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Speech by President Barroso at the Trinity College Historical Society

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/176   28/02/2013

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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso at the Trinity College Historical Society

The Trinity College Historical Society/Dublin

28 February 2013

Dear Auditor, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very honoured to be present here this evening in the home of one of the oldest university debating societies in the world.

The Hist can boast many distinguished members from the Irish patriots such as Tone and Emmet, to the literary genius of Bram Stoker, and renowned modern day politicians such as Mary Robinson. If I can add, my first Secretary General in the Commission also was coming from the Hist, where he gave also a very important contribution.

It is a great honour to have been asked to follow in their footsteps.

I notice that my speech is not the only one on Europe which will be held here in the next few days…

In fact I am in some respects the warm-up man for Eddie Izzard. And like most warm-up acts, I freely admit to being less funny than Mr Izzard. I certainly lack his fashion sense! But let me be very clear on one point, I am just as passionate about Europe.

And I know at this time and in this country this is not a terribly trendy thing to say. But back in my own time as a student in Portugal, Europe was a beacon of hope. It inspired us as we worked to end the dictatorship and re-join the European family of nations. I was 18 years of age, and I saw a dictatorship of 48 years crumbling just after getting in the Law School of the University of Lisbon. So I had that experience more or less at the age of some of you and I can tell you something - you never forget.

Now many of you in this room this evening may be less certain about what Europe has done and can do for you. Some of you may be facing your final exams soon, worrying whether you will find a job, or whether you will need to move abroad to find one.

These are indeed difficult and challenging times for young Europeans. I hope this evening to persuade you that Europe is not the cause of the current problems and that dismantling what has been achieved over the last sixty years would be the worst possible answer.

In those sixty years we have seen peace and prosperity. Europe has been reunited, including through the admission of former authoritarian regimes such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, and culminating in the great enlargement of 2004. In fact it was here in Ireland that we celebrated that enlargement. I came here to that moment as prime minister of my country, under the Irish Presidency, which brought many former Soviet bloc countries into the Union. So for those young people from Central and Eastern Europe, and for my generation of young people in the south of Europe, Europe means freedom.

We have built a single market which is the largest and wealthiest trading bloc in the world. We have a single currency which is the world's second largest reserve currency and which, notwithstanding all the prophecies of doom, remains strong and credible.

Ireland itself is an excellent demonstration of what has been achieved. Even in a period of real economic difficulties for families and businesses alike, the Ireland of 2013 is a much wealthier, socially developed and internationally recognised place than it was forty years ago. Ireland has gone from a GDP of less than two- thirds of the EU average when it joined in 1973 to almost a third higher than average income in 2011.

So, you may ask, why does the Europe of today inspire less confidence that membership will bring Ireland and the Irish people a better future?

Let us start by understanding what has happened to the global economy since the financial crisis first hit in 2008.

We have experienced a financial tsunami which has shaken our banking system and exposed weak regulation and serious failures in national supervision. As the banking system stood on the brink of collapse, governments across the European Union – and not just here in Ireland - were forced to step in. The result is that European taxpayers have had to pay to clean up the bankers' mess. This in turn overwhelmed public finances and created the economic problems we all unfortunately know.

This must not happen again. The Commission has prioritised a fundamental reform to make financial markets more stable and responsible. Our proposal for a European supervisor is intended to overcome the cronyism of the past. And we are working on measures so that future bank failure can be managed without opening the public purse.

European Member States have also started to deal with excessive public deficits. This inevitably has meant a period of government belt tightening. These problems are common to most of the developed world. America and Japan are struggling just as much as Europe. Within the European Union, countries outside the euro, such as the UK, are also not immune from the crisis. And indeed they are taking what you usually call austerity measures. So it shows that austerity is not directly linked to the euro - it is something that may happen, or has to happen, after very serious imbalances.

A concerted effort has been made by EU Member States to consolidate national budgets and to implement structural reforms. This responsibility has been matched by solidarity from the European Union which has provided crucial financial support for programme countries and put in place a range of new instruments in particular to underpin our common currency, the euro.

The euro was not the cause of the crisis. This is a fact because we have many countries in the European Union and outside the European Union, a typical example being Iceland, that have felt the impact of the crisis - and they are not members of the euro.

But it is true that the crisis tested the limits of Europe's nascent macroeconomic policy coordination and revealed flaws in the original architecture underpinning the single currency. At the same time I firmly believe that the impact of the crisis would have been even more severe if our countries had maintained separate currencies. During the oil shocks of the 1970s competitive devaluations between European currencies considerably aggravated the situation.

I say that the long term solution to the crisis is more Europe not less Europe. And why? Because, if this crisis has demonstrated anything it is the interdependence which exists in Europe and indeed at the global level: a bank collapse in the US or a housing bubble in Ireland can have a profound impact across borders. Globalisation brings huge opportunities but also creates real challenges.

European integration provides an opportunity to shape this changed reality. Together we have the scale to tackle issues that can no longer be resolved at national level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Much has been done across Europe to overcome the financial and economic crisis but more must be, and is being, done.

However, we must not forget that this is also a social and political crisis and our response must reflect this.

Youth unemployment is a concern and must prey on the mind of many of you in this room. The Irish government has been a strong supporter of the Commission's proposal for a Youth Guarantee. And indeed, just today, the council of ministers so the governments of Europe they have adopted the proposal the Commission put forward for a recommendation on this youth guarantee. The guarantee is about giving young people hope. The aim is to give every young European access to a job, further education, or work-focussed training at the latest four months after becoming unemployed.

In the recent discussions on the European Union budget I fought long and hard for a dedicated youth employment initiative to support this Youth Guarantee and other initiatives, such as an expanded Erasmus programme, which will allow more students to broaden their horizons and study elsewhere in Europe.

But our focus on jobs is much broader than projects and concrete programmes. We are working to create opportunities for the future of young people in Europe – by opening up new trading opportunities for example. We hope to launch negotiations for an EU US free trade agreement in the coming months, under Ireland's presidency.

We are also working to extend the opportunities available within the internal market. Europe has delivered cheaper airfares and mobile phone calls. Now we need a real digital single market in which e-commerce can thrive and on-line services can be provided from anywhere in the European Union. We have just agreed on a European patent. It took 40 years for the member states to agree on the European patent, and two of them did not agree because of concerns with the linguistic regime. But now we have it. so that some of your bright ideas for the future can be given the protection they deserve. We still need to do more to invest in research and innovation, which is why I am pleased to have secured increased funding for our new Horizon 2020 programme. Under the current programme, Trinity College has secured nearly 60 million euro of grant funding from the European Union.

But no politician can create jobs by decree. All we can do is put in place the conditions for jobs to be created, first and foremost by building confidence: because without confidence there is no investment and without investment there are no jobs.

So we need to tackle those weaknesses in the euro framework which I mentioned earlier. The European Commission has set out a blueprint for further deepening economic and monetary Union.

This will imply far greater oversight at the European level of national economic and budgetary policy than has previously been the case. This will require a fairly hefty pooling of what have until now been fundamentally national responsibilities.

And this is necessary because when countries share a currency they have a responsibility to take account of the impact of their policies on their partners.

We are therefore heading towards a step change in the evolution of the European Union. I think that in the coming years some far-reaching choices will need to be made.

Decisions that will provide the right underpinning for our single currency.

Decisions that will make concrete a shared commitment to sound economic and budgetary management, combined with the right degree of solidarity between Member States because, as I say very often, our Union is not just about the market. Our union is also about values: the values of peace, freedom and justice. And our Union is also a political project that reflects our willingness to share a common destiny.

These decisions are decisions that will take us further than ever before into areas which are the traditional reserve of national governments.

Ultimately these are decisions that will have a profound impact on you and your future. They matter, and the way in which they are made matters. They raise fundamental questions of European democracy. And since the Hist was founded by Edmund Burke, it is perhaps only natural that any discussion turns to the issue of democratic participation.

European integration is a unique project, without parallel in human history. But Europe faces a unique and fundamental political and democratic challenge. Too often the impression is that Europe is something that is done to the people of Europe, rather than the product of a proactive and deliberate democratic choice.

That is why I have argued that no longer can Europe be governed by the implicit consent of its people.

And on this point let me quote Edmund Burke:

"In all forms of government the people is the true legislator"

That is why I have called for a broad debate about Europe's future. A debate that must happen now before Treaties are changed, when we are identifying the policies we need and the instruments to implement them. And the debate needs to take a truly European dimension.

Auditor, ladies and gentlemen,

Ireland has a long tradition of public debate. The subject of Europe is not immune from this debate and nor should it be. As I said on my last visit to Ireland, constructive criticism does not pose a threat to the European project. Pessimism and indifference do.

That is why I am so concerned about the impoverished political debate on Europe across our continent and beyond.

I would recommend to you a recent speech by the President of Germany. He said, among other interesting points:

First, don't be indifferent! Brussels may be far away, but the issues which are negotiated and decided there concern all of us.

Second, don't be lazy! The European Union is complicated because it has to achieve complicated and complex things. It deserves citizens who are interested and keep themselves informed. It deserves more than a 43 per cent turnout at European Parliament elections. And it does not deserve to have Brussels made a scapegoat when national interests or national failures are to blame.

Third, recognize your ability to make a contribution! A better Europe will not emerge if we always believe that others should shoulder the responsibility. Everyone can find a good reason to say: Yes, I want Europe I want to give my contribution!

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are a privileged generation. You may find this a strange thing to say if you are worrying about how to find a job after graduation, or worrying that you might have to emigrate, or worried that you won't be able to afford the life style you hope for.

But you are getting a first-class education in a country that has shown it can do fantastic things. All of Europe is yours because 40 years ago Ireland chose European Union membership. So tonight I want to ask you to get involved in the debate about Europe today and how it should evolve in the future. Whether you are for or against, inform yourselves and make your views count.

I am now looking forward to the debate on Europe this evening.

I thank you for your attention.


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