José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the Tripartite Social Summit
14 March 2013
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
It was indeed a very good, frank and open debate with substance, among the social partners and together with the European institutions and also the current Presidency of the Council and the next, too.
As you know, I attach great importance to a high-quality social dialogue at European level. And it is especially important now because we continue to face a high level of unemployment, and at the same a need for courageous economic reforms.
When you look at the situation one year ago and now, we have to recognise that there has been some progress in some fronts, but not in all fronts. There was certainly progress in terms of financial stability, in terms of fiscal consolidation. There was progress because the interest rates of sovereign debt are going down and some reforms for competitiveness are progressing.
But the reality is that the prospects for growth remain extremely worrying and indeed unemployment is reaching unacceptable levels.
This is why we need to address these issues with comprehensive policies. We all agree that we should give priority to growth and jobs, the question is how to achieve it. I believe that the social partners' active involvement in European economic governance, at European level but also at national level, is key for all our efforts to deliver a job-rich recovery and growth.
And our tripartite discussions are very timely, because precisely today and tomorrow, in the March European Council, we will address these issues and we are now preparing the Country Specific Recommendations for the end of May.
The economic and social situation in Europe remains very challenging. That is why the priorities the Commission identified in the previous year's Annual Growth Survey remain highly relevant and have been confirmed in our 2013 Annual Growth Survey, which I expect the European Council will endorse.
Indeed, we have to concentrate on pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly consolidation, restoring normal lending to the economy, promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow, tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis, and modernising public administration.
Focus must now turn to implementation; not enough has been done. The reality is that Heads of State and Government have adopted the Compact for Growth and Jobs, but many measures take time to materialise. Implementation has been too low and too slow. I think the commitment to that programme has to be reinforced.
In those Member States pursuing an ambitious implementation of their reform agenda, there are already, in some areas, positive signs. The adjustment of the balance of payments is impressive in some countries: Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, to name some. It results not just from shrinking internal demand but from a boost in export sectors. That means that competitiveness is also improving.
Indebtedness of the public and private sectors has been reduced in a number of Member States. Exports are increasing in several countries which had large trade deficits before. And this is certainly good news. But, as I said earlier, the reality is that at the same time, this may co-exist with still worrying figures in terms of growth and, namely, on unemployment.
This, I believe, is the kind of approach we should have at European level: to keep our commitment to the reforms that are indispensable for European competitiveness, to keep our commitment to the correction of the public finances' imbalances, but, at the same time, to do more to promote growth in the short term and also to have a reinforced commitment regarding the social obligations. Because as I said to the European Parliament just yesterday, in some cases we are reaching the limits of what is socially acceptable, and this is certainly a matter of concern for all of us.
This requires an involvement at all levels by public authorities but also by social partners and of course at European and national level.
On our side, the Commission, we are trying to push forward an agenda for employment, namely, youth employment. Recently we came with a Youth Employment Package, including a Youth Guarantee, and we were very happy to see that Member States agreed unanimously on this. Now we have to implement it. This, reflecting, of course, the priorities that were presented in April 2012 already: the Employment Package.
Two days ago, on 12 March, the Commission proposed operational rules to implement the Youth Employment Initiative, which of course will be a way to fight youth unemployment and will help materialise, in concrete terms, the Youth Guarantee.
I hope that there will be this strong commitment at all levels, to address this most urgent concern. At the same time, we have to look at other issues in terms of the labour market, because that was underlined today during discussion. The reality is that we very have very important skills mismatches, and we have at the same time, many people looking for jobs, and in many cases companies looking for employees that they cannot find in the European market. Today we spoke about construction, in some areas of construction, namely related to the new obligations in terms of climate protection and energy, or the ICT area, where the Commission just launched, on 4 March, a "Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs".
This shows that this is really a huge task, that apart from the political debate, requires afterwards a careful analysis, sector by sector, country by country, what we can do to really address the major challenge that is growth and jobs, so that we can respond to the concerns of our citizens.