Thank you President for your kind words of introduction. It is a pleasure to be here for your BUSINESSEUROPE Day.
In October, just a few days before I took office, BusinessEurope published its list of 10 priorities to boost Investment, Growth and Employment.
I have read it and found it very interesting. I am sure today you will tell me I have not read it closely enough. Others claim that I have read too much of it.
So I'll be honest: I have read it, and I took the bits I liked. That is my prerogative as European Commission President, to pick and choose.
I have my own list of 10 priorities – those which I set out in my own Political Guidelines. Those are the basis on which I was appointed by Heads of State and Government, and elected by the Parliament. I hope you'll forgive me if they are not quite identical to your own.
My aim - and my duty - is to act in the European interest, at a moment when Europe is being called into question. To address the issues that matter for citizens, and can bring Europe closer to its citizens. To build a stronger and more prosperous Europe, but also a more social and caring one, a "fairer Europe", to reconcile citizens not only with the European project, but also with themselves, and to make a real difference.
Today, I want to set out some of those priorities. Let me reassure you: on most things, we agree. Economic growth, investment and reforms. Trade. The single market.
And I want to set out how I hope European business can engage to help us in all these, and how I hope you will be involved.
Jobs, growth, and investment
First among my priorities - and yours - is to address the urgent economic and social situation, and to build a strong economy for the future.
And my approach is based on a "virtuous triangle", which we need to promote between structural reforms, fiscal responsibility and investment.
We are living in better circumstances now – thanks to a better economic outlook and the depreciation of the euro. But these are only cyclical improvements. We should not lose the momentum.
For me, investment was the missing part of our economic narrative: yes, we need to step up structural reforms, to enrich the job and productivity potential of the economy; yes, we need to pursue fiscal responsibility, and keep public finances sustainable; but we also need to restore investment levels, to overcome the crisis, kick-start growth and sustain it.
And I am very pleased that you chose to echo this priority by choosing the theme of "Invest in Europe" for this event.
This is why the first act of my new College was to launch an Investment Plan for Europe. This is not old money for old projects. This is about new money for new investment projects that would not have happened otherwise. We are committed to delivering €315 billion in extra investment for Europe, using the expertise and credit rating of the European Investment Bank, and stimulating private capital. I made the choice and not everyone was happy about that, to have independent experts and not politicians choose the projects. For me, this is very important. Work is already underway – with good progress on agreeing the Regulation setting up the new European Fund for Strategic Investments; four countries so far have pledged financial contributions. To those Member States who say the Plan is not enough, I say this: look into your pockets and see what you can contribute too! That is how the Plan will work to the best extent.
But the Investment Plan is not just about money: it is about investment projects and it is about making Europe more attractive to investment. To improve the business environment and financing conditions, and to strengthen opportunities across Europe.
There are many elements to this, from our Better Regulation agenda, to our flagship projects on an Energy Union, the Digital Single Market and the deepening of Economic and Monetary Union.
You will see these initiatives unfold over the coming months and I hope and expect you will take an active role in shaping them. For instance, until May, we are consulting on the future of what we call "a capital markets union" – to improve access to finance for businesses small and large, by using the power of our single market to diversify sources of funding, and cutting the cost of capital. If EU venture capital markets had been as deep as in the US, that would have meant 90 billion extra euro available over recent years.
On economic reform, human capital, productivity, many of the tools still lie in the hands of Member States. But we have many instruments – like a stronger European Semester of economic policy coordination – to steer and guide, and we will want to use them. We have already published our so-called country reports, where we analyse the situation of each Member State; in May we will put forward a new set of country-specific recommendations.
But I don't want this to come from "Brussels".
It cannot be like that. This is not Brussels "dictatorship".
I want Commissioners to visit every capital, including to meet national social partners, to discuss the content of the country-specific recommendations, before they are adopted. Whether it is reform of our domestic economy, or reform of our economic and monetary union: that reform needs full ownership and engagement. It will affect the lives of people; those people need to be involved and convinced about the benefits.
So I hope you will be out there making the convincing case in support of our initiatives. Let me give you two more examples.
First, trade. I want to see a reasonable and balanced trade deal with the US. I know that EU companies face obstacles when trying to export to the US, or get investment from the US; while EU consumers don't always get the best deal. That is what we want to deal with: not by merely lowering standards or sacrificing protections for mere dogma – but by opening up markets and bringing down barriers.
At the European Council last week, EU leaders committed to make every effort to agree the deal by the end of this year — an ambitious and comprehensive deal. And they committed to communicate more about it, too, and speak with civil society.
I wanted them to say that, to stop the "double-speak" between what is said during meetings in Brussels and what is said in public, and make sure they commit and stick together in the process. I hope you will be joining in — talking about the benefits, listening to people's concerns, responding to them.
The single market
Second example, the single market. I want to do more on the single market. We would not have a single market without the work started by Jacques Delors thirty years ago. The single market and its freedoms are pre-eminent achievements of European integration. A boost for business, an opportunity for citizens. A very solid cornerstone, including in times of crisis.
But perhaps because it is so much of a success, it is too easily taken for granted. Not everyone realises or notices or values the positive difference it makes. Not everyone sees the risks of rejection or retrenchment.
And here I want to add that under my Commission, the free movement of workers will not touched. If you start playing with fundamental freedoms, you end up with none. This is a matter on which we cannot compromise.
And let's reinvent and strengthen it for the challenges of our 21st century. Digital services, for example – Commissioner Oettinger will be with you in a minute. Or energy - I think of the differential in prices with the US and think of the benefits that a true Energy Union can bring. These are areas that are becoming increasingly important within our economy; even the foundation of our economy. Yet those areas must struggle by with 28 different national frameworks. And where Europe can and should make a real difference.
Common focus of the Political Guidelines
There are 10 key areas my Political Guidelines focus on. But above all, there is one common theme, and one common method.
The common theme is how to restore jobs, growth and investment. We must leave the next generation with more than a pile of debt and a broken economy. We must invest in their future, through investment – but also through forward-looking reform and fiscal responsibility. And we must invest in creating new opportunities for each and everyone.
The common method is "focus". The EU needs to focus on the areas that matter and make a difference. It cannot hope – and does not want - to do everything, be everything for everyone. But equally, sometimes, EU action helps remove the burden – as one set of rules replace 28.
So we will be "big on the big things", "small on the small things". Ambitious where it counts - more modest elsewhere. Not every problem in Europe is a problem for the European Union.
That is why our work programme contains just 23 new initiatives – compared to the previous annual average of 130. Alongside 80 pending proposals we are withdrawing or amending, 79 that we took for a review as part of a so-called "fitness check". Some call this "better regulation", some call it "subsidiarity". Whatever you call it, it means an EU that is more focused, credible and relevant for the citizen and the companies.
A stronger social dialogue
Let me conclude by appealing to you, not just as business leaders, but as leaders of representative organisations active in society.
You will find in me an ally: I am a great defender and promoter of social dialogue, at European level but also at national level. Indeed we had a very good conference here in Brussels three weeks ago that many of you attended. I concluded that meeting by saying that "tripartism" does not work unless there is good and well-functioning "bipartism" among social partners, so this is why I am calling on you, alongside workers' representatives, to relaunch social dialogue at all levels.
That is my true ambition. A Europe that is not distant and directive. Not a Europe that tells citizens how to be, or business how to operate. But a Europe engaged in dialogue and debate, working with and for Europeans for a better future.
I know you are ready to play your full part.