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Vice-President of the European Commission,
20 years after Maastricht - Quo vadis, Europa?
Speech on the occasion of the 1st anniversary of the Press Club Brussels Europe
Brussels, 1st February 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me congratulate the Press Club Brussels Europe for three reasons!
First, on your birthday as a new Press Club in Brussels. What a good initiative the International Press Association and the Region Brussels Capital took when launching this project. You now have these very nice and high-tech facilities. As a former journalist myself, I know very well how important it is to have a place to meet, work and network! Congratulations!
Second, I congratulate you for launching such a project in 2011 – at a time when some predicted the demise of Europe. Let me put it very clearly: when others were tempted by doubt, you have shown confidence in the future of Brussels, in the future of Europe. So, let me congratulate you as I share your vision.
Third, congratulations for having recognised the spirit of time. It was high time that Brussels gets its own Press Club. Washington has had one for more than one century. So did London and other European cities for decades. This city, the Belgian capital, the headquarters of Europe welcomes over a thousand journalists – the largest accredited press corps in the world – and it had no Press Club. This was not right. After all Brussels is the birthplace of the most famous journalist in the world: Tintin (French pronunciation), Tintin (English pronunciation) or Kuifje (in Dutch). Tintin would be proud to see this Press Club!
I have two simple messages today. Two reflections on what Europe has achieved in the past. And on what Europe can achieve tomorrow.
We should never forget where we come from.
70 years ago our continent was on fire.
Less than 25 years ago, only one generation ago, an iron curtain kept us apart. And freedom of press and freedom of expression was not present in half of our continent.
And precisely 20 years ago this week – 7 February 1992 – the Treaty of Maastricht was signed. It was forging the European Union we know today – establishing a European Citizenship, consolidating the Single Market, laying the foundations for a Common Foreign and Security Policy as well as for structured cooperation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs. And as there can be no efficient Single Market without a single currency, Maastricht confirmed the political will to put in place an ‘irreversible process’ leading towards an economic and monetary union bound together by a single currency.
Three generations. Three extraordinary challenges. Three dreams that have come true.
First dream: peace. The countries of the Union have enjoyed peace amongst themselves. And built a Community based on the rule of law. And enshrined their common values and fundamental rights in law. Our values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are the bedrock of our united Europe.
What generations could only have dreamt of, we can experience every day. Generations of European men and women worked hard to make that dream come true.
Second dream: reunification of Europe. The division of our continent belongs to the past. Our united Europe extends today from Galway on the Atlantic to Varna on the Black Sea. Another dream has come true.
Third dream: the European Union we know today: an immense area free of internal barriers and controls within which people, goods, capitals and services move freely. A single market where 500 million of citizens enjoy the freedom to establish themselves, to conduct a business and a series of other fundamental rights.
The result is the biggest economy on the globe so far; a bigger economy than that of the US.
An external trade which represent 20% of world trade.
It was said in Maastricht in 1992, ‘no single market without a single currency’. Today, most of our single market is bound together by the European common currency. This is a currency that is the second reference currency in the world in terms of reserves. A currency that has ensured low interest rates and delivered a decade of low inflation and stability.
The euro has delivered.
So, what about the crisis?
Yes, we have a crisis. Not a crisis of the Euro which is and remains a stable currency. But a sovereign debt crisis.
It is not the first and presumably not be the last one. But it certainly will be a cause of progress. European integration has always experienced progress through crisis.
In 1966, the young European Community faced a severe political crisis, solved by the "Luxembourg compromise". It may not have been the best possible solution but it was the compromise that allowed Europe to move ahead at the time.
In 1990 there were diverging views after the fall of the Berlin wall: How shall we react? Crisis again! And Europe decided to reconcile its two halves.
What do all these crises have in common?
Discussions started, negotiations took place, and compromises were found! We have worked together. We have bet on Europe and we came out stronger.
It seems that Europe needs a crisis, again and again, to build a strong unity.
This brings me to my second reflection:
Let us have no illusions: the current crisis is severe and it affects a growing number of people in many Member States. All our efforts are focused on solving it. Today's seminar of the Commission decided on ways to gear our action to growth, ensure fiscal consolidation, tackle youth unemployment and support small and medium enterprises.
This crisis is mainly a crisis of confidence. Citizens have lost confidence in their politicians, at national and at European level. But democracies cannot function without the link between the citizens and those who govern them. We need to restore the fading confidence. Not by words. But by concrete actions, unleashing the potential of our economy. By eliminating the existing barriers in our internal market, most of all, those for small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of the European economy. The proposals we have put on the table free up available funding, reduce red tape and address the problem of late payments.
And here is a bold idea: there are 23 million people out of work in Europe. There are 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU representing 99% of businesses. If every SME could create one supplementary job – just one job each – unemployment would have mostly disappeared! I know it is certainly not as simple as that but we should give it a try. We should go for it.
This should in particular be geared to deal with youth unemployment. We cannot accept that almost a quarter of Europe’s young people start their adult life with the feeling of being useless. We will take joint action with Member States and social partners to ensure that all our young people are either in a job, in education or in training within four months of leaving school.
One example: connecting Europe. The largest wind farms in the world are in Denmark. The largest solar power station in the world is in Spain. Let's connect them and provide energy to the world's largest plane manufacturer – Airbus – which as we know is itself a network operation in France, Germany, UK, Spain and so on.
There are many more examples of how missing links in energy and transport connections can create job enhancing links. Let’s promote innovation and growth through legal reform. For example, this can be done by improving the judiciary, facilitating access to justice and the swift resolution of disputes. This will increase the confidence of businesses and citizens in the justice systems creating the conditions for further investment in our economies.
This crisis has also its roots in our still incomplete economic governance.
Today, we have understood that we must go further, and complete our monetary union with an economic union. We must increase convergence and discipline. We must deepen the integration of policies and governance within the euro area. In other words, we must finish the work that started in Maastricht 20 years ago.
On Monday the European Council took a major step agreeing on the Fiscal Compact and on the European Stability Mechanism reinforcing Europe's firewalls. All in all it is a new deal to strengthen the coordination of economic policies. It is a new deal with strict rules making sure that governments will have balanced budgets. It is a new deal for a stronger and more convergent economic area. It is a new deal for a more Communitarian Europe. A Europe which builds the future having learned from the past.
Knowledge of the past, vision for the future. Both go hand in hand. Both are necessary to take the right decisions.
We know that the next generations will face their challenges: financial instability, climate change, ageing society, staying competitive in the globalised economy, pandemics, terrorism. Let's be very clear: no country, however big and strong can solve these problems standing alone.
The European Union has sixty years of practice in forging a common interest out of different national interests; sixty years of wisdom in building consensus without coercion and sixty years of results from its unique institutions and supranational jurisdictions.
In short, the European Union is the world's most successful experiment in joint government, in joint venture.
And therefore I see no reason to give in to the intellectual glamour of pessimism. You in the Press Club Brussels Europe would not give in to pessimism. Neither will I.
But we know that many journalists and commentators, elsewhere, have so. They have announced the end of the euro, the end of Europe.
This is the disease of our times: short-term-ism. Good journalists should not give in to it. Good politicians neither.
My vision is a Europe that takes into account its long history. That builds on its cultural and linguistic diversity. That builds on its one-of-a-kind or "sui-generis" process of integration.
We are a mix of old and young Member States: a mix of sizes; a mix of languages and a mix of constitutional histories. This variety and diversity is also our treasure.
The result of this unity in diversity is a system which keeps the right balance between the institutions: the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, representing the Member States – the two chambers working together to adopt legislation. And the Court of Justice ensuring the correct application of law. This wise formula that has delivered for decades is the Community method.
A centralised, uniform State would never fit Europe.
We need to move forward and, building on Maastricht, forge a Confederation – a strong Union of strong Member States betting on Europe and its Community method.
In this context I must stress the role of the media in a free, democratic society. I know well that there is nothing better than a strong and free press to keep politicians sharp and on track. Bit this is not self-evident. We have to fight for it, again and again.
We need a strong press to challenge leaders, to inform the readers, and to launch the debate. We need you to explain the problems, report on steps taken, on progress made, on measures adopted. But we need you for more than this. European citizens miss a sense of belonging, a sense of common destiny and of common achievement. This is why I would like to arrange two "rendez-vous" with you.
The first "rendez-vous" should be next year, in 2013, on your second birthday. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Union citizenship under the Maastricht Treaty, 2013 will be the "European year of citizens". Citizenship goes hand in hand with free media, with right of information, with freedom of expression.
Today, around half of Europeans say they are not well informed about their rights. This European Year will help us change this. It will be a good opportunity to remind people of what the European Union can do for everyone of us. The independent media have a clear responsibility to fill this information gap.
The second "rendez-vous" should be in 2014. We will have the European Parliament elections and the preparation of the next Commission. We will want to see a lively, healthy, stimulating campaign. We want to see citizens joining the discussions, taking part in the debate, and voting. We all want to see a good turnout as a sign of a lively democracy. And I rely on you for reaching this goal!
It is really good news that you have this place to meet and network. I understand there are plans to develop ties with the Washington Press Club. It is a good idea to strengthen the ties between the political capital of the United States and the political capital of the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The challenges for Europe are big. Challenges ask for big decisions. We are taking these and therefore we can be confident in the future. And in those who build this future. Let us therefore seize this moment and contribute to strengthen our Union once more.
Thank you for helping to change visions into reality.