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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Introductory Remarks on the Italian Presidency
European Parliament plenary session
Strasbourg, 2 July 2014
Prime Minister Renzi,
Allow me first to extend my warmest wishes to you, Prime Minister, for a successful Presidency of the Council. I would also like to congratulate you very sincerely for your speech, a speech that is full of passion for our common European project.
During this transition period, the European Commission will do its utmost to support you in delivering your Presidency priorities; because time does not stand still.
We have a collective responsibility to ensure that we have a smooth transition and continue to work together hand in hand, between the Commission, the Council and its Presidency, as well as the European Parliament.
I particularly want to welcome the clear commitment you, Prime Minister, have made to take forward further reforms in Italy as well as in the European Union.
The world is changing.
We cannot stand still. And all your impulse for reform, both in Italy and in Europe, is of essence for our collective success.
Prime Minister, you spoke eloquently about Greece and Italy. And in fact in many areas Greece and Italy have been together quite recently. Some time ago, not so long ago, two or three years ago, people were speaking about 'Grexit', Greece leaving the euro. Many Cassandras were predicting the implosion of the euro. I remember well when in November 2011 several governments wanted to put Italy under the complete tutelle of the IMF, when Italy was at the brink of disaster. So it was not just Greece, Ireland, Portugal or even Spain, with its financial sector problems. Italy, one of the biggest economies in Europe and one of the biggest economies in the world was very close to financial disaster. And at that time it was possible to avoid that disaster and I'm proud that the European Commission, differently from others, always stood behind Italy, always showed our commitment and our confidence in Italy as one of the biggest and important economies in Europe and the world.
And that's why we have to build on this. During the last years, under terrible circumstances, we were able to avoid the disaster, we were able to stand together to survive the crisis, we were able to provide stability against all of those that have predicted the implosion of the euro or even the disintegration of the European Union, now we have the conditions to use our collective experience, our ideas, our commitment, to make Europe grow, to make Europe invest, to make Europe be able to generate jobs that our young people need and wish.
Together, across all three institutions, and with Member States, we need to ensure that we deliver what is required for our European citizens; what they want most is results, what they want most is jobs and growth.
As one of the original six signatories of the Treaty of Paris and Rome, Italy has played a fundamental role in the shape of our Union from the very beginning.
Alcide De Gasperi and Altiero Spinelli, as founding fathers of the European Union, understood the need to move Europe into a new phase of history after the tragedy of the first half of the 20th century. And it is certainly refreshing here in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, to listen to the Prime Minister of Italy bringing this commitment and this promise of reform. Because we need a strong Italy at the centre of our strong European Union.
That is why it is very important, Mr Prime Minister, that you now bring this impulse of reform to the European Union. In this Presidency – the 12th Presidency of Italy in the Union – and in this very important transition moment, it was very fitting that today you didn't speak so much about economy, knowing well how important we believe this is for your country and for Europe, but that you have put rightly the accent on values, reminding all of us that Europe is a community of values, and that we should, not to be arrogant about this, not to be arrogant about European civilisation, but be proud about what Europe has given to the world and about what Europe can still give to the world.
And this Presidency comes at a moment when a new Parliamentary term starts; a term that will be of critical importance to the future of the European Union; a term that will see the European Union move into its next phase of recovery; a transition moment that certainly builds on the progress we made – and we have made progress -, from stronger economic governance in the European Union and the Banking Union towards concrete growth, investment and social justice, as agreed last week by all the members of the European Council with the strategic priorities for the next five years.
The challenge is great, but the reforms which Italy is committed to at home and the reforms that Italy tries to bring now to the European Union show that the ambition is there for building a better Union.
It is a top priority to deliver on our Europe 2020 objectives for a smart, sustainable and inclusive social market economy: for our goals on jobs and employment; on the fight against poverty and social equality; on research and innovation; on education and skills; and the very important agenda on climate and energy.
We have made progress but not enough. That is why, during this half of the year, we are taking forward the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 agenda; to examine properly how we are all doing and explore what we need to change in a post-crisis period.
Getting this right will require the utmost coordination between Member States and between European institutions, because the lesson from European integration is that it works best when we work together and cooperate in close partnership.
I support the main themes of the incoming Presidency: growth, citizens and external action.
Starting with growth, because this is an issue of vital importance, allow me to highlight five concrete results I hope we are going to achieve in the next six months:
First and foremost, tackling unemployment, especially youth unemployment. This remains our absolute number one immediate priority, and I welcome the Presidency’s particular focus on the issue. We simply cannot meet our long-term growth ambitions if we continue to have over 25 million unemployed, a sixth of whom are under the age of 24.
We need to ensure that the lag between the economy picking up and businesses recruiting again is as short as possible. The Commission will be holding a technical seminar on 14th July on this issue, and I would urge all Member States to join Italy and France in adopting operational programmes to take advantage of the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative.
That was the collective decision taken by the European Council. The reality is we are not completely delivering on the commitments made to young people. Some countries are already advancing on the Youth Guarantee, others not really.
Secondly, using smartly, and without delay, the seven-year budget and agreeing the 2015 budget. Although smaller than we some of us, namely in the European Parliament, may have wanted, the budget for the next seven years has 1 trillion euros, so it can be a very important leverage for growth and it needs to be fully exploited.
The budget represents a large proportion of public investment in many Member States, namely those who have very little margin for national investment, so I would urge Member States to finalise the partnership agreements as a matter of priority.
Thirdly, supporting our small and medium businesses and our industry through research funds and access to long-term financing. This remains critical in the European economy, the fact that there is not yet enough funding for our SMEs. As much as we need fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, we also need targeted investment for growth and jobs. SMEs represent 99% of Europe’s private companies, employing two-thirds of Europe’s total workforce, making it vital we breathe life into them to inject growth in our economies.
Making the best use of our new Horizon 2020 research and innovation budget, around 80 billion euros. It is one of the biggest if not the biggest single research program in the world; working towards our industry being 20% of Europe’s GDP by 2020. Let me salute now Vice-President Tajani who until now was Vice-President in a Commission of 28 and now Vice-president in a Parliament of 700 people – he was in fact in the Commission one of those promoting this agenda for the industries and for the SMEs; and also making progress on dossiers such as pension funds, shareholder rights and access to finance. These will be critically important.
Fourthly, continuing to open up, I particularly enjoy Prime Minister what you said about the idea of reform and openness. There are some people in Europe and in our political families who believe that the best way to fight globalization is to close, to protect, to hide behind the tables. This is not Europe I want and I think this is not the Europe you want, too. We believe that European civilization is in fact the civilization for globalization, that the message we have to send to our kids is a message of confidence, of openness and not of being protectionist or being chauvinistic, being xenophobe or being mediocre. And this is the real debate in the European politics today. Are we going to embrace the possibilities of change or reform? Or we are going to give up to those negative forces of populism, of chauvinism, of protectionism, or extreme nationalism? I believe you are on the right side if you go for an open Europe, in an Europe that has confidence in itself.
That is why it is critically important to deepen the single market, especially the Digital Single Market. We have to strengthen our trade relations, including with the United States of America, building the biggest free trade area in the world and we must address the concerns that have been expressed but we should not give up on Europe driving the world in terms of economy, Europe being the number one trade block in the world, that has a surplus in trade of goods, of services and agriculture.
Finally, our climate and energy needs. We will be launching this month the review of our Energy Efficiency Directive. We will carry out stress tests on our most vulnerable countries to ensure that we meet our energy demands. And we will be focussing on our 2030 climate targets at the UN conference in September and the October European Council, alongside our energy security strategy, to show that European leadership ahead of next year’s international conference in Paris on climate change is there.
I know the Italian Presidency is absolutely committed to this twin goal; energy and energy union but also the fight against the climate change. The theme of the 2015 World Expo in Milan 'Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life' reflects the complementarity between Italy's priorities at home and as rotating Presidency of the Council in European Union.
We also want Europe to remain a free, secure and just place to live for our citizens.
Significant progress has already been made over the past five years but the work remains to be completed.
The Stockholm Programme will come to an end this year; and the European Council has just endorsed the European Commission’s proposal on a future agenda.
We must deal with our asylum and humanitarian challenges. Some member states are significantly affected by migration flows into Europe, Italy being one of them. I was in Lampedusa. I remember what I saw in Lampedusa. The European Commission's position has always been one of asking for more cooperation between Member States.
The situation of sea refugees in search of a better future remains a source of deepest concern.
Thus we must pursue our goal of a genuine common European Migration Policy with equitable "burden sharing" between countries most exposed to migratory pressures.
So we must strengthen the tools we have and use them to their full capacity, and we should :
We must ensure that we continue to have a strong global voice with our partners and neighbours.
The current situation in Ukraine is well-known, and that requires our priority attention. But there is also a new momentum now built in the Eastern Partnership and the agreements that we have just signed with Ukraine, with Moldova and with Georgia. But the situation in the Middle East, Libya - rightly highlighted by the Prime Minister - Egypt, the whole Mediterranean require our fullest attention.
It is crucial that we continue to work closely with these countries as well as take forward accession negotiations with the candidate countries – a task I know the Italian Presidency has given great priority to.
But there will be another large international negotiation next year that will require our careful attention, the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals.
The European Union and its Member States represent over half of the world’s Official Development Assistance, another thing that we should be proud of, another thing that our young people are proud of; we have a moral responsibility as well as a strategic interest to ensure that – on the basis of our values – we help our partners improve their prosperity and security, and secure a good outcome next year. But to have success next year, that requires preparation today.
The same for Asia, there will be a very important ASEM summit in Milan during the Italian Presidency and I believe that Asia is a very important continent full of opportunities and we have a lot to gain if we engage with Asia. At the same time that we fight for the common standards that everybody should agree if you want to open market and open economy. So a lot of work ahead of us. We need to build on the experiences we have gained collectively. And show the political will. And what I saw from your commitment today Prime Minister and from the Italian presidency programme is precisely this political will.
This idea that more important than bureaucratic or technocratic decisions, it is the need to have the democratic consensus to go ahead with that. You have a great authority precisely because of the results you have in Italy. And I believe that this is the moment in Europe for the forces from the left to the right, to the center. All those who believe that Europe can be part of our vision, that Europe is not only a market but also a soul, I believe the time has come for us to work together and to work to diminish the gap that exists very often between the statement made and the implementation made, that we can't put an end to what has been so common, that is some time national leaders taking the decision collectively in Brussels and afterwards putting the blame on Europe when they have not done their homework in their capitals. We need to work together at all level to understand that it is a common task, that they are not going to succeed if the Parliament at a national level put the blame on the European Union or if the European Union puts the blame on the Governments or the Member States.
We can only win if we work together and if we understand that European Union is not just part of the solution but fundamental to our solution.
And since you Prime Minister quoted Odysseus, and so many classic figures of Greece and Rome, let me also conclude with one.
Europe is a never-ending project, so part of the frustration with Europe is that we are always thinking about it as a kind of an incomplete building. But Europe is also like the voyage to Ithaca of Odysseus. We should make it happen step by step. We cannot be constantly comparing it with what will be a complete achievement. It is something new, this process of the European integration. So let's do as in the Odyssea, like Odysseus, let's enjoy the travel, let's enjoy the journey for a stronger, open and free Europe.
I thank you for your attention....