[Check Against Delivery]
Candidate for President of the European Commission
A new start for Europe
Opening statement in the European Parliament plenary session
Strasbourg, 15 July 2014
On 25 May the voters of Europe spoke to us. They sent us powerful, if sometimes contradictory, messages. Today, and in the years to come, we have to respond. That means meeting their expectations and addressing their concerns, their hopes and their dreams. Because in Europe there is a place for dreams. It is here, in the European Parliament, the seat of European democracy, that I will set out the broad lines of the work of the new Commission. These broad lines – this outline, if you will – has been sent to you in writing in all the official languages, because all languages have the same dignity. And I would like to thank the translators who worked through the night on a text that I finalised late yesterday evening. The Commission's detailed work programme will be a product of the College as a whole and you will be asked to place your seal on it with your vote in the autumn.
This Parliament, which has just started its term in office, is different from its predecessors. You are the first Parliament to truly elect, in all senses of the word, the President of the Commission. You will elect him in a new spirit. In the aftermath of the elections, you insisted that the results, produced by universal suffrage, had to be taken into account. By so doing, you gave Article 17(7) of the Lisbon Treaty its true democratic and political meaning. If you had not stood firm, that Article would have forever remained a dead letter. You stood up for democracy, and you were right to do so. A Parliament which upholds democracy is performing a noble task and does not deserve to be subjected to bitter, unjustified criticism or to have its motives unfairly challenged. I should also like to thank the other front runners, or 'Spitzenkandidaten', who helped to ensure that our democratic debate was a lively one. If the political group of one of the other front runners had won the election, I would have been the first to call on this assembly to entrust that person with the task of setting up the new Commission.
The European Parliament and the Commission are both Community institutions par excellence. It's therefore only right that the President of the Commission and the President of European Parliament, on the one hand, and European Parliament and the Commission on the other, should have a special working relationship with each other. We will be Community players, not working against the European Council or against the Council of Ministers. We are not building Europe in opposition to countries or nations, which are not a footnote in history but here to stay. We, Parliament and Commission, will act in the general interest, and I want us to do it together.
The European Council proposes the President of the Commission. That does not mean he is its secretariat. The Commission is not a technical committee made up of civil servants who implement the instructions of another institution. The Commission is political. And I want it to be more political. Indeed, it will be highly political. Its make-up must reflect the plurality of the majority of ideas which take shape. When the European Council organises its internal structure, I hope it will be inspired by the same principle.
The President of the Commission is elected by your assembly. That does not mean he is at your beck and call; I'm not going to be the European Parliament's lackey. But do not doubt for one moment my willingness to remove a Commissioner who no longer benefits from your trust, or my willingness to take action, in principle by way of a legislative proposal, when you call on me to do so.
In similar vein, no restrictions will be placed on the right to pose questions. The same arrangements will continue to apply.
I intend to ask the Commissioners to be present more often at key moments of important 'trilogues' and I would like the Council to be there too. I will ensure that the lobbyist register is made public and mandatory. I would like ordinary people in Europe to know who has been to see who, and who has spoken to whom, and I would like the other institutions to follow suit.
I will make sure that the procedural rules governing the various authorisations for GMOs are reviewed. I would not want the Commission to be able to take a decision when a majority of Member States has not encouraged it to do so.
In general, let us avoid ideological debates which only sow division. Let us replace them by virtuous debates based on strongly-held beliefs and far-reaching ambitions. Let us opt for a pragmatic approach. Let us focus our efforts on achieving tangible results which benefit all Europeans. Let us not try the public's patience by indulging in institutional debates which prevent us from focusing on what really matters - the people of Europe. And I call on governments to try harder to resist the temptation, when they address their national electorates, to criticise decisions that they actually took together in Brussels.
If you said 'yes' in Brussels, don't say 'no' elsewhere. And never again say after a Council meeting that you won and the others lost. In Europe we win together, and we lose together too.
If Europe seems hard to understand, it is because, all too often, we caricature it. Let us put national navel-gazing to bed. In Europe we should play as a team. Let us apply the Community method. Yes, it is demanding, but it is effective, it is tried and tested and it is more credible than intergovernmental wrangling. We need to restore the Community method.
Europe has lost some of its credibility.
The gap between the European Union and its citizens is widening. One has to be really deaf and blind not to see this.
Very often, the European Union finds itself with some explaining to do, and many times under pressure to deliver when it comes to explaining Europe better.
Europe needs a broad-based agenda for reform.
The status quo does not provide us with a full range of tools. It has to be extended. People are often afraid of reforms. They find them threatening and risky. But taking no risks is far riskier. We must take risks in order to make Europe more competitive.
As the European Union, we have lost some of our international and global competitiveness.
We have fallen behind because we have stood still. Now we must fight to get ahead again.
Competitiveness is often confused with one-sided social regression but competitiveness is not achieved through social regression. Competitiveness is achieved by developing a broad range of approaches. Competitiveness is essential to make the European Union a more attractive location. A location for people, for investors.
This includes the principle that the economy has to serve the people and not the other way round. The economy must serve the people.
This means that internal market provisions cannot be valued more highly than social provisions, which would otherwise just be minimum standards. The internal market does not automatically have priority; social factors must also play a role in Europe.
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the social market economy. 'Prosperity for all' was what Ludwig Erhardt said. Not 'prosperity for just a few'. 'Prosperity for all' must be the maxim followed in both economic and social policies alike. In view of the crisis, people often say that the social market economy has failed. It is not the social market economy which has failed but those who, out of greed for profit, for money and for easy money, have disregarded the cardinal virtues of the social market economy.
The social market economy can only work if there is social dialogue. Social dialogue suffered during the crisis years. Now it must be resumed at national and especially at European level. I would like to be a President of social dialogue.
To keep a place attractive, you need growth, not recovery plans funded by borrowing which generate short-term effects with no long-term impact on the labour market. What we need is sustained growth over decades. What we need is an ambitious package for employment, growth, investment and competitiveness. Why do we need this? Because we have to draw many people in Europe back to Europe, back into the centre of things. Growth packages, competitiveness packages, investment programmes all have one aim which is to bring people back into the centre of society.
A 29th state is currently emerging within the borders of the European Union. It is the state where people without jobs live. A state in which young people became unemployed; a state in which we see people excluded, set back and left by the wayside. I would like this 29th Member State to become a normal Member State again. This is why I am proposing an ambitious investment programme. By February 2015, I would like to have put forward this ambitious package for growth, investment, competitiveness and jobs.
I would like us to mobilise EUR 300 billion in public and above all private investments over the next three years. We will do this and I would be grateful if the European Parliament would support me on this path. We can do this through the targeted use of the existing structural funds and of the European Investment Bank instruments already in place or to be developed. We need coordinated investment in infrastructure projects; investments in the field of broadband, in energy networks, and we need investments in transport infrastructure in the centres of industry. We need a reindustrialisation of Europe. We also need investments in the industrial sector, in research, development and renewable energies. Renewable energies are not just the purview of ecological do‑gooders. Renewable energies and their development is a sine qua non if tomorrow's Europe really is going to create lasting, consistent and sustainable locational advantages which are directly comparable with those of other world players.
If Europe invests more, Europe will be more prosperous and create more jobs. Investments are the best allies of the unemployed. In parallel with that, we must develop the Youth Guarantee. I would like us to gradually raise the age limit from 25 to 30. Investments can only be made in a target-oriented fashion if we actually make progress on reducing red tape, especially in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Small businesspeople are not big money men. Small businesspeople work hard and create jobs. We must do more for small businesspeople, especially by resolutely eliminating bureaucratic over-regulation. We must deliver in applying the principle of subsidiarity. Since the Maastricht Treaty, we have been talking about the correct application of the subsidiarity principle. What we are doing, however, is not sufficient. Our speeches last longer than our efforts to make real headway in reducing red tape, and to ensure that the European Commission - and the European Union - concerns itself with the really major European issues instead of interfering from all angles in every detail of people's lives. Not every problem that exists in Europe is a problem for the European Union. We must take care of the big issues.
All this must of course be put in place in line with the Stability Pact. We will not change the main elements of the Stability and Growth Pact. The European Council decided this. I will stick to this in the coming years.
Stability was promised when the single currency was introduced. Stability is not just an entry requirement but an ongoing requirement. Stability was promised. Europe cannot break its promises. I will not break them.
However, the European Council correctly established that we should also use the margins of flexibility which the Stability Pact as reformed in 2005 and 2011 contains in order to maximise the growth factor. We have done this in the past and we will do this to a greater extent in the future. Which brings me to my concern that what we have initiated and achieved in the past should not be underestimated. I was President of the Eurogroup and am glad that I no longer am. It was really no laughing matter. I would also hazard a doubt as to whether the job for which I am applying today will be more agreeable. However, during the crisis, which was not a crisis of the euro but a debt crisis, we had to repair a burning plane whilst flying. This was not easy and does not meet all the demands of great statesmanship or rules of sophisticated political aesthetics but we did manage to keep the whole Eurozone intact.
A little over a year ago, speculators of every provenance were wagering that the Eurozone would collapse. That did not happen. Bets were placed in many financial centres that Greece would leave the Eurozone.
I did all I could, and I am proud that Greece, this capable people, this great nation, is still a member of the European Economic and Monetary Union.
But we also made mistakes. Repairing a burning plane mid-air is no simple matter; you sometimes get your fingers burnt.
If, in the future, further economic adjustment programmes were to be introduced (although I see no need why this should be the case in the next few years), I would like to see a very rigorous social impact study carried out before any adjustment programme is implemented. I would like to know how adjustment programmes impact on people's lives. In future there will be no adjustment programmes unless they are preceded by a thorough social impact assessment.
I would be glad if we had a plan B whenever adjustment programmes are on the agenda. A plan B we could refer to if macro-economic predictions prove incorrect. If there is less growth in a country than the basis of an adjustment programme demands, then it must be possible to adjust the adjustment programme. I am therefore in favour of setting out a parallel plan B.
I would like us to reconsider the instrument of the Troika.
The European Parliament has stated in reports on the subject that the Troika as it works at present lacks democratic substance. It does lack democratic substance; it lacks a parliamentary dimension. We must review the Ttroika and make it more democratic, more parliamentary and more political. We will do this.
We cannot spend money we do not have. We have to replace deficits and debts by ideas. The ideas are there: we must make better use of the opportunities of the digital technology which knows no borders. We must break down national silos in telecommunication regulations, in copyright and in data protection standards. We have to break down national silos as far as the management of radio waves is concerned. We must knock down these barriers, these hurdles to growth. Roaming charges in Europe have to disappear and they will disappear. If we are successful in implementing a real digital single market, we can generate €250 billion of additional growth in Europe. We will do it.
We need, as it was so often said during the Ukrainian crisis, a resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy. We have to reorganise Europe’s energy policy into a new European Energy Union. We need to pool resources, combine infrastructures, and unite our negotiating power vis-à-vis third countries. We need to diversify our energy sources and reduce the high energy dependency of several of our member states.
I want the European Union to become the world number one in renewables. We will contribute significantly to enhancing energy efficiency beyond the 2020 objective notably when it comes to buildings. A binding 30 % objective for energy efficiency by 2030 is to me the minimum if we want to be credible and forward-looking. We cannot pretend to be the leader as far as climate change policy is concerned if we do not become more credible when it comes to energy efficiency.
The internal market has to be completed. If we are successful in this, we will add another €200 billion of added value to the European economy. We have to do it.
We have to complement the new European rules for banks with a Capital Markets Union. To improve the financing of our economy, we should further develop and integrate capital markets. This would cut the cost of raising capital, particularly for small and medium-size enterprises.
Free movement of workers has always been one of the key-pillars of the internal market. I will defend that principle.
Free movement is an opportunity, not a threat. The rules will not be changed. It will be up to national authorities to fight against abuse or fraudulent claims. I will initiate a targeted review of the Posting of Workers directive and of its implementation. We have to fight social dumping and we will do it.
I will combat tax evasion and tax fraud. I am in favour of the adoption at EU level of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base and a Financial Transaction Tax. We have to fight against money laundering and we will do it.
With regard to economic and monetary union, let us not lose sight of the fact that the crisis is not over.
The crisis is not over.
The crisis is not over as long as there are 25 million men and women out of work. The crisis will be over when full employment has been restored. And if we are going to do that, we need closer coordination of our economic policies. We need to establish economic governance. And we will. We must continue to insist that the necessary structural reforms, which in the medium term, will help to boost European economic growth, are put in place. If the members of the economic and monetary union make a concerted effort, then we should consider financial incentives to accompany that process. We should consider giving the Eurozone its own budget capacity.
It is absurd for one of the strongest currencies in the world to be represented by any number of different parties who very often contradict each other, and we should put a stop to it. I want the Economic and Monetary Union, and the euro, to be represented by a single chair and a single voice in the Bretton Woods institutions.
While I'm on the subject of Bretton Woods, I would like to say a few words on the free trade agreement with the United States. I am in favour of concluding this agreement. It is my view that the two largest economic areas and the two biggest democracies in the world can work together in the interests of Americans and Europeans alike. That said, the agreement will not be concluded at any price. We cannot abandon our health standards. We cannot abandon our social standards. We cannot abandon our data protection standard. I would not want data protection to form part of the negotiations with our American friends. Nor would I want parallel, secret courts set up. We are areas governed by the rule of law, so, in the United States and in Europe, let us apply the law.
And let us ensure that these negotiations are as transparent as possible. I say this to you: if we do not publish the relevant documents – and I do not mean documents on negotiating strategies – this agreement will fail. It will not be accepted by public opinion, it will not be accepted by this Parliament, it will not be accepted by our national parliaments if there is a mixed agreement. So let us be more transparent, because in fact we have nothing to hide. Let us not give the impression that we are not being upfront, let us operate transparently and make the documents public.
The European Union is a union built on values. And we are credible to the outside world if we demand high standards of ourselves when it comes to fundamental values. I will appoint a Commissioner who will be in charge of applying the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I would like the EU to join the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights at the earliest opportunity.
The Anti-Discrimination Directive will remain on the table and I will try to persuade the Council to adopt at least the core proposals as soon as possible.
Legal immigration and illegal immigration concern our fellow citizens on an almost daily basis. We need a common asylum policy, and I will put one forward. We need to think about the legal immigration that Europe will sorely need over the next five years. Let us do just as well as the United States, Canada and Australia. We can achieve what they have always managed to achieve.
Let us protect our external borders. Let us protect our external borders. Let us combat the criminal groups who make money off of other people's misery. Let us help would-be immigrants in their own countries, before they get on a boat to cross the Mediterranean. And let us establish better solidarity between Northern and Southern Europe. Illegal immigration and the refugee crisis are not the problems of Malta, Cyprus, Italy or Greece, they are the problems of Europe as a whole.
I do not want to say a great deal about foreign policy. We urgently need a common foreign and security policy. It would be fine by me if the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy were no longer thwarted by the Foreign Ministers of the Member States and I will ensure this does not happen. A common foreign policy also needs a common external image.
The High Representative, with a very broad own remit, will be supported by Commissioners responsible for other sectors.
In defence matters, it is not about establishing the European Union as an alternative model to NATO. Both have to work together and cooperate. In the defence sector we must have enhanced cooperation which the Lisbon Treaty also provides for. On procurement, in particular, we need to work together more rather than against each other, to obtain what we both need.
In the next five years, no new members will be joining us in the European Union. As things now stand, it is inconceivable that any of the candidate countries with whom we are now negotiating will be able to meet all the membership criteria down to every detail by 2019. However, the negotiations will be continued and other European nations and European countries need a credible and honest European perspective. This applies especially to the Western Balkans. This tragic European region needs a European perspective. Otherwise the old demons of the past will reawaken.
I would have liked to speak to you in greater detail about the industrial policy that we will need to set up in Europe to boost industry's share of European GDP to 20%. I would have liked to speak to you in greater detail about Ukraine, whose people I salute today. We believe that Ukraine is a European nation and that its place is in Europe.
I would have liked to explain to you in detail why I believe it is necessary for all EU Member States to put in place a minimum wage and basic guaranteed income. We will take action to achieve that end.
I would have liked to spell out my belief that services of general interest and public services should be safeguarded and cannot be subject to the fashionable whims of the day. Let us stand up for public services in Europe!
I would have liked to speak to you about Africa, a continent so often unhappy and forgotten. But a continent which is rich in resources, particularly human resources. Let us not forget Africa and let us end the appalling scandal, the absolute tragedy in which a man dies of hunger every six seconds and 25 000 children die of hunger every single day. As long as 25 000 children are dying of hunger every day, Europe will still have work to do. Europe has a responsibility to change this situation.
Yes, we have to start afresh, we have to hear the people who spoke to us on 25 May. But the time is not ripe for a revolution. And it is not ripe for a counter-revolution either. If we want Europeans to fall in love with their Europe again, let's tell them we are proud of Europe. Let's tell them we are proud of what we have achieved in the last few decades.
It is often claimed that the question of war or peace has been settled for good. But in reality, an unhealthy vacillation between war and peace is still part of Europe's present. Indeed, as we have just seen in the border regions of the EU, peace is not a permanent fixture of our continent.
We should be proud of our fathers' and mothers' generation, of our grandparents' generation, who, when they came back from the battlefields and the concentration camps, prayed time and time again that there would be no more war - a political programme which has proven its worth. Yes, we owe our forefathers a great deal.
Let us be proud that in the 1990s we were able to make a success of enlargement, to reconcile European history and geography and to put an end to the disastrous post-war order whereby Europe was divided in two, seemingly for ever. We reunited European geography and history not by force but by conviction, and I would like to pay homage to those in Central and Eastern Europe who decided to take history into their own hands. Not to be victims of history, but to make history. And by the way, let us end this talk about 'old' and 'new' Member States. There are Member States. Full stop.
And let us be proud that we set up the single currency. The single currency does not divide Europe, it protects Europe.
I was my country's Finance Minister for twenty years. Every six months I had to travel to Brussels to organise monetary realignments. Every six months I experienced 'live and in colour' just how dangerous monetary disorder was for the European economy. On very many occasions I witnessed the loss of dignity experienced by a state which had to devalue its currency to remain competitive. I witnessed terrible scenes in which states which needed to boost the external value of their currency agonised over losing markets, and states which needed to devalue were stricken by the fear of a massive incursion and a disorderly return of inflation.
If we had still had the European monetary system when the events in Ukraine erupted and when the economic and financial crisis struck and Europe became the epicentre of a worldwide battle, Europe today would be in the throes of monetary war. France against Germany, Germany against Italy, Italy against Portugal and Spain, and so on and so forth. Thanks to the discipline and the ambitions of the euro, we have a monetary order which protects us. The euro protects Europe.
Greece, let us not forget, did not want to leave the eurozone. And we did not want Greece to leave either.
If we had not done what we did in the last few decades, if we had not made Europe a peaceful continent, if we had not reconciled European history and geography, if we had not set up the single currency and if we had not established the world's largest internal market in Europe, where would we be now? We would be nobodies, we would be weak, we would be defenceless. Today, thanks to the hard work and convictions of our predecessors, Europe is a continent which ensures that its inhabitants can live in peace and relative prosperity.
I do not want a Europe stuck on the sidelines of history. I do not want a Europe which watches while other powers take action and move forward. I want a Europe at the heart of the action, a Europe which moves forward, a Europe which exists, protects, wins and serves as a model for others. In order to make that happen, let us draw inspiration from the principles and convictions handed down to us by the great Europeans who were there at a time when we were still nowhere. Allow me to pay homage to Jacques Delors, a great President of the European Commission. True, not everyone can be a Delors, but he is my teacher and my friend, and his work will inspire me every day. I would also like to pay homage to François Mitterrand, who said that nationalism leads to war. Mitterrand was right.
And I want to pay homage to Helmut Kohl, the greatest European I ever had the good fortune to meet.
Let us follow their example: they had patience, courage and determination. We should have the same courage, the same determination, the same patience. We should have the courage, the patience and the determination that long journeys and big ambitions demand.
We can do great things together for Europe, for Europeans and for the whole world.
Thank you for your attention.