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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following the final session of the European Council
15 March 2013
As President Van Rompuy just said, after the European Council first session yesterday, we had a substantive debate in the Euro Area summit on the analysis of the economic situation. I saw extensive convergence between the presentation of the ECB President Mario Draghi and the presentation I made earlier in the European Council summit. The most relevant point is that to achieve sustainable growth we really need increased competitiveness. And we discussed how we can best achieve that. Specific attention was given to the issues of productivity and of course of employment, which is, as you know, our major concern today.
In fact, in Europe, too many young people are asking if they will ever find a job or have the same quality of life as their parents.
And we need to give them a better prospect. Since January 2012 the Commission has been working with action teams in the eight Member States with the highest levels of youth unemployment. Together we have targeted EU financing to support job opportunities for young people and help SMEs get access to finance. The results have been positive. By the start of this year around 16 billion euro of EU funding had been mobilised – double the amount we first expected. Nearly 800 000 young people and 55 000 SMEs are set to benefit. This is of course still work in progress.
But reversing the youth unemployment trend needs sustained and long term effort. Member States recently endorsed the Commission's proposal for a Youth Guarantee giving every young European the promise of a job, further education, or work-focussed training at the latest four months after becoming unemployed. And in the recent budget negotiations the Commission fought to secure a large increase in funding for youth. Under the Erasmus programme more students will benefit from mobility opportunities. And the new Youth Employment Initiative will provide additional 6 billion euro in much-needed support for young people in regions with youth unemployment rates above 25%. The Commission has moved quickly on this and already this week made the proposals needed to make this Initiative a reality. And we expect that as soon as we have an agreement on the MFF, Member States and the European Parliament can reach a formal agreement, so that this programme can start up as soon as possible.
Another point we have analysed, and we spoke about yesterday, is that we simultaneously have high levels of unemployment and skill shortages. The shortfall in ICT professionals could reach 900 000 by 2015. Opportunities exist and we must train our young people to fill them. Last week the European Commission launched the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Working in partnership with business, industry associations, and Member States, we are already collecting pledges on new jobs, internships, training places, start-up funding, and free online university courses. Business is a key player in helping ensure that both vocational training and more academic education are effectively meeting labour market needs.
I really welcome the kind of political discussion we had yesterday, about trying to see, not only at European but also at national level, what we can do creatively to address in the short term this most pressing social issue. And I really saw a commitment of the Heads of State and Government to address this problem with the sense of urgency required.
Today we listened to a presentation by Prime Minister Cameron on the G8, as the UK has the current Presidency. The three key priorities, the three "t", transparency, tax evasion and trade presented by the Prime Minister of Britain this morning are issues on which the Commission has led the way in recent months.
The Commission is very supportive of the transparency agenda and was a vocal advocate of the extractive industry initiative in the G20 context. This is about reporting of payments by EU companies to foreign governments. Openness here can be a strong deterrent against corruption.
In 2011 the Commission made important proposals putting transparency obligations into the European Union Transparency and Accounting Directives. If we can get these agreed in time for the G8 Summit, we will seize an important opportunity to send a message of global leadership on this very important issue.
As I said last night, preventing tax evasion is a priority because everyone should pay their fair share of tax. We are working with the OECD and the G20 on a global approach, including on exchange of information. But delivery starts at home. The implementation of our two Recommendations (on tax evasion and on aggressive tax planning) should be a priority.
At the February European Council we adopted important conclusions on trade and the role it plays in stimulating growth. I hope that others in the G8 will come on board so that there can be a strong political message from the G8 in support of free trade as an engine for growth and jobs.
It is particularly important that we restate our commitment to a strong multilateral trading system. We should be clear that the bilateral initiatives we are pursuing are fully compatible and complementary to the WTO and can indeed be an incentive for resuming multilateral talks. And since there is not a prospect of a global agreement - the so-called Doha Trade and Development Talks -, at least we believe that in the Ministerial Conference in Bali at the end of this year, we should have an agreement on trade facilitation.
Another point that was discussed was trade and Africa, and we very much welcome this new attention that we are giving now to Africa. Not only in terms of development aid as donors, as we are, but a new kind of relationship with Africa where part of our agenda is very much linked to the opportunities offered by trade.
Finally, we had today, in the European Council as well, a good open frank discussion on our strategic partnership with Russia.
We need to move from a partnership of necessity to a partnership of choice
The case for engaging with Russia is overwhelming. They are our largest neighbour, our largest energy supplier, our third largest trading partner, a key player in our common neighbourhood and in other major international files, and in fact this year they will also be leading the G20 summit.
But we are also very important for Russia. We are their largest trading partner. 75% of the FDI, Foreign Direct Investment, in Russia, comes from Europe. And we are by far their biggest energy costumer. So as we see, we should do more with Russia, provided of course, Russia can also show the same interest in this kind of relationship. We expect Russia to be a trusted partner and uphold the commitments they have taken in the WTO, OSCE and Council of Europe.
Next week I will travel to Moscow together with members of the College to meet with the Russian Government to explore areas of cooperation of mutual interest. Thank you for your attention.