Mr . President,
Mr Prime Minister ,
Distinguished members of the Hungarian Government,
Distinguished members of the European Parliament ,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While confronted with very testing circumstances in the Union, Hungary has risen to the challenges and delivered a very competent Presidency of the Council. More generally, the European Union is today better able to deal with the opportunities, and the difficulties, before us.
I would therefore like to thank Prime Minister Orban and all his team for their commitment and their hard work.
During this Presidency of the Council, the European Union achieved the first European Semester, concluded negotiations with Croatia, supported the democratic movements of the Arab Spring, approved a new European strategy for the Roma and launched the Danube Strategy. This is a good result.
I want also to underline the openness for dialogue with the European Parliament on the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
As you know, I suggested last November launching a structured dialogue and this was the case during the Hungarian Presidency. We have met several times - President Buzek, Prime Minister Orban and I - to exchange views before the Commission finally approved the proposal that is now before you. It is a budget that we believe is realistic but ambitious, that is all about investing in future growth.
This practice of consultations - Parliament, Council, and Commission - has now been established and Prime Minister Tusk already confirmed to me that the Polish Presidency will follow suit. The dialogue is launched. It should continue and bear fruit.
We are reflecting the lessons of the crisis in our policy-making. After much hard work we have both the plan and the tools needed to get Europe back on track; to ensure it stays on track. That is no small achievement.
At a time when some call on us to retreat into national shells, we have in fact developed a clearer sense of our interdependence. We have chosen to recognise our interdependence on the key issues of the day: namely the economy but also migration.
Growth has been high on the Hungarian Presidency's agenda and will remain so for the current Polish Presidency. In today's economic climate the stakes are very high. While 1.8% GDP growth is now expected for the European Union in 2011, unemployment is still unacceptably high, especially amongst our young people.
The divergences in competitiveness between our Member States are still too great, and countries such as Greece are walking a tightrope.
This means that in the longer term what is at stake is the future of our social market economy, our common currency, the euro, and our role in the world.
So the Commission's six legislative proposals on economic governance are essential and will have far-reaching consequences for our Union.
After marathon negotiations between the co-legislators, final agreement on the economic governance package is within sight. I urge the Parliament and the Council to go this extra mile and deliver, rather sooner than later, on this very important package, building on the excellent job done by the rapporteurs.
From our side, the Commission will continue to work hard on delivering in areas where it matters most for growth. Take, for example, the twelve priority actions under the Single Market Act.
The Commission will ensure that all our proposals are on the table by the end of the year, with the hope that they can be approved by Parliament and the Council by the end of 2012.
I am very pleased to see the early fruits especially in the area of intellectual property, where the Commission has presented a comprehensive strategy for reform and where already last week Member States agreed on the two regulations implementing enhanced cooperation to create a common EU patent.
This agreement has eluded us for decades and the Hungarian Presidency made a critical contribution to breaking the deadlock. The end result will reduce the cost of patents in Europe by up to 80%, covering 25 member states. This is a key step in becoming more innovation-friendly; it is of great economic value.
We will put an end to the unacceptable situation where obtaining a patent in Europe costs ten times more than in the US. This shows how European action can complement national action to boost competitiveness.
Another important issue during these six months was migration.
Migration is an emotive issue. The European Union has faced a difficult and challenging situation linked to the South Mediterranean events of last Spring. But let me say once again that the European Union has acted as a union to protect both freedom and security.
It is of great importance that we have strengthened FRONTEX with the agreement on the new regulation two weeks ago. We have also been able to face difficult situations related to the Schengen governance and national actions aiming at putting into risk basic principles of the European Union such as the free movement of persons and the common European space without borders.
The Commission will now come forward with its concrete proposals for a European based monitoring and evaluation system, supplemented by a European safeguard mechanism.
On asylum, the European Council has agreed that we must complete our Common European Asylum System by 2012. The Commission proposals are already on the table. I remain confident that we have the momentum we need to complete this goal.
I am also pleased that the Hungarian Presidency has delivered a big step forward for the Roma people. The European Commission's framework for national Roma integration strategies is endorsed by the European Council and will help us to end centuries-old exclusion in four key areas: education, employment, healthcare and housing.
I commend the robust and sensitive handling of this agreement.
Let me note the outstanding progress towards Croatia's accession.
Negotiations were formally concluded last week and we now look forward to signing the Accession Treaty by the end of this year. In the Commission’s view, Croatia could become the 28th member of our Union by the 1st of July 2013. We have been strict but fair and we will continue this same approach until accession.
And I believe it will lead not only to a stronger European family, but to further peace, reconciliation and stability in the Western Balkans. Let me pay tribute to the strong support we have received in steering this process and in giving a practical meaning to the European perspective of the region. I really welcome the strong commitment of Hungary regarding the future of the Western Balkans.
We have also given definition to the Danube Strategy, helping to connect, protect and develop in partnership with six of our neighbours. The overall aim is to improve the quality of life for the 115 million people living in the Danube region.
This year has been a very important year so far for Neighbourhood Policy. Neighbourhood policy is more than ever at the top of the Union's agenda.
We have actively managed the situation faced by our Southern Neighbours, not only supporting politically the Arab Spring, but also on the ground in very concrete humanitarian terms, also regarding its direct impacts on EU territory and defining a Strategy for Democracy and Co-Prosperity.
In conclusion, let me say, distinguished members, that we must keep focussed on investing in our future. The Hungarian Presidency has helped us in this respect and their close collaboration with the new Polish Presidency will serve the Union well. It will ensure the continuity in the Council's work and allow as well for constructive exchanges with the EP.
We have been able to move forward with the European agenda during these six months. I am sure that during the next semester, we will be able to build on the achievements to ensure important successes for our Union.