José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso at the press conference following the meeting of the European Commission with the Hungarian Presidency
Joint press conference with Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary
Budapest, 7 January 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Commission is delighted to have this early opportunity in the Hungarian Presidency to "synchronise the clocks" with the government of Hungary.
In fact, as Prime Minister Orbán said, our work started earlier and I thank him for taking the time to come with all the government of Hungary some weeks ago to Brussels, where we had a first joint meeting between the Commission and the Hungarian government.
I can tell you very frankly that I believe the Hungarian authorities have made a huge and very competent work of preparation. I would like to thank the government, all the civil servants and the administration for the personal investment they have put in this very important exercise, because this is the first time that Hungary has the responsibility of being at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and this is a huge responsibility. I underline the word responsibility, because it comes at very exceptional times.
We are living at a time of tremendous economic challenges - global and European - and so a lot depends on the capacity, the competence, the determination of our response. A lot depends on having a strong Europe. A strong Europe is exactly what we need. Strong Europe means governments committed to the European ideals and strong European institutions as well. This is the only way that Europe can deliver what our citizens expect – stability, growth, jobs. This is the only way – in a coordinated manner.
Last year's developments have confirmed that piecemeal solutions are not enough: we need a comprehensive response. Europe can only be strong if it is able to act in a coordinated manner, with strong institutions, with a common governance, with stronger economic coordination. And this is what we have to do now. Not just speak, but do.
We will start now, during the Hungarian Presidency, the European Semester. This is the first time we have this kind of coordination ex ante of our economic policies. We have already agreed the Europe 2020 agenda for reform and we have also the Internal Market Act basic principles.
Let's work on that - to send a strong signal that Europe is 100 % focused on building sustainable growth and creating new opportunities for our citizens and businesses.
The first Hungarian Presidency comes indeed at a crucial time, not only because of the real difficulties of the economic and financial situation, but also because we are entering a new phase of integration.
We are setting out to break new ground and to decisively improve the ways in which we manage and coordinate our interdependent economies in the European Union, drawing the right lessons from the crisis and building sustainable growth for the European economy.
Earlier this year, I made clear that it is not only the so-called "federalists" who want to see more economic governance and economic co-ordination in Europe; it is the markets. The markets are demanding more coordination at European level. The markets are sending every day a very clear message that Europe has to work in a more coordinated manner when it comes to economic and financial issues, so it is not a question of utopia or idealism to ask for stronger economic governance and coordination. It is a matter of realism, sound, solid common sense.
This is why we have to now implement not only the principles we have agreed for the European semester, but also to adopt the proposals that are now on the table for a stronger economic governance. Those proposals are on the table and I hope the Council and the Parliament will be ready to approve them during this semester. This will be the best response we can give to those that are sceptical about the capacity of the European Union to respond.
The Hungarian Presidency will be the first to implement a "revolution" in the way we coordinate budgetary planning in the EU, with the implementation of our so-called European Semester. I welcome the importance and seriousness that the Presidency attaches to this. The European Semester is at the heart of the reformed economic strategy of the European Union and I am confident that it will change the way governments shape their economic and spending policies.
The Commission will kick-start the semester next week by adopting the first Annual Growth Survey on Wednesday. We will focus on the key measures that need to be taken now in three main areas: fiscal consolidation; structural reforms; growth enhancing measures.
We need all of that. It is not just about fiscal consolidation. We need structural reform to maintain higher levels of competitiveness. As you said, Prime Minister, it is critically important if Europe wants to remain a leader in the global economy. For that we need structural reforms. But it's not just about some spending in current expenditure. We also have to invest in future growth. That is why we need not only fiscal consolidation and structural reforms but also growth enhancing measures.
Our main message is clear: Europe needs to take reforms seriously. And this needs to be done at all levels: at national level and at the European level. Only rigorous consolidation and structural reforms can break the vicious circle of unsustainable debt, disruption on financial markets and low economic growth in many Member States.
We very much welcomes the Presidency's commitment to fast-tracking the legislative proposals for reinforced economic governance that the Commission put on the table last year. We will support the Hungarian Presidency in steering the proposals safely to port by summer.
I am very pleased by the high priority the Presidency is determined to give to implementation of our Europe 2020 agenda and of its flagship initiatives.
In fact, at the next European Council we are going to discuss two of those most important areas: energy and innovation. I know the energy that Hungary and personally Prime Minister Orbán, devote to energy and I want to congratulate him for the progress achieved, namely in the interconnections with Slovakia. It is critically important for the entire region, but also for the rest of Europe, to have progress in this area of interconnection. So we are preparing this European Council. The European Commission has done a lot of work already in the field of energy policy, some communications were already presented and I hope the European Council commits to very concrete objectives in the beginning of February.
I will be travelling next week with Commissioner Oettinger precisely to discuss some aspects of the external relations of the European Union also in terms of energy.
I believe there are concrete areas where the European Union can do more. One is energy efficiency. In fact, energy efficiency is the best source of energy we have. The European Union can and must do better. I would like to see the European Council agree on concrete measures to reach the 20% target by 2020.
On innovation we also discussed many of the important points on the table but because of time I will not now go into detail.
What I want to mention is that is a huge programme going on in these six months.
Not going into detail, of course I want to reaffirm our commitment to the prospects of Croatia becoming a member of the European Union. We will give any possible support to achieve the goal of the accession of Croatia.
Of course we are very committed to working with our member states on a comprehensive Roma strategy.
On all these matters our message has been clear, to the Prime Minister and to the government. We are prepared to work hand in hand with Hungary's presidency to make that presidency a success and to generate success for the European Union.
A point we have discussed, apart from in the plenary meeting, in the bilateral meeting, a point we have discussed very openly is this issue of the media law.
Let me add a final comment on this.
And I know there is a lot of attention focused on this matter.
First of all, as I stated some days ago in Brussels, the principle of the freedom of the press is a sacred principle in the European Union and media pluralism is a fundamental part of the way we see our societies in Europe.
I have received assurances from the Prime Minister that the law is drawn up, and will be implemented, in full respect of European Unions values on media freedom and relevant EU legislation.
The Prime Minister equally made clear that adjustments would be made, should the Commission, after a legal assessment, find that this is not the case for all aspects of the law.
So we are going to make our legal assessment, in full objectivity, in fact I asked the Prime Minister for the government to formally send as soon as possible the legislation because so far we have not yet received the formal notification of legislation. Of course we have already seen it but we have no yet formally received it.
As soon as we receive it we will start with our procedures in these matters on the legal aspect. But apart from the legal aspect there is also a political point here. And I really welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is ready to consider changing the law in case its implementation shows that some problems are there and that some concerns could be justified, now, after our very useful conversation.
I think this is very important because I think there are the legal issues where we have to of course be extremely strict but there are also the political perceptions and needs for Hungary to have the full backing of the member states and of the European institutions to make this presidency a success. I know how very much Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is committed to his country and to the external respect of his country.
I am myself fully confident in Hungary's democracy and rule of law. This country is a democratic country. Hungary is a democratic country. Hungary has known in a not so distant past what totalitarian regimes are. Prime Minister Orbán himself was fighting against totalitarian regimes. This is a democratic country and I think its important that we have no doubts about it.
And I think it's important also that the Prime Minister of this government take all the necessary steps for this to be clear in Hungary and outside Hungary.
And this is what I can tell you after the very good and rich consultations I just had with the Prime Minister. Once again I would like to thank you for that spirit of cooperation for a strong Europe.