliation and stability in the Western Balkans.
Now a final word on Greece. We have a plan for Greece, including now the full Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy, agreed by the Troika and the Greek authorities. Next we need the Greek Parliament to redouble its efforts to deliver the further reforms agreed. The situation is difficult but not impossible, and to resolve it we need to do everything possible to help Greece walk the tightrope it finds itself on. Fundamentally, we must accept that improved competitiveness is the key to Greece's long-term prosperity.
During the difficult moments of this effort we must remember that this is reform with a strong social purpose. We do not relish difficult change, but we must remember that every euro spent on debt servicing is a euro that cannot go to hospitals and schools. We simply cannot borrow our way to more growth and jobs. We need fiscal consolidation, we need structural reform for Greece to recover the way of growth.
Finally, a word of congratulations to Mario Draghi on his appointment as President of the European Central Bank from the 1st November this year. Mario Draghi has our full confidence, as a committed European and also a very competent personality in economic and monetary affairs. We wish him the best.
To conclude, it was in fact a substantive European Council and I believe that we have now a good basis to pursue our work, namely on the very critical issues of economic governance and migration.
I thank you for your attention.