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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the plenary debate with the Prime Minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen: "The Future of the European Union"
European Parliament plenary session/Strasbourg
16 April 2013
Mr Prime Minister,
Before I begin, may I express on behalf of the Commission our deepest sympathy with the victims and families of those killed and injured in the violent attacks in Boston yesterday. We condemn all forms of violence and stand in solidarity with our American friends on this sad day.
Mr Prime Minister,
It is a pleasure for me to say some words here today when the Prime Minister of Finland, Mr Katainen, is debating the future direction of the European Union with the European Parliament.
I want to start by thanking the Finnish Prime Minister for his very important personal contribution to the European project. Jyrki Katainen has shown a strong commitment to strengthening democracy, transparency and dialogue in the European Union. In short, the Finnish Prime Minister and the country he represents stand for a European Union which is first and foremost a community of values.
This brings me to the first point which I wanted to make this morning which is the manner in which Finland embodies the most fundamental concept at the heart of our Union, that of the rule of law, and the principle of equal rights.
No matter their size, economic weight, history or culture, our Union is a Union of Member States, joined together by common values and shared interests. It is a Union which shows equal respect for the rights and hears the voice of each and every Member State.
In this environment Finland has demonstrated that it is not size alone which can move the European debate forward. It is the strength of your ideas and the commitment and determination to see these ideas through. On issues from Enlargement to the Single Market or the digital agenda, from the Union's international trade relations to justice and home affairs, Finland is a leading light in moving and shaping European policy.
Let me say a specific point on the rule of law and fairness. The Prime Minister rightly places great importance on these issues. So does the Commission, especially at a time when reform places burden on our societies. This is why we are pushing forward with our proposals to combat tax evasion and tax avoidance which cost Europe around €1 trillion a year in lost tax revenues. In other words, Europe is losing tax revenues every year which amount to one full Multi-Annual Financial Framework. This is money we can ill afford to lose and which increases the burden on the average honest taxpayer.
It is time to turn good intentions to action. That is why I call on the Member States to quickly agree on the Commission's proposals on savings tax and for a strong mandate to negotiate agreements with Switzerland and other neighbours, as well as for a rapid reaction mechanism to tackle VAT fraud. And in the coming weeks I will be urging Member States to jointly commit to common actions and an agreed timeline to implement the Recommendations on tax havens and aggressive tax planning which the Commission made last December.
I thank Finland for its support on this issue, including its welcome initiative to host a joint seminar with the Commission at the end of this month.
In a recent speech on Competitiveness which I made in Dublin, I underlined the position of Finland as the leading Member State in the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness index – Finland appearing ranked 3rd in the world. Across Europe as we seek to exit the current crisis and bolster Europe's long term competitiveness it is important that we look at Finland and take on board the lessons from the Finnish experience.
These are long hard lessons. Following its domestic banking crisis in the 1990's Finland undertook a series of deep, difficult structural reforms in order to reshape its economy; regain international competitiveness and retain the principle elements of its social market economy. This process is one which many other Member States are now following and which Finland has been supporting by showing solidarity with these countries.
Finland is also playing an active part in the shaping of the banking union. Events in Cyprus show just how important this work is and how it is even more urgent than ever. I am pleased that following the intensive work in the trilogues, there is now a final agreement on the Single Supervisory Mechanism. The Commission will bring forward proposals for a Single Resolution Mechanism in June.
But the most important lesson of all of this is that it should not be seen as a one off exercise, it is a day to day exercise, because remaining competitive requires constant work as Finland has recognised and is currently demonstrating through its on-going efforts.
Finland is engaged in a dialogue with its European partners, setting out its ideas, discussing its concerns as an active, engaged and thoughtful member of our Union.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his role in shaping this approach and for his very close co-operation and friendship. I would like to thank Finland for its commitment to our Union.
I thank you for your attention.