Thank you Richard, these are indeed important questions!
Prime Minister Mitsotakis, dear Kyriakos,
Chairman Weber, lieber Manfred,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By now, the pandemic has held Europe in its grip for almost a year. A year, in which home schooling and the home office have become the new normal for many of us. A year, in which entrepreneurs and the owners of small businesses have used all their creativity to keep our economy running. And the year, in which workers of all ages have shown their resilience, despite lockdowns and curfews.
But today, many of them are worried that the economic and social scars of the pandemic will be felt for a long time. Even after the virus has been defeated and I understand their fears. And I will do all I can to address them.
This conference on ‘Jobs for a strong recovery' could not come at a better time. Just a few hours ago, we discussed in College our Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights and EASE, our Recommendation to Member States on job creation. With both of these, we set out our ambition for a social, fair and job-rich recovery.
Because while last year, we fought to cushion the impact of the pandemic on businesses and to keep people employed, this year will be all about a recovery that creates new jobs. And it will be about equipping people with the skills that they need for these jobs. Therefore, thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain how we want to achieve this.
What Europeans expect is quite simple. In normal times and in times like now. They want to know that their hard work will be rewarded. They want to know that if they study and innovate, they will be given every opportunity to succeed.
And this is what Europe's social market economy has always been about. It is the right mix of free enterprise and fair competition, of opportunities to converge upwards and of social protection in times of need. This is exactly what Europe needs now. And I am sure that the EPP group fully agrees with me.
Let me be very clear: In our social market economy creating jobs is not the task of the state. Creating jobs is for our entrepreneurs, our small and medium-sized businesses and for our big companies. And the EPP has always been proud to live according to this conviction. But Member States, and of course we at the European level, can assist and enhance these efforts. And this is exactly what we are doing.
So let me start with EASE. EASE stands for ‘Effective Active Support to Employment'. With EASE, the Commission is recommending that Member States focus on easing the transition from crisis-job-support to creating sustainable future-proof jobs. This can be done through a combination of incentives, for example to hire young people or upskilling and reskilling for all age groups, and of course through support to entrepreneurs. And there are also plenty of possibilities: Grants for start-ups, subsidy schemes for apprenticeships or tailored support for people entering the labour market for the first time. These are all actions that Member States should pursue.
And I want to emphasise another point: Europe's recovery is about its next generation. Therefore, EASE has a strong focus on young people. Because they are among the hardest hit in this crisis. It feels as if a whole year has been stolen from them! Today 18% of young people in Europe are without a job. We will never accept this. Because Europe's future is built on the aspirations, dreams and energy of its youth!
Beyond active labour policy, there is much more that we can do that generates millions of new jobs. Next month, the Commission will present an update of its Industrial Strategy. With this, we want to help Europe's industry and its workers to thrive in the green and digital transitions. We also address the specific needs of small and medium-sized enterprises. We have just heard how difficult their situation is in this crisis. With InvestEU, for example, we give guarantees to kick-start investments that our SMEs will benefit from.
And, most importantly: there is our recovery programme. NextGenerationEU offers myriad opportunities for companies and for workers. Together with the EU budget, we are investing EUR 1.8 trillion. This not only helps us to build a better future, starting now. It also brings hope for jobs and prosperity to workers and their families. And it will power our SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy.
With this funding, for example, we want to start a European Renovation Wave. This is not just about making buildings more energy-efficient. It also means new jobs and new business for our construction sector, which was hit so badly by the crisis.
Or another example: With NextGenerationEU, we want to build new hydrogen valleys. This not only helps businesses, like those in the steel industry, on their way to climate neutrality. It also boosts employment. Because we know that investment in clean energy creates twice as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels.
And, with NextGenerationEU, we are investing heavily in digital projects. This will make Europe more innovative and bring faster internet to schools and businesses everywhere. And it will create the sustainable and future-oriented jobs that our continent needs.
To benefit from these transitions, however, our citizens need to have the necessary skills. Let me go back to our Action Plan on the Social Pillar. With this, we set ourselves ambitious targets on jobs and skills - clear, measurable goals. By 2030, at least 60% of all adults should participate in upskilling and reskilling every year so that as many workers as possible get the training they need to thrive in an evolving working environment.
Or, again, by 2030, at least 78% of the adult population should be employed. And this is doable if we raise the participation of women in the workforce. For that, we need good schools and good childcare - that is crucial for the next generation as well - and my friends know that I am persistent on that topic. Because Europe's recovery is for all.
This crisis is a marathon. You have already heard me say that. And while there is hardship and pain, there are also achievements that we can be proud of. Europe decided to stick together. Together, we buy and distribute vaccines for our citizens. Together, we agreed on NextGenerationEU, our recovery package. And together, we will make sure that our recovery will bring new and sustainable jobs for all.
And now, I look forward to the discussion.