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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Time for Action – Statement in the European Parliament plenary session ahead of the vote on the College

22 October 2014

Jean-Claude Juncker - President-elect

Strasbourg, European Parliament plenary session


Mr President, Honourable Members,

In the address that I had the honour to deliver before you on 15 July, I set out the general guidelines and the powers enjoyed by the Commission President‑elect under the terms of the Treaty.

This was not just a formal exercise: it put forward a series of programmes, projects, contents, and ambitions.

The Commissioners who, if you approve them, will form my College are bound by these general guidelines. I do not expect blind obedience from the Commissioners. As I said in Brussels when I presented my team: at my age, you do not embark on a career as a dictator. I want the Commissioners to feel free. The Commission President-elect was asked to do all he could to form a political College, so you must respect the fact that the Commissioners have political opinions which, through their reflections, feed into debate within the Commission. I have been elected President of the Commission on the basis of a programme that binds me to the European Parliament. I have a contract with you, Mr President, and with this House, and I intend to abide by the terms of the contract I put before you this summer.

The Commission which, with your approval, will be taking office on 1 November will succeed that of José Manuel Barroso, who was President for ten years. Here I should like to pay homage to Mr Barroso, whose Presidency spanned what was truly a very difficult period. The Barroso Commission had to tackle the economic and financial crisis and all its fallout. His Commission succeeded in integrating thirteen new Member States into the many varied Community structures. I believe that José Manuel Barroso did a good job and I think that he was very often criticised in terms that sometimes seemed to me hurtful. Mr Barroso deserves the gratitude of Europe and I would like to thank him for the extraordinary job he has done.

In July, I promised to put together a political Commission. I told you that the next Commission would be political, that it would be highly political. It was, so to speak, an ecumenical wish expressed by many of you. The Commission is not just a troop of anonymous high officials. The directors-general, all highly competent, have to obey their Commissioners and not the other way round.

So I have done all in my power to get ‘heavyweights’ nominated as members of the Commission by the governments and the President-elect.

The men and women who will make up my College have held high office in their own countries, offices of great responsibility. This Commission will include four former prime ministers, nineteen former ministers, three former foreign ministers, several former finance ministers, seven outgoing Commissioners and eight Commissioners who have been members of this House. This reflects the fact that the Commission has a duty to be very political.

I promised you a more political Commission: its composition shows that it will be more political than its predecessors. I promised you in July a more effective Commission, again a wish shared by most of those who make up this assembly. I chose to reorganise the architecture of the Commission. I chose – in a radical new departure – to designate a First Vice-President in the person of Frans Timmermans, to whom I would particularly like to pay my respects this morning.

I made this choice because I have known him for ages and ages; I also made this choice to give the Commission the political balance that was still lacking following the nomination of the various Commissioners. I have read in most of Europe’s newspapers that Frans Timmermans will be my right hand: I hope that from time to time he will also be my left hand – but that will not be easy.

I have designated several Vice-Presidents. The High Representative will be a Vice-President, as the Treaty requires. I also intend to nominate the Commissioner for Budgetary Affairs as a Vice-President, since drawing up and implementing the budget are horizontal by their very nature; and then I had the idea of asking the former prime ministers to act as coordinators within the College. Prime ministers are used to the tricky task of coordinating the work of others. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes not, but they know what coordinating is about. So I asked the former prime ministers to be Vice‑Presidents of the Commission. I decided to give Frans Timmermans responsibility for applying the principle of subsidiarity, or ‘dérégulation’ as it is known in France; that’s a weighty brief. We said – and we promised the electorate and the people of Europe – that we would make Europe into a motor, a body of real influence, an ambition, a powerhouse that would tackle the big problems and steer clear of the smaller issues that can be better dealt with in the member countries and at local level. Mr Timmermans will oversee compliance with the principles of better regulation. This is a major task that will involve all the Commissioners, since they must all play their part in the effort to revitalise the European Union, its political responses, and its conduct. I decided to give Frans Timmermans responsibility for sustainable development too: a lofty ambition, a long-range project, and an imperative daily concern. I was unable to go along with the proposals of your Environment Committee, which wanted responsibility for sustainable development to be assigned to the Vice-President for growth and investment: I chose to ask Frans Timmermans to take charge of this vital aspect of our collective action because the Charter of Fundamental Rights, observance of which will depend to a large extent on Mr Timmermans' efforts, requires respect for the principle of sustainable development, as does Article 3 of the Treaty.

The Vice-Presidents I have chosen will be in charge of the Commission priorities that I set out in July this year. One Vice-President will be responsible for every aspect of Energy Union, including renewable and alternative energies. One Vice‑President will be in charge of growth and investment; one Vice‑President will be in charge of the European digital economy; and one Vice‑President will be responsible for the euro and social dialogue. These are not little chiefs who will hand out instructions to the other Commissioners. The Commission’s members all have the same rights: the Vice-Presidents are planners, coordinators, drivers, mobilisers, organisers of ideas and initiatives. During the parliamentary hearings and in the serious part of published public opinion I noted that there were many doubts and questions about these unknown beasts, the Vice-Presidents coordinating the work of the Commission. That was something I was surprised to read. Everyone had told me that the Commission needed to operate more effectively. Everyone, or almost everyone, had complained that with one Commissioner per country, with the College consisting of 28 Commissioners, there were too many of them. I was faced with a choice of reviewing the architectural organisation or splitting up portfolios so as to be able to distribute them among 28 Commissioners. So the issue is simple: you can either have 28 Commissioners, each working in their own little corner, ensconced in splendid isolation, each looking after their own little fief, which is what would happen once the Commission’s tasks had been sliced and diced; or you can have Commissioners spreading their wings under the friendly aegis of Vice-Presidents who will coordinate their work. If you wanted the Commission to stay as it was, you should have told me. But if you want a more effective Commission, a Commission that looks to the major ambitions of Europe, that organises it, that shapes it, then there is no other option than to put a number of Vice-Presidents in charge of implementing the Commission’s major political priorities.

Let me give you two examples: there is a Vice-President for the euro and social dialogue, and there is a Commissioner for economic and financial affairs and taxation, and another Commissioner for social affairs. But then we have the European semester. It is obvious that the Vice-President in charge must coordinate the initiatives of the Commissioner for social affairs and the Commissioner for economic and financial affairs. The European semester is not an economic and financial semester. The European semester, the country‑by‑country recommendations that the Commission delivers, must necessarily take into account the social aspects of building Europe in economic and monetary terms.

There is much talk about triple-A ratings. Everyone loves a triple-A rating. In the euro zone, two countries still have a triple-A rating: Germany and Luxembourg. Germany has a good chance of retaining it, while for Luxembourg that still remains to be seen. But I want the European Union to regain and achieve another triple A. What I want is for Europe to have a social triple-A rating: that is just as important as an economic and financial triple-A rating.

We have designated a Vice-President for growth and investment. He will coordinate the activity of all the Commissioners who will be contributing to the policy of growth and investment: the Commissioner for transport, the Commissioner for the digital economy, and the Commissioner for economic and financial affairs and taxation again, the Commissioner in charge of social affairs and employment, the Commissioner responsible for the capital markets union, the Commissioner responsible for the internal market and so on.

If we want to present to the people of Europe, and hence first to this House, a package of ambitious investments, someone has to organise it. And since this encompasses several areas of competence, since several Commissioners will have to make their various policies converge towards the centre, it is clear that one Vice-President will have to coordinate the work. I want to put an end to silos, I want to put an end to the kind of governance where each Commissioner operates in isolation; I want to put an end to the ivory-tower mentality that can often be seen when watching the Commission at work.

Let me draw your attention to one aspect that hardly any commentator has mentioned: the great loser in this new architecture is me… For the simple reason that I have delegated a large part of my presidential prerogatives to the Vice‑Presidents. It is pointless setting up Vice-Presidencies for overarching policy if the President continues to develop his own ideas at the head of the Commission, as has been the case up to now. But I would like to say here that for an item to be placed on the Commission’s agenda, I want first to have the agreement and approval of the Vice-President in charge. However, anyone who delegates powers can also reclaim them if need be – though this is in no way meant as a threat. For the rest, the Vice-Presidents are in charge of tasks that in the past were the prerogative of the Commission President.

I promised in July to ensure that the new Commission included a sufficient number of women: we have nine women Commissioners, in other words the same number as in the Barroso Commission. I had to fight to get the national governments to put forward nine female members. At the end of July, two weeks after speaking before you, we had three women designated by their governments. I had to persuade quite a few governments to send a woman Commissioner, and I had to turn down quite a few male candidates: I won’t say who they were because I wouldn’t wish to embarrass the prime ministers whom I managed to persuade to put forward a woman. But in all honesty, nine women out of 28 Commissioners is still ridiculously low.

As we all, generally, belong to national political parties, and as we all, generally, know our prime ministers, let us, from tomorrow morning, set about raising national governments’ awareness of this issue. And I must admit, I’m a little embarrassed to have to say this, because Luxembourg did not designate a woman. But they will probably do so next time, as Ms Reding was Commissioner for fifteen years.

I told you, my friends, during the debate in July, that I would listen attentively to the hearings. How could one not listen to hearings? I followed the parliamentary hearings, all 29 of them, though I must admit with varying degrees of interest. I told you in July that the Commission is not the Secretary General of the European Council or the Council of Ministers and that I would not be the European Parliament’s valet. But I also listened and took due note of what you said at the hearings we witnessed. The Commissioner proposed by Slovenia had to give way to another Slovene Commissioner and I decided to assign her the important transport portfolio. As I did not want to upset the basic architecture of the Commission, I chose to put Mr Šefčovič in charge of Energy Union since he has already been a Vice-President over the past years and so has an idea of what is entailed by the coordinating role I am asking him to fulfil. I have already said that I proposed to extend my friend Frans Timmermans’ portfolio to cover all the policies linked to sustainable development. I listened very carefully to all those who complained that I had misassigned responsibility for medicines and pharmaceutical products by transferring them from the portfolio of the Commissioner for health to the Commissioner in charge of the internal market. I did not mean to suggest that medicines, health products and medical activity itself are a commodity like any other – and anyone who knows me will realise that: health is not a commodity. And so, in response to the calls for me to rectify the distribution of responsibilities – a wish expressed during the hearings and widely backed by the medical profession – I decided to reassign these fields to the Commissioner for health.

Space policy, in my eyes, is an area of promise. It seemed more appropriate to put the Commissioner responsible for the internal market in charge of space policies, as in previous Commissions. On citizenship I did indeed follow your debates and have taken on board a number of remarks reflecting certain concerns; I have therefore opted to assign the citizenship portfolio to the Commissioner in charge of migration and home affairs, a responsibility shared, of course, with the Commissioner for justice. And I have added sport to Mr Navracsics’ responsibilities.

Finally, Mr President, I took note of the intense debates surrounding investor‑to‑state dispute settlements in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. Let me once again state my position clearly, which I set out on 15 July before this House and which you will find in my political guidelines: I will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States should be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes. The rule of law and the principle of equality before the law must also apply in this context. The negotiating mandate includes a number of conditions that have to be respected by such a regime as well as an assessment of its relationship with domestic courts. There is thus no obligation in this regard: the mandate leaves it open and serves as a guide. I had thought my commitment on this point was very clear but I am happy to clarify and reiterate it here today as a number of you have asked me do so. In the agreement that my Commission will eventually submit to this House for approval there will be nothing that limits access to national courts for the parties or that will allow secret courts to have the final say in disputes between investors and states.

I have asked Frans Timmermans, once again, in his role as First Vice-President in charge of the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, to advise me on the matter. There will be no investor-to-state dispute clause in TTIP if Frans does not agree with it too. I am confident that – with your support – we can negotiate an ambitious trade agreement with the U.S. along these lines, while fully respecting European interests and the rule of law. I am strongly committed to the goal of concluding a trade agreement with the U.S. but I promised this House during the campaign that I would be attentive to European rules. We have to negotiate with the Americans. Frans will lead this agreement to its end, but I wanted to be as clear as possible on this very issue.

Mr President, I shall now switch to the language of the football world champions – although the world champions currently appear to be somewhat out of form.

The President thinks this was a passing weakness. But the Germans, too, need to get used to the idea that weakness might last.

Let me give some further clarifications on a number of questions that came to the fore in last week’s debate.

In July I promised I would present a 300 billion euro investment package. Investment is vital for Europe’s economy and for the people who live and work in Europe. Europe is currently suffering a sharp decline in investment of over 20% on average – compared with 2007, the year before the crisis, the fall in investment has been 36% in Portugal and 64% in Greece. Economies that do not attract investment cannot grow. And economies that do not grow cannot provide jobs. This investment programme is something very close to my heart. I want to say here very clearly that all the attempts that have inevitably been set in motion will fail to deter me from my goal: I fully intend to present this investment programme.

This investment programme cannot be financed by further debt. We must make sure to stimulate private investment through intelligent use of public funds. Business needs to know that it to has a role to play in society. It is not only the State that is responsible for combating unemployment; business too has a duty to do its share. I therefore call on European business to play its part in improving the state of the European labour markets and ensuring the investment flow that we need so urgently in order to move forward.

I shall not be presenting this investment programme in the first three months of my term of office, as originally planned. Instead, the Vice-President concerned, Jyrki Katainen, and I will present it before Christmas. There is no time to lose and we must meet the challenge as swiftly as possible.

This investment programme will not be a recovery plan of the kind that some Member States tried to introduce in the 1970s. Such recovery plans produce no more than a flash in the pan. What we need are targeted investments that will produce medium-term growth: investments that strengthen the European economy. It is not simply a matter of taking money out of your pocket to give the impression you are doing something. It is a question of mobilising money in partnership with the private sector to strengthen the forces and potential for growth in the European Union in the medium term. I say this also because the main task facing us is the fight against unemployment. And combating the scandalously high level of youth unemployment in many of our Member States calls not only, but above all, for support from the private sector.

As part of this general effort we must, of course, also work on the European digital agenda and the digital single market. My colleague Günther Oettinger will be looking after this important portfolio. The investment needed in this area alone will create an impetus for growth of around 250 billion euro over the next few years. We shall and will make this a reality.

In recent months there has been much criticism and talk – but little thought – about the stability pact. On this question, too, I want to make it quite clear: I and the entire European Commission will stick to what the European Council stated on 27 June: the rules will not be changed. All 28 governments agreed in June, without exception, that the system of rules would not be touched. But the rules will be applied with that certain degree of flexibility that the relevant Treaty provisions and other legislative acts lay down. We will do what the European Council called on us to do; we will do what I said before this House on 15 July: there must be budgetary discipline, there must be flexibility and there must be structural reform. Without structural reform for a lasting revival of the European economy and European labour markets, there can be no flexibility.

But I also want to urge some colleagues to abandon the idea that only harsh austerity and excessive cost-cutting will automatically revive the forces for growth and stimulate the labour market. By the same token, deficits and high levels of debt do not automatically produce growth. If that were so, if high levels of deficit and debt led to growth, then Europe ought to be growing as never before in its history, for we have never been as indebted as we are today. But to think that budgetary consolidation alone fosters growth, without any need for flexibility and structural reform and investment, is equally wrong. So we need both: budgetary discipline and policies geared to growth together with investment, so that we will be able to move forward with the necessary speed into the future.

Finally, I have noticed, ladies and gentlemen, that many questions have been raised around what I said in July about enlargement. I have designated a Commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations. Some of your committees proposed renaming the portfolio ‘Commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement’. After careful reflection, first by myself, then with a certain number of my friends, I have decided to name the portfolio ‘Commissioner for enlargement negotiations’. I do not want to mislead people, or nations: I do not want to give candidate countries the impression that they might become members of the European Union in the next five years. There will be no new members during this Commission’s term of office: it is totally unfeasible.

So let’s not pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We must not let those waiting at the door think that it might open in the next five years. Of course, the enlargement negotiations will continue with the same vigour, the same drive, the same commitment as in the past. And I would like to send a message to the candidate countries for accession to the European Union that, yes, the negotiations will be speeded up if necessary, but it is not realistic to think that they could be successfully completed before 2019.

Finally, there is another problem that worries me and you, a quite scandalous problem: the question of the European Union’s unpaid bills.

It’s a long-standing problem. When I was Minister for the Budget, together with Mr Verhofstadt in the Budget Council, we discovered there were unpaid bills: to be credible the European Union must not be a bad payer. The European Union must honour its commitments.

Mr President, Honourable Members, those, then, are the clarifications that I wanted to make following our discussions and your many questions.

The international context that we live in shows us, day after day, that this is an increasingly dangerous world. The movement known as Islamic State is the enemy of every European value: we cannot accept such behaviour.

The Ebola crisis calls for a strong, rapid, organised and focused reaction from the European Union: I have the impression that we have not been up to the mark in fighting the epidemic.

I note, with enormous sadness, that while the phenomenon only affected the African continent, we did nothing. But as soon as the epidemic reached Europe, we began to get things moving: but we should have got them moving earlier.

The problems to do with illegal migration remain as serious as ever. I have asked the former foreign and defence minister of Greece to take charge of this, and I have also asked the Cypriot Commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid to go to Africa as soon as possible to show that the European Commission is there on the spot. The problems of illegal migration and legal migration will be tackled as genuine priorities by the Commission which, I hope, will take office on 1 November.

Let me repeat what I said in July: I want us to rediscover the virtues of the Community method. I want this Commission and this House to become the advocates, the artisans, the architects of a rediscovered Community method.

When called for in an emergency, the intergovernmental method has its virtues, but I believe in the virtuous triangle of Parliament, Council and the Commission, and I want us to rediscover this approach.

I told you that we feel bound by a contract with this House, drawn up to run for five years. The first port of call for the new Commission will be this House. This House, which ensured that the obvious lessons were drawn from the vote of 27 May, the expression of universal suffrage.

I admit that some among us were not in favour of seeing the political parties putting forward lead candidates. But it happened, and let me tell you now – especially to those who did not like the process – there can be no going back.

In 2019, the European electoral campaign will be a truly pan-European campaign and everyone will know it before they go to the ballot box… Democracy is also European, it is continental and, by becoming more democratic Europe in no way diminishes the importance of its states and its nations… Nations which, I repeat, are not just transient inventions of history: they are made to last and Europe must respect its nations and the Member States. Europe cannot be built in opposition to the nations, with their traditions, their virtues, their riches, their raisons d’être. Europe cannot be built in opposition to the Member States, but in concert with the goodwill that we encounter throughout Europe, in civil society, in our companies, in our Member States, in our national parliaments.

I will tell you what I believe: I am convinced that this will be the last‑chance Commission: either we will succeed in bringing our citizens closer to Europe, or we will fail. Either we will succeed in making Europe a political whole that deals with the big issues and leaves the small ones alone, or we will fail. Either we will succeed, hand in hand with the Member States, with their governments, with their parliaments, with the social partners, in reducing the level of unemployment drastically, or we will fail. Either we manage to give young Europeans genuine prospects again, or we will have failed.

I want us to seize this opportunity to get Europe moving: Europe deserves it and I am counting on you, Mr President, ladies, gentlemen, to support the Commission in the many labours that lie before us, before you, and before the people of Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

 


SPEECH/14/1525

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