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European Parliament hearing of Commissioner designate Jyrki Katainen
Strasbourg, 14 July 2014
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
It is an honour to be here tonight and to be able to introduce myself to you and to exchange views on EU economic policy. C'est un grand privilège d'être ici à Strasbourg surtout aujourd'hui, le quatorze juillet, un jour si important pour la France.
I was born in a small town in the north-eastern corner of Europe, in Siilinjärvi, Finland. For me, Europe is not just a geographical entity. It is a commitment to European values. It is pride in the achievements of more than half a century of integration: peace, stability and prosperity. We should never take for granted these achievements – especially as we mark the one hundredth anniversary of that dark summer of 1914.
I have been a politician for most of my adult life. I have worked for the common good at local level, at national level but also at European level.
The opportunity to work for the good of all European citizens as a member of the European Commission gives me a great sense of pride and responsibility. I am very much looking forward to doing so in cooperation with you, the elected representatives of the European people.
In my previous job I was leading a coalition government of six parties. They were parties from the Socialists, from GUE, ALDE, the Greens and the EPP. We managed to consolidate our public finances by around 3% of GDP. We managed to do major structural reforms and we managed to strengthen our competitiveness in order to get more jobs because that's a pre-condition of a welfare society. It was possible to do all this because we chose a method by which we first set a common objective. Secondly, we all were committed and responsible to find compromises with the tools on how to get there, or how to achieve the objective. So, even though there were different values and ideas and opinions within the coalition government, since we had a strong commitment to fulfil all the objectives we had set ourselves, it was possible to find compromises. And I would like to use the same method also when working as a Commissioner.
In recent years, Europe has been hit by the deepest recession since the 1930s. The social cost of the recession has been enormous. Yet the three European institutions – the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council – managed to deliver a strong policy response leading to stabilisation of the European economy. This could only have been achieved by working together.
Our cooperation has allowed us to avoid an even worse crisis, with still higher social and human costs. Yet I am deeply conscious of the disappointment and division we have seen in Europe in recent years. Many feel that Europe has failed to safeguard stability and welfare. Others feel that they have had to pay for mistakes they consider were not their responsibility.
We have to respond collectively to their concerns, and bridge the divide. Europe has endured a tragic history of division. This can never be allowed to be repeated.
Our most important challenge today is to create the right conditions for a sustainable recovery of the European economy, for growth and for jobs.
Today we see signs of a turnaround in the economy, including in the countries most severely hit by the crisis. They have made a concerted effort to rebuild their economies, in very difficult social circumstances.
The recovery remains fragile and there is an urgent need for investment. Unemployment, especially amongst the young, remains much too high. Strong policy action - both at national and EU level - needs to continue.
What does this mean concretely?
1. First, growth and job creation require investment. And for investment to flow, we need a favourable business environment and a service-oriented public administration. We need a stable and robust banking sector and well-functioning capital markets to provide accessible credit to households and SMEs, and channel savings into infrastructure and industry, and into education, research, and innovation.
2. Second, Member States must continue to reform their economies, to boost competitiveness and create more dynamic and inclusive labour markets. By ambitiously implementing structural reforms, EU GDP could increase by between 1.5% and 6% in the next five years.
3. Third, building on the efforts of the past, fiscal consolidation needs to continue to address the high levels of debt that still exist. But fiscal strategies must be both growth-friendly and fair. They must focus on the quality of public finances, rationalising current expenditure while maintaining targeted public investments, in people as well as in projects.
There are some very concrete and challenging tasks ahead for the Commission.
The reviews of the Europe 2020 strategy and the economic governance framework (the so-called Six Pack and Two Pack legislation) will be a good opportunity to look at how the policies and processes we have put in place are working and delivering.
This autumn will be a vital season in view of the completion of the banking union. The Single Resolution Mechanism needs to be set up. The Asset Quality Review and stress tests of European banks will be completed.
In October, the Commission will begin reviewing the 2015 Draft Budgetary Plans, looking at how euro area Member States intend to deliver on their fiscal and economic reform commitments next year.
In parallel, the Commission will also prepare the launch of the new European Semester with the Annual Growth Survey and the Alert Mechanism Report.
Finally, close cooperation will continue with those Member States that have benefited from support programmes. Implementation of reforms must be pursued in countries still receiving financial help, and policy support needs to be ensured for countries that have recently returned to market financing.
Should I be approved by the Parliament as European Commissioner, I would look forward to your continued support and cooperation in the remaining months of the mandate of the current Commission.
In these critical times, every day, every week and every month matter. We must pursue with determination the implementation of necessary reforms. Cementing the economic recovery will require relentless effort and the solidarity of European institutions, Member States, stakeholders and citizens.
The achievements of the past few years have created a sound basis on which to build a stronger recovery, with more robust growth and job creation. I am committed to contribute to this process and to work hard to help Europe regain the confidence of our citizens, global partners and investors.
But first, tonight, I hope to earn the trust and confidence of you. And in this respect I look forward to hearing your views and questions.
Thank you very much.