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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
President Barroso's remarks to the Friends of Cohesion Group
Meeting of Friends of Cohesion Group/Bratislava
5 October 2012
Prime Minister Fico,
President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz,
Distinguished representatives of Member States, Friends of Cohesion,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having invited me to this meeting of the 'Friends of Cohesion' group.
When we last met in June in Bucharest on the invitation of Prime Minister Ponta we had the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with each other's position.
Today, we meet again at a crucial time.
In just a few weeks, a special European Council Summit will try to reach an agreement on the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework.
We should be under no illusion: tough debates lie ahead.
But we have to seize this moment to resist the forces of division and to pull together to defend our common future.
The Commission's proposals for the next financial framework constitute an investment budget for growth, convergence and cohesion.
And let me thank President Schulz for the European Parliament's strong support to our proposals and once again I would like to thanks Martin for the comments he just made regarding our work.
I believe that now we need determined and concerted action from all of us to restore growth, create jobs and unwind imbalances.
Cohesion policy is certainly a driving force to achieve these objectives – the objective of growth at European level and also the way to reduce imbalances that we have now in the European Union.
And the Commission remains fully committed to an ambitious and effective cohesion policy.
At a time of necessary fiscal consolidation, the EU structural funds are making a major contribution to Europe's future prosperity and to the achievement of our common Europe 2020 goals.
Together with the co-financing provided by Member States, the EU structural funds account for a very significant proportion of public investment in Europe – more than half of all public investment in several Member States.
And since the outbreak of the crisis the Commission has made every effort, in partnership with the Member States, to ensure that the structural funds get quickly to where they are needed most.
We have proposed a number of innovative ways to accelerate their disbursement and to make them more flexible and responsive, in particular in the most vulnerable Member States, for instance trying to redirect funds that were in underperforming programmes for youth unemployment. Prime Minister Fico, you have done this and I want to thank you for the great cooperation that Slovakia has shown in terms of redirecting the funds to the priority of youth unemployment.
Thanks to these measures an additional 14.5 billion euros has been injected into the European economy. We know the situation is extremely difficult, but it would be much more difficult if there was not this concrete injection of 14.5 billion euros in the European economy by the redirection of some of our structural funds.
We have to build upon this momentum.
I can only invite you to take a positive and pro-active approach on our proposals related to modernisation, thematic concentration, conditionality, and partnership.
Let me be crystal clear with you. The way you will respond to this will determine which deal we can achieve in the end.
We cannot leave any doubt on our collective readiness to turn the page on the days of a culture of entitlement where structural funds were sometimes seen just as a kind of a right to spend it or not to spend it, because sometimes it was not possible to spend it anyhow. This cannot be supported.
And concerns on "better spending" expressed by some Member States should be treated as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The fact is that we need a cohesion policy that is still further centred on our growth and job objectives, and that reinforces Europe's competitiveness and the new system of economic governance.
New conditionality provisions will contribute to a smoother and better implementation of investments supported by the cohesion policy. This will help to ensure that EU funding is focussed on results and that is what we want for our countries: results in terms of more growth and in terms of more and better jobs.
Faster absorption of structural funds will limit the risks of losing the money.
And partnership contracts to be concluded with each Member State will allow for mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding.
Indeed, more than ever in a period of budgetary constraint, we have to ensure that each euro spent is spent on the right investment priorities and the right policies to stimulate growth and jobs, to enhance convergence and cohesion.
When I talk about cohesion I also mean investing in the people. And that is why the Commission has proposed a minimum share of 25% for the European Social Fund within the total structural funds budget.
Cohesion is also about closing missing links throughout Europe. And this is exactly what the Connecting Europe Facility is about.
The cohesion policy and the Connecting Europe Facility will reinforce each other by better coordinating regional, national and EU priorities.
This will ensure the maximum efficiency and added value of EU support to the 3 strategic sectors covered by the Connecting Europe Facility: transport so critical for some of your countries, energy where we have real issue there in terms of linking the grids from the north to the south, from the west to the east of Europe, and ICT because this is about economy of the future.
Let's be clear. Everybody talks about growth. Everybody in principle wants growth. But there is not such a thing as growth by decree! For growth we also need targeted investment.
This is why the Commission will continue to defend the overall level of the financial framework that it has proposed and the specific envelopes under each of the budgetary headings.
As I have recently said in my "State of the Union" speech in the European Parliament, this will be a real test of credibility for many of our Member States who are all the time talking about investment and growth. We will see now if the same countries that are speaking about the need for growth are ready to contribute to the most important instrument we have at the European level for growth. This is precisely the European budget. It is a very important point for credibility I want to make.
I believe now it is time to stand together and to show the necessary openness in support of the right Multi-Annual Financial Framework that will take us to 2020.
It is time to support a budget for growth at the European level.
This is also the clear and joint message we recently sent together with the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Council, and the President of the rotating Council Presidency, Cyprus. As Martin Schulz just mentioned recently at the meeting - myself together with him, with Herman Van Rompuy and with President Christofias and Minister Mavroyiannis - and he made clear that this should be the priority.
We will spare no effort to facilitate an overall agreement supported by all institutions by the end of this year. It is important to know that the institutions are together on this. I hope the member states will also be.
And ultimately you will have to convince the other Member States of the justification of the positions you have adopted. That is why I want to conclude with an appeal. The appeal is the following: that the friends of cohesion and the friends of better spending join what I could call the Friends of Growth. I am a friend of growth. The real issue in Europe is how can we get back to sustainable growth. This is the real issue, and I think in the European Council we are going to discuss this. Colleagues here present, this is the way to have unity at the European Council - countries that are richer, countries that are less prosperous, new members, old members, countries that are founding members, recent members - let's unit about the need to come back to sustainable growth in Europe. The budget is an instrument for it, and cohesion is an indispensable part for that purpose.
I thank you for your attention.