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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso on the launch of the European Year of Citizens

Citizens' Dialogue/Dublin

10 January 2013

Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Lord Mayor,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dia duit. At the end of the six months I will be able to say a few more words.

2013 is the European Year of Citizens. It is also the fortieth anniversary of Ireland's accession to the European Union. And for the first six months of this year, the Council of the European Union will be presided over by Ireland. So I am delighted to start the year with you here in Dublin and to open this afternoon of dialogue and debate and also to have with me my colleagues from the Commission Viviane Reding and also the Irish Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

We have a lot to discuss.

2013, the last full year before the European elections, will be another crucial year for Europe.

The financial and economic crisis has demonstrated just how interdependent we all are in today's globalised world. A problem like the collapse of Lehman Brothers or a housing bubble can have a lot of impact on other countries. Even countries that are large by European standards find it hard to solve global problems on their own. So, European integration provides an effective response to this changed reality: together we are big enough to tackle issues that can no longer be solved only at national level.

The European Union needs to go further down the path of integration in several major areas.

    - A lot has already been done to restore stability to the financial sector. Now we need to put a banking union in place so that we can finally break the vicious link between bank debt and public debt. In future it should be the banks and their shareholders who pay to clean up the banks, not the taxpayer. The Commission is determined to put the rules in place that will make this happen, we are making progress in this direction;

    - We need to do more to support our single currency. We need to have a more co-ordinated policy making so that action taken in one country has positive effects in another – and that we try prevent the negative spillovers from one country to the other.

    - All of this must be accompanied by greater accountability and democratic legitimacy. Those who take decisions at EU level should be accountable at EU level, just as governments and parliaments are at national level.

    - And at the same time we must keep a firm focus on the most pressing challenge of all: getting our economy growing again so that we can provide jobs and the prospect of a decent standard of living for all of Europe's citizens.

We cannot do any of these things without the support of our citizens. More European unity is our best answer to globalisation. And more unity has to be accompanied by more democracy.

Irish support for Europe has always been driven by voluntary groups, by businesses and by engaged citizens. We need to earn their trust more than ever. We need to engage them more than ever.

Ireland is fighting its way through an economic crisis with remarkable resilience and resolution. You are demonstrating that with political will and a shared sense of solidarity, reform and social cohesion can go hand in hand. Coming myself from Portugal – I was just there now for Christmas holidays -, a country that is facing many similar problems, I just want to say to you how I appreciate the efforts and how difficult it is the situation for so many of our families, in Ireland and in Portugal.

I respect and admire the efforts that are being made here – and we owe it to the people who are suffering the hardships to fix the problems now so that we can build a better future together. The EU is supporting Ireland and other countries in difficulties through these hard times. And solidarity, fairness, this has to be is a crucial part of European Union principles. In the coming months, Ireland has a unique opportunity to help other Member States on the shared path back to growth.

We have agreed an economic reform agenda, Europe 2020, that sets out Europe on course towards what we believe it can be sustainable growth, inclusive and smart growth.

And I will only quote one example, the activation of young people on the labour market. This is one of the priorities also for Ireland, where youth unemployment has increased from 13% before the crisis to just below 30%.

Last month, the European Commission proposed that all Member States introduce a youth guarantee scheme to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or, if they are unemployed, after becoming in that situation. And I am pleased that the Irish Presidency is working to get this agreed already in February.

Together we will do everything we possibly can not to let our younger generations go to waste.

Over the past forty years, both Europe and Ireland have changed and benefited as a result of our relationship. Membership of the EU has opened markets for Irish business and created jobs for Irish citizens. Ireland has also been influential in shaping European policies – from the single market, to trade, from enlargement and common agriculture policy to employment. And at times the Irish people have also voiced a more critical view.

I believe constructive criticism does not pose a threat to the European project.

But pessimism and indifference do.

The European Union is not a perfect construct. It is in constant evolution. It is what we decide to make of it. There are many things that can and should be done better and this year of citizens offers new opportunities for helping to shape the European Union of the future.

I want to see a real debate on how the European Union should evolve in the years to come, both in the economic and in the political sense. A debate which engages every citizen. That is why we are here today. And that is why I really want to engage with you in this debate.

I thank you for coming. I wish we have a good, open debate.

Thank you.

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