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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso following his meeting with the Slovak Prime Minister, Mr Robert Fico

Press point

Brussels, 24 April 2012

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

I am really pleased to welcome Prime Minister Robert Fico who decided to make Brussels and the Commission one of his first trips abroad after his victory in the last legislative elections.

We have already met several times in the past. I am very pleased to renew for the second time my warmest congratulations on his election as Prime Minister.

We just had a very good meeting with the Prime Minister and I took this opportunity to express to him my confidence that his Government will pursue a targeted reform programme that will allow Slovakia to tackle effectively the economic and social challenges the country, as many other countries in Europe, is facing.

I want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister's commitment to a reform agenda along the lines indicated in the 2011 Country-specific recommendations.. I welcome his desire to work with the European Union institutions in a serious and constructive way.

I am confident that the new Slovak government will engage actively in the implementation of established EU policies and efforts to exit from the financial and debt crisis. I also assured the Prime Minister of our full support in doing so.

The robust support and confidence of the citizens Prime Minister Fico gained in the parliamentary elections, give to his government a strong social backing and a strong and clear political mandate to undertake the necessary reforms that are so important for Slovakia.

In a couple of minutes, we are going to pursue our working dinner to discuss a range of issues starting with the economic situation, so I will not go into detail now, but let me tell you that I believe that Slovakia has, among others, two key challenges: budgetary consolidation and also making full use of its labour market potential. It is important that the new Slovak Government takes the necessary measures effectively and without delay.

A sound fiscal policy conducted in a way that does not hamper, but rather encourages growth will stand the test of time.

Slovakia has been making good progress on fiscal consolidation. It is paramount that this be continued this year and into 2013. The necessary adjustments to correct excessive deficit should take place next year.

I am confident that the Slovak government will submit by the end of this month a Stability Programme with a comprehensive, credible and coherent medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy through the submission of and accompanying specified measures.

In Slovakia, as in the whole EU, it is essential to strive for a budgetary consolidation while preserving growth-enhancing expenditure. It is not easy. It is extremely challenging to regain confidence through fiscal consolidation and at the same time not forget those measures that are important for growth. And this approach requires the use of many instruments that, of course, are different in the different countries. We cannot have a "one size fits all" approach and we are trying to assess in very close cooperation with all the Member States what is the best way to address this issue. So, how we can, apart from the growth measures that we can take collectively in the European Union,, how we can help Member States to fine-tune their policies, so that fiscal consolidation is not harming the prospects for growth.

We agree with the Prime Minister that fiscal adjustments must go together with structural reform. I have seen several of your statements and this is very clear.

The Commission expects also a good cooperation with the government in putting public finances on a sustainable path through a systemic reform of pensions. It is indeed another difficult issue, but when we look at the demographic challenges, at the need of sustainable public finances, it's is clear that it has to be addressed.

One key problem that requires deep structural reforms, but also short term actions, is the situation on the labour market, particularly the very high youth and long-term unemployment. I am confident that the implementation of the concrete measures identified in the Communication on employment, adopted last week by the Commission, can help Slovakia to address the surge in cyclical joblessness before it becomes a structural problem. We will also look at the growth and employment potential of the European Union's Structural and Cohesion Funds. We already started this discussion now, because as you know, following the informal European Council of 30 January 2012, a joint action team was established with Slovakia [and seven other Member States where the employment situation of young people is most difficult] to see how structural funds can in the short term strengthen national efforts to combat youth unemployment and help small and medium sized enterprises to create jobs.

In the current situation, more than ever it is absolutely key to use EU funds effectively and efficiently. Implementation on the ground must be accelerated.

In particular, the efficiency of infrastructure investments needs to be improved and more effective use should be made of funds allocated for the most vulnerable groups in society.

In managing the EU funds, it is essential to reinforce overall governance, including tackling corruption, and to promote stability and efficiency in the public administration.

I want to also use this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Fico for his broad support to the proposal made by the Commission in terms of the next budget for the European Union, the next financial perspectives. It is extremely important to understand that this budget is not just about expenditure. It is mainly about investment and this is not money that goes to Brussels. This money goes to our regions, for the cohesion countries, for the cohesion regions, for our workers, for our SMEs, and without a strong policy for cohesion we will not have a real Union. So, I think, it is important for the debate that is already on-going in the Council following the proposal of the Commission for the financial perspectives, that we keep the level of ambition. I believe the Commission has put forward a reasonable proposal for the next financial perspectives.

And so we started our meeting, but we are going to continue it. We cannot yet go more in detail, but let me once again use this opportunity to thank you for coming so soon after your election and to wish you, to wish the government of Slovakia, to wish the people of Slovakia all the best in what we know are very challenging times. But together, the European institutions and the governments of Europe, and in this case the government of Slovakia, I believe we can bring a solution to our citizens.

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