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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Keynote speech by President Barroso: "European Union Competition policy – a building block for growth and renewal"

European Competition Forum

Brussels, 2 February 2012


Vice-President Almunia,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

Dear friends,

First of all, allow me to thank all of you for taking part in this first European Competition Forum. Many of you have travelled from other parts of Europe and beyond to be here today, demonstrating the vitally important role that all of us here know an effective competition environment can play in spurring growth and renewal in Europe. I particularly want to thank Vice-President Almunia and Director-General Italianer and his services for organising this event that I believe will be the first of a long series of events dedicated to this critically important point of our policy.

In fact, this moment is very timely. Just yesterday the Commission took a very important decision in the field of competition that is today in the headlines – showing the significance of this area of European Union policy and indeed its importance for European and global economy.

At a time when we are making so much effort to stabilise our economy, competition policy has a fundamental role in providing credibility and coherence. If we want to regain confidence of investors and of market participants, this can only be achieved within a system based on solid rules that are fairly enforced. This is the basis of the Commission's approach to competition policy.

I am sure that today's debate will spark fresh thinking and enthusiasm for the major contribution competition policy can make to competitiveness and prosperity. Today I would like to focus on actions that Europe can take to foster growth and to mention the contribution that competition policy can make to them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Boosting our economy was precisely the focus of discussions in the European Council this Monday. The need to complement our actions to embed stability and discipline into our economy, with concrete measures to get them moving again. The Commission came with quick-win proposals on the things that matter most to our citizens right now – growth and jobs.

The main message coming from the European Council was the need to deepen our Single Market.

It is our greatest asset, the crown jewel of the European Union, our greatest asset in a competitive and globalised world, and it is our most promising engine for growth. We have 500 million consumers and 23 million small businesses able to set up, operate and move around 27 countries. Indeed more than that because some of the other European countries are in fact very closely linked to the internal market, in fact some of them more integrated to the internal market than members of the EU. But, we can do more and we can do better. The Single Market still has enormous unused potential for instance in the field of services. It has too many obstacles in some areas and insufficient enforcement in others.

There was a deep discussion about this in the last European Council and I want to say that this was the first time for many years I have been participating now in the European Council, that I have seen at Heads of State and Government level such a deep discussion about the importance of going on with exploiting the full potential of our Single Market.

On Monday, Heads of State and Government agreed with the Commission's proposal to fast-track the Single Market Act this year, and to complete the Digital Single Market by 2015.

The Commission estimates that the reforms we have proposed on, for instance services, facilitating access to venture capital, the European patent (that I hope will be very soon solved), and public procurement, could boost European Union GDP by 3% by 2020.

In fact, Europe's future growth prospects depend on a rules-based Single Market that fosters openness and innovation.

Healthy and competitive markets stimulate entrepreneurship and encourage companies to be innovative – to create new products and services that meet demand. In turn, this helps to create jobs among successful players, triggers more competitive prices and gives consumers a wider choice of products and services.

That is why innovation is a cornerstone of our growth agenda - because it is about more than product development.

It is about the way our society changes and improves. It is about the way we do business. It is about turning new ideas into growth for our companies, jobs for our citizens and well-being for our societies.

And that is why competition policy is a foundation for our growth and innovation strategy – precisely because it creates the right conditions.

To function at its full potential, the Single Market also needs fair and robust rules and laws. Competition law, in particular, must be a central axe of this, upholding the level playing field and ensuring that all market players are confident in the stable and rules-based market environment.

This is the guiding principle of the three main areas of the Commission's competition policy – State aid, mergers and anti-trust: a rules-based, objective system, underpinned by the most refined economic analysis, carried out by the Chief Economist and his team. Anti-competitive practices damage Europe's economy by maintaining artificially high prices, stifling innovation and allowing inefficiencies. Our economies and our consumers simply cannot afford to pay the price for infringements of European Union competition law, and that is why we must continue to defend our rules.

Moreover, competition rules must be complemented with effective enforcement. Removing legal obstacles is one part of the equation, but does not by itself guarantee healthy competition in a market.

Despite the criticism we sometimes face for our decisions, European competition law is cited as a model of independence, coherence and objectivity.

The Commission may not always be loved for the decisions it takes in this area, but it is always respected. This objective and consistent approach over more than 50 years of European Union competition law, has been upheld by each and every competition commissioner, regardless of their political affiliation and I am very proud to say that in my two Colleges in the Commission, first Neelie Kroes and today Joaquín Almunia, this reputation is kept. Why does this happen? Because it is in the Commission's DNA to protect the general European Union interest, and also the respect for the commonly agreed rules, as one should expect in a Community of law. The European Union is based on the rule of law and I think this should be remembered.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The essence of competition policy is about fairness and merit. It is about rewarding companies that compete on the basis of quality, of innovation and of price. It is about giving everyone a chance, about restructuring mature industries where necessary, and about opening up markets. That is why the Commission's work in fighting against protectionism and monopolies is so important.

For instance, monopolies and protectionism have an immensely corrosive effect on wider society. In difficult economic times, it is more important, not less, to combat them. By fighting against protectionism and vested interests, competition policy is also key to building fair and unbiased markets. It can help to re-instil faith among our citizens that our social model is indeed a fair one.

For all these reasons I am proud of the work the Commission in doing in this area. The Commission has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best competition authorities in the world. Its independence is undisputed in all circumstances, including when it has to make tough decisions, and it must remain so.

It is these values, the values of fairness, merit and opportunity for all, on which we must rebuild European growth – giving chances to all those who deserve them. That is what our citizens expect from their leaders. That is what our young people expect from us – to give them a fair chance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must also keep in mind that if we want Europe to emerge stronger from this crisis, it must be innovative, sustainable and inclusive, but also it must be able to compete on the world stage.

The discipline imposed by a genuine Europe-wide, competition-friendly market is the best tonic for our businesses; it promotes their efficiency and prepares them to take on global competitors. To further this aim, the work being done at European level to gain market access in fast-growing economies outside Europe is also crucial.

On one thing we have to be clear – yes we need to consolidate undertakings, but in the medium to long term, only those who are able to successfully compete in Europe, will be fit to face competition globally. If an athlete aspires to compete in the Olympic Games, he must first be fit and be among the best in his own country. Competition helps undertakings to be fit enough to compete on a global scale. And just as Olympic athletes know that the Games are run fairly, competition law ensures a rule based environment for our companies, meaning that they play in a level playing field without favours or advantages.

At the same time, regulators have a responsibility to take account of the impacts of globalisation in our oversight. Take cartels for instance, they are often not constrained by national boundaries. So it is in all our interests for competition authorities around the world to cooperate efficiently and the Commission gives a great value to the cooperation between competition authorities and also to the reinforcement of their independence in Europe.

Several cooperation agreements between the European Union and other major jurisdictions around the world – such as the US – are already in place and are working well, and we are looking into developing this model with other international partners. Indeed, many of our international partners want very often inspiration from our own model.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to leave you in no doubt this morning as to the importance the Commission places on competition policy as a means to strengthen and underpin our key actions to boost growth and jobs. By ensuring a level playing field, it promotes stability and can help to foster the confidence our markets so badly need today.

Competition policy offers some of the clearest examples of what Europe can do for its economy.

This is why we carry out our competition work with extreme diligence. Because the ultimate aim is to protect the interests of European citizens and pass on to them the benefits of efficient and competitive markets.

You can be assured that we will continue to work to further integrate and connect European markets. There will be no growth without healthy competition.

Europe, I want to say it again, has one of the best competition systems in the world, but we must work hard to maintain this position. Today, and moving forward, we are committed to keeping our system vigilant, fair, open and capable of evolving with the times.

I wish you a very successful conference and I am sure that your work will give a contribution to our fresh thinking in a matter that is so crucial for the future of our economy.

Thank you for your attention.

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