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Vice-President for inter-institutional affairs and administration
"What next for the EU?"
Meeting of the Chairpersons of COSAC,
Rome, 18 July 2014
Speech by Maroš Šefčovič, Commission Vice-President for interinstitutional relations and administration
Presidente del Senato, Signor Ministro, Onorevoli, Senatori e Deputati,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Buongiorno a tutti!
Sono lieto di essere a Roma e di partecipare a questa importante riunione.
When I was first asked to talk to you today about the prospects for the EU over the next five years, with a new Commission, a new Parliament and a new balance of power and influence within the institutions in general, I was understandably a little cautious.
But I think it is safe to say that, following the European Council's adoption of a strategic agenda for the Union, the discussions in the European Parliament in the run-up to the appointment of the future President of the Commission, and Jean-Claude Juncker's unequivocal statement before the European Parliament on Tuesday in Strasbourg, we already have a quite a clear hint of the direction the EU will take over the next five years;
For me there is one clear message that has emerged from the elections: that European citizens will not be satisfied with 'business as usual'.
And I think this message has already made its mark very clearly in the way the future President of the European Commission has been chosen.
The slogan used by the Parliament during the election campaign was 'This time it's different', and I believe that so far it has been very different.
The 'Spitzenkandidaten' process and the broader debate over who should be the next President of the Commission has ensured that the appointment reflects the outcome of the elections as well as the majority view of the Heads of State and Government.
And by setting their own strategic priorities for the very first time, those same EU leaders have shown that they too are determined to listen to the concerns of citizens, focusing their efforts on the issues that really matter.
This will also clearly be the direction taken by the next Commission.
Mr Juncker made it quite clear in his speech before the Parliament on Tuesday: he wants the next Commission to be "political, extremely political".
And he wants "to work for a Union that is committed to democracy and reform; that is not meddlesome but works for its citizens rather than against them; a Union that delivers."
The President-elect has set out 10 core areas in which he wants the Union to deliver.
These are policy areas that are already the focus of much of the work of the current Commission, but the President-elect intends to place greater emphasis on achieving "concrete results" in these ten areas, building on President Barros's call for the Commission to be "bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things"
Chief among the 'big things' is the call for a new boost for jobs, growth and investment.
To quote from Mr Juncker's speech before Parliament, his "number one priority and the connecting thread running through each and every proposal will be getting Europe growing again and getting people back to work". To do this, he intends to mobilise a €300bn growth and investment package.
This will clearly give us a head start in tackling issues such as unemployment and stimulating growth, allowing us to respond rapidly and effectively to what is clearly still the number one preoccupation of European citizens.
Stimulating growth and making sure that the EU is better equipped to face the challenges of the future is also at the heart of the focus on completing the digital single market.
Let's not forget that this key area of the European economy is still very much in its infancy, but like any infant it has grown beyond all recognition since the first 'digital' Commissioner was appointed five years ago.
Completing the digital single market, building on Neelie Kroes' sterling work, could add €250bn to the EU economy over the next five years, and the future President has already made it clear that this will be one of his first priorities.
Europe can gain so much from maximising the potential of new technologies, and this is not only true for the digital market but also for the energy sector.
The creation of a new European Energy Union - which is also on the top 10 list - would enable the EU to pool its resources and infrastructure and diversify its energy sources, and allow the EU to better face the climate challenge in the years ahead.
The focus should also be on the reindustrialisation of Europe, so that it can maintain its global leadership in strategic sectors with high-value jobs.
Making more and importing less should not only boost the EU's economic performance, it will also help with our carbon footprint, and stimulate employment and innovation to boot.
This is not to forget that Europe is also the biggest trading bloc, of course, and completion of the free-trade agreement with the US will be another priority area for the future Commission.
This deal cannot and will not be concluded at any price; the economic gains it might bring should not outweigh the environmental, social and health standards from which we all benefit in Europe.
In particular, the President-elect has highlighted the areas of fairness, such as assessing more effectively the social cost of reforms, and of accountability, underlining the importance of increased parliamentary control.
Better managing migration and ensuring greater solidarity between Member States is also one of the top priorities. The burden shouldn't just rest on the shoulders of a few Member States such as Italy.
We must work on legal migration but tackle with force illegal migration and the criminal gangs that stand behind.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This programme is about results, about working together, about returning to our shared goals and aspirations.
I've already highlighted a couple of priority areas where there is a clear desire to increase democratic oversight and accountability.
And I am sure that you will have welcomed Mr Juncker's specific comments on national parliaments, and the need to enforce the principle of subsidiarity.
I am sure you will also be happy to hear that Mr Juncker wants to build on the work of his predecessor in making Europe less bureaucratic and cutting red tape.
We've made considerable progress in this area in recent years, through repealing outdated laws, scrapping proposals that have little or no chance of success and introducing new ones aimed at streamlining administrative and other procedures.
This is something I know is a concern to many national parliaments, but it's important to remember that this is not a one-way street.
Sometimes, one EU law means we can do away with 28 different and often contradictory national ones; in the case of the EU railways package currently under discussion, one set of European rules would replace 11,000 different national technical and safety rules across the Member States, for example!
A new EU law in this case clearly reduces red tape rather than adding to it, showing the clear added-value of the EU.
Unfortunately, red tape often gets added-on in the transposition process. It is estimated that one-third of administrative burden linked to EU legislation stems from national implementing measures. That's why national parliaments also have an important role to play in this regard – we have to be consistent in our approach, combining the flexibility to adapt rules to our national situation at the same time as ensuring that their goals are not hampered by 'gold-plating' them.
This is a clear way for national parliaments to show that they are implicated and involved in the European decision-making process, that they are doing their job of representing the citizens of their country at the European and national levels.
The biggest victory would be if we could stop the perception of 'us' and 'Europe' as being two separate, contradictory and antagonistic entities.
National leaders are at the same time European Leaders. National and European responsibilities have merged over the years; national Leaders should reflect this not only in Brussels but back at home as well.
National parliaments also have a crucial role to play in this process, and increasing their role in the European decision making process is, as we have discussed, an important way of trying to bridge this gap and to build together ownership of the EU project.
Ladies and gentlemen
We have a vision for where we need to progress over the next five years – but let us not forget that despite the crisis we have also achieved a great deal over the last five – not least in our shared relationship.
I think it's safe to say we have come a long way since 2010.
We've seen an exponential increase in our political dialogue, with over 600 opinions from national parliaments just last year. We've seen the first yellow cards from national parliaments and the expansion of the political dialogue process that has enabled us to work more effectively together.
We've seen the launch of the European Citizens' Initiative and its first successful impact on the EU legislative.
We've seen also the development of a sophisticated and comprehensive system of impact assessments and public consultations ahead of Commission legislative proposals.
And I hope that national parliaments will contribute more over the next five years to this crucial pre-legislative phase, because it is a key part of better law-making – allowing the Commission to see where each Member State's national interests might be best served – or most hindered – by its future proposals, and enabling it to act accordingly before they are fully on the table.
If we can progress as far in our shared relationship in the next five years as we have in the last five, then I firmly believe it will be to the benefit of everyone – to us as institutions and law-makers, and to citizens as the benefactors of the improved laws we can make together.
There is a clear desire for change from citizens.
These are the challenges that I think will define the next five years, but ones which I am convinced the EU, with all its constituent parts working together, will rise to with success.
Thank you for your attention. Grazie!