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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration
"European Council Meeting October 24-25 2013"
European Parliament Open Conference of Presidents /Brussels
5 November 2013
Unfortunately President Barroso was not able to be here today due to a long standing commitment abroad, but I am happy to take his place in order to debrief you on the outcome of the recent European Council Meeting.
The European Council covered a wide range of issues, from the digital economy and innovation, the economic situation, the deepening of the EMU, youth employment, SME financing and smart regulation to migration, Eastern Partnership and US intelligence activities in Europe.
I would like to thank President Schulz for his very good intervention and constructive approach at the customary opening session of the European Council. We fully agree with his call for prioritising key legislative files to secure agreement before the parliamentary recess. Our key immediate priority of course will now be the finalisation of negotiations on the next MFF, the accompanying sectoral legislation and the budgets for 2013 and 2014.
The European Council had a lively and supportive debate on the digital agenda. Europe is not yet fully taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy, largely due to market fragmentation. To compete globally, Member States need to take action both at national and EU level to put the right framework conditions in place and boost public and private investment in innovation and ICT.
Therefore completing the digital single market by 2015 is a high priority. In this context I hope that we can make rapid progress in order to adopt both the telecom package and key legislation on data protection before the 2014 European elections.
President Barroso pressed Member States to speed up their work on the youth guarantee and the youth employment initiative. It is critical that Member States finalise their youth guarantee implementation plans in good time before the end of the year, in order that we can move ahead with implementation.
This will also be important in order to ensure that the €6 billion of the youth employment initiative can be spent accordingly. The Commission is working with the Member States to help them prepare their plans and six Member States have shared their draft plans with us so far.
The President also urged Member States to increase support for SMEs, including through broad participation in the new 'Joint Instruments' proposed by the Commission and EIB in June.
Over dinner there was a good discussion, in the presence also of ECB President Mario Draghi, on the situation of the European economy. There is cause for cautious optimism, but recovery is still fragile. Work to reform the economy and create jobs and growth must continue. We must stay the course on fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, although the modest signs of recovery are enabling us to focus more and more on growth. The Commission will adopt its Annual Growth Survey in mid-November.
We welcome the high-level support for increasing the level of commitment, ownership and implementation of the economic policies and reforms that flow from European Semester process.
The dinner also dealt with banking union. We were pleased to see the European Council's decision to reach general approach on Single Resolution Mechanism proposal by the end of the year; this is a key file also for the European Parliament. Negotiating the details will not be easy but we need to use the momentum. President Barroso called firmly for work on the Single Resolution Mechanism to be completed before the 2014 EP elections and for the related legislation on bank resolution and recovery and deposit guarantees to be finalised by the end of this year.
The ECB President presented the ECB's forthcoming "comprehensive assessment" of banks' balance sheets. This will be an important test of the credibility of the EU banking system.
There was a first substantive debate at Head of State and Government level on the Commission proposal to enhance the social dimension of EMU. The Commission proposals for the introduction of an employment and social scoreboard in the Joint Employment Report, a wider range of social indicators and an enhanced social dialogue were welcome. But it also became evident from the discussions that there are different sensitivities and that main levers for action in this area lie at Member State level.
We were particularly glad to see that the Commission proposal on REFIT was warmly welcome. The REFIT principles should underpin all our future work on the evaluation and revision of existing rules as well as the design of new proposals. It is a good programme for simpler, less burdensome, more 'common sense' EU regulation. But President Barroso made it very clear: REFIT is a programme to reduce the administrative burden on our companies and our citizens. But it should not call into question shared policy goals, such as on environment, workers' rights or public health and consumer protection. We want modern, cost effective regulation that protects consumer, health, environmental and work standards.
Against the background of the recent tragedy in Lampedusa, the European Council also discussed migratory flows. It is clear that we need to find ways of reconciling the humanitarian response with our security needs.
President Barroso called for a stronger response from the EU in several areas, namely in order to reinforce search and rescue operations to save lives; to help the frontline Member States that are more exposed; to ensure better co-operation with countries of origin and transit to manage migratory flows; and to fight against organised crime and human trafficking. The setting-up of the relevant Task Force chaired by the Commission was highly welcome and will face high expectations over the next weeks. The European Council will return to this issue in December.
The European Council also discussed the forthcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius to be held at the end of this month. This can be a historic opportunity to improve relations in our eastern neighbourhood, provided Ukraine and the other countries meet the conditions we have set. We are optimistic that an Association Agreement (including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) with Ukraine can be adopted and agreements with the Republic of Moldova and Georgia initialled.
Finally, you have seen that the Heads of State and Government made a statement on recent developments concerning US intelligence activities in Europe. France and Germany announced plans for bilateral talks with the US in order to reach a common understanding on mutual relations in this area.
So, this was, I believe, a very important European Council, with a vast agenda, where real progress was achieved on a whole series of issues.
I thank you for your attention.