President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso on the Cyprus Presidency of the Council
European Parliament plenary session/Strasbourg
15 January 2013
I want to start by thanking and also congratulating President Christofias, and through him all the people and authorities involved in the running of the Cyprus Presidency.
I want to pay tribute today to Cyprus that, as one of our smallest member states, with its particular geographical location and itself facing important political and economic challenges these days, has proved its pro-European commitment, professionalism and efficiency during its Council Presidency. Together we have reached important results during this period, and I am convinced that Cyprus will continue to make an important contribution to our Union beyond its term of Presidency.
President Christofias, thank you very much for your kind words regarding the role the Commission and myself have played in contributing to your very successful Presidency.
Our debate today gives us the opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved so far, and what is still on the table.
During six months not all problems can be solved. Not all files can be closed. Nevertheless, a lot of important groundwork has been done in 2012 which, in that sense, was a crucial year:
-Crisis-hit Eurozone countries have made important progress in bringing their budgets in order and in tackling deep-rooted structural problems. They have done so with determination and resolve. At every phase, they have been driven forward, advised and assisted by the European institutions. This process needs to continue;
-The ever-sceptical financial markets have taken note of these efforts and acknowledged them;
-Private investors are finding their way back to Eurozone countries in need;
-Competitiveness, notably of the least competitive member states, is improving, leading to the gradual rebalancing the Eurozone so far has lacked;
-Overall public finances are improving, slowly but surely.
We have safeguarded the integrity of the Eurozone. We have stopped the existential threat hanging over us earlier.
Of course, we must avoid any kind of complacency. As long as unemployment remains very high, the crisis is certainly not over yet. And I've been extremely clear saying that we still have a crisis in front of us, namely a social crisis, very deep in some of our Members States.
But we have turned a page in the crisis. No more, no less. And we are now ready to write the next chapter of the recovery.
This next chapter will be about building confidence by further strengthening our economic governance, by completing the banking union and by exploiting every means possible to create growth - sustainable growth - and jobs and to address the most pressing social problems in our countries.
The Commission will continue to take the lead in this. The line the Commission has been defending, and will continue to defend, is of course about putting our public finances in order. Because without that there is no confidence, without confidence there is no investment, without investment there is no growth. But this is just part of the answer. We have at the same time highlighted how important it is to have reforms for competitiveness and also investment, because investment is indispensable for growth. I wish all governments of Europe could share the same priority the Commission is giving to the need for investment at European level.
We will continue to firmly defend the European interest.
And we will continue to work hand in hand with this Parliament.
The European Union and its member states have to continue on the path of reform. We have yet to prove the sustainability of this process. Looking at the past year I feel encouraged that we will be successful.
In fact, this is the main lesson I draw from what happened and from what didn't happen over the last few months: those speculating against the Euro i have underestimated the political capital that is invested in it.
Let us continue to prove them wrong, and beware not to disinvest at such a crucial moment, just when our investment is starting - and I underline: starting to pay off. A lot still has to be done.
This is also why it is crucial to complete our work at European level.
Despite the important efforts deployed by the Cyprus Presidency and by many of you in the European Parliament, we have not been able to finalise the Two Pack. And the Two Pack is essential to make progress in the economy governance within the community method.
After over a year of negotiations, with thirteen trilogue meetings, I believe it's time to conclude and send, once again, the signal that Europe is capable of decisive action. This is the first opportunity we have to keep the reform momentum going.
Likewise, we have not had the chance to break the deadlock in the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework, something both Parliament and the Commission would have welcomed.
The Cyprus Presidency made the first attempt to reach a consensus. However, the conditions were not yet met to reach agreement.
Clearly, these have been the most difficult and complex budget negotiations ever.
Now, negotiations have reached a point where, I must say, further cuts risk weakening the European Union as such, while our common goal should be to strengthen our Union.
The MFF is a fundamental European tool for growth, for investment, for solidarity - concrete solidarity. The Commission will continue to work towards an agreement between member states and also between our institutions. We have highlighted constantly that the approval of this Parliament is indispensable. And we need that agreement. We have seen, in the extremely difficult negotiations on the European Union's budget for 2013 and the amending budget for 2012, where, by the way, the Cyprus presidency made a tremendous and at the end successful effort - negative for us would be, if we could not have the predictability that a multiannual budget can give for investment in Europe.
And I will also keep fighting for the truly European parts of the package, notably those aimed at growth and jobs.
But as I said, we are not yet there. Further efforts will be needed to bring positions together.
This will be difficult but certainly not impossible.
That was also clear from the debate on the road towards a European banking union.
The centrepiece of the Cypriot Presidency was to make progress on the Commission's proposals for a Single Supervisory Mechanism. And in this, we have achieved a significant breakthrough, both on the Council and on the Parliament side. Parliament has worked on this very efficiently and the Thyssen and Giegold reports are constructive and supportive, and in very many points rather similar to the approach taken by the Council.
I hope making the final step for formal adoption is a matter of weeks, not months.
Next should be a swift conclusion on the pending proposals on bank capital rules, bank resolution and deposit guarantees. Following the adoption of the SSM the Commission will make a formal legislative proposal for a single resolution mechanism in the banking sector before the summer. I consider this a matter of utmost political priority.
This proposal will be by no means less important than the SSM, and neither will it be less complex to frame in legal, technical and political terms.
At the same time, we have not neglected to prepare the ground for the major debate needed before the European elections: in presenting our Blueprint on a Deep and Genuine EMU, the Commission stuck its neck out. That is our role. It's the only way for Europe to keep its focus on the long road still ahead, to provide coherence and also to structure to our day-to-day efforts.
The focus that we had to give to the financial sector, the fiscal situation and to questions of economic governance does not mean Europe is losing sight of the real economy. On the contrary, real economy is and should be our first priority.
And in this sense the contribution, in the last six months, made by the Cyprus presidency, needs to be highlighted here:
-After some 30 years of debate, and based on Commission proposals, an agreement was finally reached between member states - even if not all - on the Single European Patent;
-We have concluded negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore, and you have given the final consent to trade deals with Central America, and with Colombia and Peru; and we have agreed to launch negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with Japan.
-We took stock of the implementation of the Digital Agenda for Europe, halfway through its 5-year strategy, and found that it had achieved many of its targets and is on track to meet most of the others;
-The Commission presented its proposal for a Council Recommendation on Youth Guarantees. First discussions have taken place in the Council. It is key that we prioritise for job and training opportunities for those hit hardest by the crisis. This is a matter where Member States can give a concrete demonstration that they are committed to growth and to tackle the very serious problem of unemployment, namely youth unemployment;
-A very good contribution of the Cyprus Presidency was the Limassol declaration, giving a new impetus to our integrated maritime policy. This is a matter very close to my heart. I was happy to be in Cyprus for that occasion and I believe this can be a real contribution to boost growth;
-Finally, and I could of course quote other matters, but among the most important, progress was also made on the Asylum Package and it has brought us very close to concluding the discussions on the Common European Asylum System and with your groundwork, important steps have been achieved in negotiating with this House on the Schengen Governance package, preparing the ground for an agreement in early 2013.
I truly believe that over the last few months, while many important and difficult challenges remain, notably the social ones, we have regained trust, we have reaffirmed composure and recovered momentum.
The Cyprus Presidency can therefore look back with satisfaction at a number of important achievements in economically and socially difficult times.
During these last six months, Cyprus has shown its European commitment in holding its first Council rotating Presidency.
It will be our job over the months to come, through serious efforts, to show that Europe works and delivers - each of us with his or her own role to play, but never forgetting our collective responsibility as a Union.
I thank you for your attention.