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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice
Main Messages: Citizens' Dialogue in Stockholm
15 October 2013
Member States' far-reaching and sometime painful reforms are starting to pay off. Recovery is in sight.
Unit labour costs are falling in countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal. Member States that were shut out of the capital markets for years can now borrow again from private investors at sustainable interest rates.
Sweden is showing Europe the way: today, Sweden is the 6th most competitive country in the world with one of the highest growth rates in the European Union – the best proof that hard work is rewarded with success. Sweden can be a European model for other counties in economic difficulty today. If you want to succeed, do it like a Swede!
2. Sweden as driver for innovation
Sweden has always been one of the drivers of Europe's digital market: Skype, Spotify or Soundcloud: all born in Sweden and taken up worldwide!
For a country of nine-million inhabitants on the outer fringes of Europe, Sweden is punching well above its weight in the world of tech start-ups. Swedish tech firms are having their ABBA moment.
We need to copy the Swedish success in Europe: We are working to boost the digital single market and end regulatory fragmentation, creating the right competitive conditions, so that small start-ups can grow big in Europe. This is what our data protection reform will do.
3. Future of Europe
We need to turn our Union into a Political Union. Citizens and their needs will be at the heart of that Political Union. This is something we can learn from Sweden – after all, it was your country that first introduced an ombudsman to deal with citizens’ complaints. Now, the institution of the ombudsman has become a gold standard in democracies. We need more of your creativity and democratic spirit when we decide on the future course of our Union in the coming months and years. Europe needs the Swedes!
Europe is not for politicians, it is for citizens. Citizens need to use the power they have to shape it. One big opportunity to do so is coming up in May 2014: the European Parliament elections. They will present Europeans with a real choice - so citizens should seize the opportunity to make their voice heard.
I know that I can count on you: 69% of Swedes feel European; Swedes know Europe since the Vikings (who travelled all around Europe). The colours of your national flag are the same as the European one: An active Swede is what we need!
And you have the perfect role model of an active Swede within the Commission: Cecilia Malmström, your Commissioner is a first class Commissioner working very hard to bring together Member States for a common and ambitious asylum and immigration policy. The Mediterranean should not be a cemetery of people coming to Europe in search of a better life. And with Cecilia we have the right person doing what is needed.
4. Banking Union
Today banks are born national but they operate and die European. The collapse of the financial system was prevented in almost all EU countries thanks to huge injections of government money. The total value of state aid is estimated to amount to about 12.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Ireland alone, the cost of state capital support to the three largest banks amounted to 29% of GDP.
We need to federalise banking supervision and resolution.
The decisiveness with which your country handled its own severe banking crisis that erupted at the beginning of the 1990s has rightly been hailed as a model. It was followed in many of the bailouts we saw across Europe in the recent banking crisis. Today, your banks are stable and profitable – thanks to the lessons learnt in the 1990s and thanks to tough regulators.
Europe needs this kind of expertise and attitude in our Banking Union: I hope Sweden will join the Single Supervisory Mechanism!
The Single Supervisory Mechanism is the point of no return for the EU's Banking Union. Staying out could mean that the plane has left without you. Being part means you can decide in which direction the plane is going.
5. Free Movement
Free movement of people is one of the building blocks of our Union, one of the most precious rights: for 56% of European citizens and for 64% of Swedish citizens, free movement is the most positive achievement of the European Union.
Let language not betray us: European citizens exercising their right to free movement are not "immigrants".
This is why I had a discussion with Interior Ministers based on facts and figures, not on perceptions.
I made clear it is our common responsibility to strongly uphold this right. The right to free movement is not up for negotiation.
The data Ministers sent me shows that mobile EU citizens are more likely to work than the domestic population and less likely to claim social benefits.
When you walk through your high streets and hear people talking with a foreign accent, it is very likely that these persons are net contributors and not 'welfare tourists'.
Our rules are good but they must be applied effectively by Member States. That is why I proposed a 5 points Action Plan.
6. Labour mobility/Unemployment
Some 2 million vacancies remain unfilled in the EU despite the crisis. People will have to be able to move much more freely to where the jobs are.
Current levels of mobility are very low. The proportion of mobile EU citizens is three times lower than in the US (EU: 0.29% vs US: 1,5%).
To encourage people to move, the European Commission is working on a proposal that would ensure that a person looking for work in another Member State would be able to receive unemployment benefits for up to six months. We need a real European labour market.
Combating unemployment must be Europe’s top priority. Heads of State and Government have given their firm commitment to implementing the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee – that has been developed using the Swedish model.
7. Data Protection
Data is the new currency of the digital economy. Like any currency it needs trust to be stable.
Trust is bankable. A survey carried out by the Cloud Security Alliance after the recent surveillance revelations found that 56% of respondents were hesitant to work with any US-based cloud service providers. The economic impact of these doubts has now been quantified. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation estimates that the surveillance revelations will cost the US cloud computing industry $22 to $35 billion in lost revenues over the next three years.
Data protection will be the selling point: a competitive advantage.