Is the welfare of Europe at stake? The Economic Future of Europe
Dear President of the European Council,
Dear CEO of KBC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to address this annual event on the "United States of Europe". The topic is as important today as it was almost sixty five years ago when Winston Churchill called for it in Zurich.
In 1946 when Churchill made his speech, nobody believed that such a Europe would ever exist in their lifetimes, divided as it was by an iron curtain.
Today I stand before you not only as a convinced European, but also as a Pole, and as the first President of the European parliament who comes from behind that iron curtain.
We have made a giant step in reuniting our continent. We have more steps to take to fully integrate our continent.
I wish to start my remarks tonight by outlining where I think Europe is today, before discussing what we can expect in the future.
2008 saw the worst financial crisis since the great crash of 1929. We took the lead and proposed solutions to avoid the mistakes which led to the crisis and to overcome the effects of the crisis.
The legislative package which is currently on the table will establish the new financial supervisory framework in Europe. The three agencies proposed, which will supervise the pensions, banking and insurance sector, as well as the new systemic risk board at the European Central Bank, will help deal with some of the structural problems which existed.
None of us are against competition, we believe in free markets and free movement of capital but it has to be on a level playing field where everybody plays by the same rules.
I am convinced that this new transparency and greater security will make Europe's market more, and not less attractive to the outside world.
We may be coming out of the crisis but we will only see growth rates of less than one percent across the Union this year. We need to double this figure just to keep up with the rest of the world. What does this mean?
This means we need to continue with our economic reforms, but we can not be tempted by protectionism, and economic nationalism.
The Single Market is our great achievement and we need not only defend it, but we have to extent it in order to continue to make Europe an open and competitive continent.
As you know, there are still major fragmentations of the market, this is why solutions such as a "single company statute" are needed.
To give another example, we need to open up the digital economy.
In the EU we do not have a well functioning on-line single market. This is partly due to the lack of appropriate legislation, which is our responsibility, but partly this is also a role for the business community - our citizens do not trust the digital economy, they are badly informed.
It is also your role to come up with solutions.
I am a firm believer in dialogue with the business community because you are a direct and crucial beneficiary of the European single market - the lack of borders, less barriers, and a single book of rules allow you to operate in a market of 500 million consumers.
I will be encouraging the new Commission President to propose legislation which will help close some of the gaps which still exist in the internal market.
I studied the first speech of the President of the Council, Mr Rompuy, and I discovered many similarities with my own thoughts:
As legislators we need to continue building a European demos. The citizens need to understand what we are doing. But you as the business community, you should also spread a European message.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need a long term economic plan for Europe. I believe that the new strategy of "Europe 2020" is the right step in the right direction. And the completion of the Single Market is the most important issue of all.
Its chapter on employment and the social dimension needs to be strengthened. Europe has always been a social market economy. We believe in solidarity, this is what makes us Europeans.
There is nothing more demoralising for a society than people who wish to work, but can not. In this European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, we have a duty to find ways of stimulating growth and allow people to contribute.
As John F. Kennedy once said "if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich".
We need to find ways of investing in new technologies, in education so that we can invest in our human capital, and in innovations. Because it is not the jobs of the past we wish to defend, it is the jobs of the future we wish to create.
These challenges of the future should be reflected in the EU budget after 2013 which we are starting to negotiate now.
The budget should be "greener" and concentrate more on innovations but it cannot be construed at the expense of the EU policies that have proven to be the most successful.
I have in mind cohesion policy which has allowed many countries to catch up but it also reinforces the single market.
This leads me to my third point, the twin issues of energy security and climate change.
We must keep the balance between sustainable development and growth and the competitiveness of the EU.
In terms of climate change, we need to think past Copenhagen. We have the numbers; we now need a binding agreement.
I am convinced that this is a great opportunity for Europe. We have the know-how and the technology to be at the forefront of the green economic revolution. If we don't do it others will, like the US and China who despite their failure to accept an agreement in Copenhagen discovered these areas of investment already for themselves.
This is why we need to spend money on research and development, to continuously invest, and to upgrade our economy. Here too, the role of business is crucial. You have to help drive the process.
But while we fight climate change, we need to also guarantee our energy security.
We need to continue with diversification of energy sources by investing more in domestic sources, in renewables such as wind and solar power, in nuclear, but also in cleaner fossil fuels.
We have to extend the network of pipelines so that we are not dependent on any one state, we need joint purchases of oil and gas which will reduce the costs, and we have to build greater interconnectability of our grids so that a true European energy market is created.
This is why I have called for the establishment of a European Energy Community with a forward looking energy policy both within the EU and in our external relations.
Sixty years ago Robert Schuman called for the pooling of sovereignty over coal and steel. Today, we need such a pooling of sovereignty but in the field of energy.
This leads me to my last point. We will not tackle how to get Europe working again, without also looking at our own demographic crisis.
For the European Union the share of the total population aged 65 years or over is projected to increase to 23.5 % in 2030, up from 17.1 % in 2008.
If we break those numbers down further and take into account the working population the numbers are striking.
In 2008, where one hundred persons of working age supported twenty-five persons aged 65 or over, in 2030 they are projected to support thirty eight persons! We can not continue like this.
I believe that extraordinary situations call for extraordinary actions. In a Europe of the 21st century we can not marginalise 50% of our society. We need to make sure that women do not have to sacrifice their careers to raise a family.
We need to work together, we legislators, the executives but also you, the business community, to find legislation which provides flexibility without sacrificing a rewarding family life which remains the building block of our society.
Our demographic crisis will also have to be solved by remaining an open society. Immigration has always been a benefit for Europe.
We need to find solutions so that immigration is not mass migration, so that we are able to invite the skilled workers we need but at the same time account for the need of integration within our communities.
The Stockholm programme, the blue card schemes are all good first steps we need to build upon in this next legislature.
In conclusion, what is the economic future for Europe? I believe it is good, but to achieve that we need more and not less European integration.
We need to finalise the single market so that we can achieve its full potential. We need a sustained long term economic programme.
We need investments in our schools and universities to train the scientists and researchers of tomorrow. Which will help us be the driving force of the new green economy.
This can only be done on a European level. What the financial crisis has shown us is that our Community method, which is based on solidarity between member states, works.
In the era of globalization we can only survive if we are capable of taking into account the experiences of all member states so that we speak with one voice.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us have the courage of our convictions to explain to our fellow citizens why Europe is good, and why the Community Method benefits all Europeans. Thank you!