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Distinguished guests, European friends, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, good evening all of you. And many thanks to the Centre for European Policy Studies for the invitation to speak here this evening. It’s an honour and a pleasure!
And personally - as a former Member of the European Parliament and as a former student at the College of Europe - I am delighted to see so many familiar faces in the room.
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Let me first of all thank CEPS, the Confederation of Danish Industry, and CO-Industry for this task force report on the Multiannual Financial Framework. This is very important work.
It is our common obligation to ensure that the EU-budget provides real added value and maximum effect for each euro spent. The report is a highly relevant and well-timed input to this discussion.
As you know, a final deal on the Multi-annual Financial Framework will not be reached during the Danish Presidency. But we are committed to moving the negotiations forward as far as possible. Your report is an important contribution to our work in the months to come. It does help focus our discussion on how to use our resources.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no doubt that our common effort to move forward the project of European integration is taking place against a political and economic backdrop that is dire.
Molotov cocktails have been hurled at riot police in Athens. Public anger and work stoppages are gathering pace in several European capitals.
The EU’s efforts to confront the debt crisis have not yet succeeded in winning back the confidence of the financial markets.
To be perfectly honest, I cannot recall a point in time during the past 50 years when the values and aspirations underpinning the European project have been tested to the extent that they are today.
Before we turn to despair, it is healthy to take a bigger perspective on the challenge facing the EU. One of the greatest European statesmen still alive, Helmut Schmidt, has a sound perspective on where we are. He has been an inspiration to many - including myself - with his calm and sensible voice in an otherwise high-pitched debate.
In his speech to the SPD party convention last year, he said:
“Each one of Europe’s nation states will constitute no more than a fraction of 1 percent of the world population in 2050. This means that if we - the Europeans - want to nurture the hope that we should play an important role in world affairs, then we can only achieve this together.
Because as individual countries - be it France, Italy, Germany or be it Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark or Greece - one will not even be able to measure our countries in percentages, but only in fractions of a percent.”
This is the clear-cut answer to all those who question the purpose of the European Union. It also explains why so many of Europe’s Governments work tirelessly to preserve and strengthen the European Union.
Because without it, if left to our own devices as small- and medium sized countries, we simply won’t be able to compete and prosper.
If we don’t pool some of our sovereignty, stick together and act in concert, we won’t be able to protect our interests and promote our values in a globalized world.
That is the big picture. And sometimes, when you are in a crisis, it is important to turn to the big picture.
Fortunately, EU Member States are responding. We are taking a range of important measures in the direction of much stronger economic co-ordination.
The steps that the EU is taking are not born out of a federal desire but of fundamental need to strengthen our common decision-making. Our actions were very hard to imagine just six months ago - and they seem almost unthinkable when seen through the perspective of Europe’s bloody history in the twentieth century.
I am talking in particular about the fiscal compact, which 25 Member States, including Denmark, will sign the day after tomorrow.
The compact constitutes a crucial stepping-stone in our efforts to address the crisis. It is an absolutely necessary instrument to have in our European tool-box. And I am certain that it will ensure greater fiscal discipline in the future.
Why do we talk about fiscal discipline? We do this because we are committed to protecting the European social model based on the core values of solidarity, safety nets and equal opportunity. It is important to remind ourselves of the unique European model. It is a model worth fighting for!
Right now, we seek to restore fiscal discipline to make that model sustainable. I am certain that the great majority of people understand that change is necessary to keep the European model. They understand that change is necessary, if it is applied with justice.
The real challenge is to find the right balance between consolidation and growth and ensure that the social market economies of Europe can be sustained.
In fact, there is no contradiction between consolidation that we have to do right now, on the one hand, and growth on the other.
Rather, fiscal discipline is the precondition for growth and employment. Yet in itself consolidation will not be enough to bring us out of the crisis.
Consequently, I was pleased that we managed to adopt a declaration on growth and jobs at the European Council in January.
The declaration contains many necessary components, such as calling for strengthening our competitiveness. This is essential if we are to create jobs and preserve our social model.
Now, the Member States must ensure that the words of the declaration are translated into action - quickly and comprehensively.
Not least with regard to increasing the number of jobs and apprenticeships for young people. I am convinced that it we do not act on the alarming number of jobless young people now, we run the risk of losing an entire generation to structural unemployment.
In order to restore momentum for growth in Europe, we must push forward on several fronts at the same time:
Firstly, we need to push for more home-made economic growth through a reform of the Single Market. The Single Market is one of the greatest achievements in the history of the EU. But there is still a large, unexplored potential. And now is the time - more than ever before - to unleash that potential.
Secondly, we will use the European Semester to call for structural reforms not only in the labour and product markets, but also in the public sector. Structural reforms that can strengthen competitiveness and unleash resources for new growth.
Thirdly, we should work hard to redirect more funds from the future EU budget towards growth-enhancing areas where jobs will be created in the future.
We must allow for common EU funds to be channelled directly to growth-enhancing areas in the Member States. Areas like research, education and green technologies.
And finally, while strengthening our own position we cannot allow the external dimension to be forgotten. We have to get much more out of our bilateral trade relations with strategic partners like the BRIC countries, Japan and the US. Hopefully, trade with these countries will evolve into a key growth-driver for Europe. There is a potential there. We need to use it!
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Dear European friends,
It will probably not come as a surprise to you when I say that we consider the green agenda to be another key instrument in boosting Europe’s economic growth.
The greening of our economies is as much about creating jobs and boosting growth as it is about increasing our energy independence and protecting the environment. That is the inherent beauty of the concept of “green growth”.
In recent years, the EU has taken the lead globally on the green agenda by developing a comprehensive energy and climate policy. But the time has come to speed up Europe’s transition to a greener and more sustainable economy.
We have a first-mover advantage. But we must ensure that this advantage is not gradually eroded as our global competitors discover the importance of the green agenda.
The EU must agree on new initiatives if we are to maintain our comparative advantage vis-à-vis other regions in the world. Otherwise, we risk that knowledge-intensive jobs and high-tech research capabilities move to other countries.
If Europe is to thrive in a new “world order” - characterized by the rise of countries like China, India and Brazil as well as by increasing international competition to get hold of scarce natural resources - we need to dramatically upscale our research and investments in green technologies, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
This is not just about achieving some favorable strategic goal 30 years from now. It is just as much about creating new knowledge-based jobs in Europe in the short term.
In the area of research and development, we must commit ourselves to create those circumstances that will enable European scientists to be among the first to achieve the technological advances. We cannot give up on the green growth in times of crisis, we need to enhance it!
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I have tried to make the case that what Europe has done in the past months we have done in order to preserve our unique European social model.
Consolidation is necessary - but it must be fairly applied and accompanied by a reform of the Single Market, structural reforms at the national level, a more intelligent and growth-targeted budget, and an increase in trade liberalization. These elements are crucial if we are to succeed.
The fiscal compact, the latest loan package for Greece and the declaration on growth and job creation from the European Council are signs that the EU is trying very hard to make significant progress in all areas. But as I have laid out tonight, even more needs to be done.
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Let me conclude by underlining the need for all of us to focus on the substance and to rely on sound judgement in the current difficult situation.
The American comedian - Groucho Marx - once said that “a black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
That is undoubtedly true. It is a fairly objective observation devoid of superstition and any preconceived notions about what could happen next.
In the same vein, I would urge all friends of Europe not to read too much into the doomsday prophecies about the European project.
I don’t pretend that all is well or that we can afford to be complacent. Far from it! I am simply saying that everyone with a stake in the future of the European project needs to remain as level-headed as possible in the current situation.
We will do our utmost in the coming months to provide a steady hand in order to help our common European ship navigate through rocky waters.
I can assure you that we will continue to work tirelessly in the Council and with the Commission, as well as in close co-operation with the European Parliament, to push for concrete results. That is what we will work for at tomorrow’s Council meeting.
Because, at the end of the day, it is only by working together, by finding common solutions and by achieving tangible results that Europe will be able to work its way through this crisis.
We need to work hard. We need to focus. We need to get results. We need to get out of the crisis. We need to build on the structures that we have in the EU. That is - in a nutshell - my guiding principle during the Danish EU Presidency and beyond.