Other available languages: none
José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following the European Council meeting
Final press conference/Brussels
25 October 2013
Let me just highlight some of the points that were already presented in the report by the President of the European Council.
First of all, we continued our discussion this morning on the economic situation. As you know, yesterday we underlined the importance of the digital sector for growth and jobs. And today, we looked at how to release the wider contribution of services to our economy. I hope that Member States will deliver on their commitment to deeper implementation of the services directive and the removal of disproportionate barriers.
Specifically, there was an important discussion about SMEs. How can we contribute to avoid the difficulties that exist today, also in the euro area, in terms of the lending conditions to SMEs in Europe? And we have agreed to significantly increase the funding for SMEs through the structural and investment funds, leveraging the European Investment Bank loans so that they can have this kind of funding available, which is particularly important for countries that have very big pressure on their budgets and also in terms of the access to markets of their companies. I presented the figures last year, while 85% of German SMEs got the credit they requested, the average in Southern Europe was 40%, in Greece it was less than 25%. And very often this is not dependent on the quality of the companies themselves, it depends on the way the sovereign is seen in these countries and also on the confidence that may exist in the banking sector. That's why we have to address this issue as a matter of urgency.
Regarding SMEs, we also had a very good discussion on regulatory fitness. I was extremely encouraged by the strong endorsement that the European Council gave to the Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT), a programme of pragmatic proposals for simpler, less burdensome, more 'common sense' European Union regulation. This is the programme , that, as you know, we have presented recently, and it was the subject of discussions with a very strong endorsement of the European Council.
Indeed common rules are important. It is thanks to common rules that we were able to build the single market, allowing businesses to prosper and ensuring also a decent level of protection of workers, of consumers, of the environment, and public health. I made it clear that this REFIT programme is a programme to reduce the administrative burden on our companies and our citizens, but should not be about calling into question shared policy goals, like our goals in terms of environment, of workers' rights, of public health or consumer protection.
It is about the quality of our rules, making them fit for purpose and as least burdensome as possible. Europe should only act where it can add real value – big on the bigger things, small on the smaller things, respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. As I said, quoting Montesquieu, "Les lois inutiles affaiblissent les lois nécessaires" Useless laws weaken necessary laws. And this is the spirit in which we are now going on with this ambitious programme of administrative burden reduction.
We need to open up at home but we also need to open up with our partners. I'm very pleased the European Council welcomed the political agreement on the CETA, the agreement on trade with Canada, which provides significant new opportunities for the European Union and Canadian companies.
We also discussed extensively the forthcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November. I believe this summit has the potential to be a truly historic event, and I'm not exaggerating on the word "historic". We are close to achieving our common goal of political association and economic integration with our Eastern Partners. The free will of these countries must be respected by everyone and we also expect our partners to deliver on their commitment to reforms and to the values that underpin our relationship.
We have discussed in detail the relations with Ukraine. We have been working very hard to achieve the best set of deliverables at Vilnius, in particular the signature of the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with Ukraine. And in the many contacts we have had with President Yanukovych, President Van Rompuy and myself have kept this very intense dialogue. We met him several times and we made this message clear: we will stick to our commitments if Ukraine also sticks to what it has committed to do. Important progress was achieved in a number of areas so far, including sensitive areas of rule of law. But on the important issue of selective justice Ukraine still needs to find a suitable solution for the Tymoshenko case.
Rregarding Moldova and Georgia, we should also be in a position to initial the respective association agreements DCFTAs, paving the way for a full signature in the autumn of 2014. Indeed, while Vilnius is a historic summit, it is also a staging post, because continuous engagement will remain of the essence after Vilnius.
Regarding Lampedusa and the issues of illegal migration and refugees in Europe: that was probably the most substantive discussion on a political level we had during this European Council. As I saw for myself, when I visited Lampedusa at the invitation of the Italian government, the scale of the human tragedy in the Mediterranean means we have to act now. The European Union cannot accept that thousands of people die at our borders.
Sadly, this is not a new problem, and we have been working on this issue for many years. But I believe now there is a sense of urgency that will make things happen. Now Member States asked the European Commission to lead a task force on the issue. We will present a report to the Council in December, we will discuss this matter also again at the European Council and today I have called for a stronger response from the European Union in several areas, namely four areas that are now already in the agenda of this task force that already met once:
Reinforce search and rescue operations to save lives.
To help the frontline member states, namely the countries of the European Union that are more exposed to this situation.
Thirdly, the need to work with the countries of origin and transit so that we can manage migration flows.
And fourth but not the least in importance, the fight against organised crime and human trafficking. These were the priorities that were extensively discussed by the European Council.
So this was, I think, a very important European Council, with a vast agenda, where we have achieved real progress on a whole series of areas.
I thank you for your attention.