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Distinguished friends of Europe,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, allow me to thank the offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament here in Copenhagen for making this conference possible.
I have been looking forward to speaking to you today.
It is always great to speak to a room full of people interested in European Union affairs.
I hope that the discussions you have had today have left you with some fresh ideas and new insights on the state of the European Union.
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My speech today will focus on two simple questions that I believe are important to ask ourselves today:
The first question is this: “Has the European Union – at this moment in time – done enough to combat the crisis?”
The second question is almost as simple: “How do we restore the people’s trust in the European project?”
Both questions lie at the very core of the topic of this conference.
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So, have we done enough to combat the crisis?
Some have criticized the European Union for not doing enough and not taking appropriate action when action was called for.
Others have claimed that the EU does not have the right tools – or institutions even – to combat the crisis.
I strongly oppose these views.
The actions over the last months have shown that the Member States are willing to – and capable of – acting together and in solidarity with one another.
Within the last six months alone, Member States have signed a fiscal compact that ensures significant improvements in their fiscal policy and discipline.
They have secured a major loan package that to this day serves as a lifeline, saving Greece from an uncontrolled bankruptcy which would have devastating consequences for the Greek people. We are of course all hoping that Greece too will fulfill its end of the bargain.
The Member States have also strengthened the Eurozone’s firewall which has helped calm the financial markets.
And on top of this, key structural reforms are under way at the national level in many Member States to help underpin the steps that have been taken at the European level.
These are all examples of the EU and its Member States’ willingness to take necessary, far-reaching decisions.
And let’s not forget: these are decisions that hardly anyone thought possible just a few years ago.
Should anyone still harbor doubts about the magnitude of these decisions, then ask yourselves this:
“What international organization – in the whole history of human kind – has ever been able to do anything like what the EU has done in the past six months?”
It has never happened before.
In the Member States there is a general recognition that the answer to the current challenges facing us is more Europe, not less.
History might tell us that in times of crisis, governments tend to go down the road of protectionism, nationalism and self-serving policies. But we cannot allow that to happen this time around!
The crisis has strengthened integration and cooperation among Member States in key policy areas. Because that has proved to be the only adequate response.
Today, there is widespread acknowledgment among Member States that by pulling together politically and economically at this difficult point in time, Europe might actually be able to come out stronger on the other side.
The lesson that we must keep in our collective memory is that whatever one country chooses to do – it will affect the rest.
Therefore, our solutions must be carried out in coordination with one another. And all Member States must keep their own house in order. Not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the whole.
Our individual sovereignty, our individual room for maneuver, depends on the actions of others with whom we share trade, borders and values. It has always been like this – but the crisis has made it even clearer to us.
Our economies, our companies and our populations have become so dependent on one another that the thought of individual isolationism should be considered both outdated and obsolete.
And in contrast, when we act in common, we are able to protect our common values of solidarity, social safety nets and equal opportunity for all.
These are the values we have built our social model upon, and the values which make Europe stand out in the world.
When we have taken tough decisions and when we pull ourselves through hardship, we do it in the service of protecting this model.
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But of course we cannot only ask ourselves whether or not we have done enough to combat the crisis at this point in time – we must also ask ourselves if there is more to be done.
And of course there is.
If we take a look at the European landscape, we will find that growth is either absent or dangerously slow in most Member States and unemployment is much too high – especially among young people.
Statistics released last week reveal that unemployment in the Eurozone is now the highest in 15 years!
In the EU, a total of 51⁄2 million young people under the age of 25 are unemployed with a mind-boggling 51% youth unemployment rate in Spain and in Greece.
Together, we must do all we can to avoid losing a whole generation.
As governments, as politicians, as business leaders, we have a duty to prevent that from happening.
This is one of the reasons why the European Council will have an informal meeting on the 23rd of May to discuss how we strengthen our efforts to restore growth and to create new jobs.
It will also be the first occasion to hear the views of François Hollande, the newly elected French president, on this matter.
The Danish Presidency remains fully committed to boosting growth and promoting jobs in Europe and we welcome the opportunity to take further steps in May and June in this direction.
Of course, we take on this task in a broad-based effort spanning across many different policy areas. Europe needs to become more productive and more competitive.
From the outset, the Danish Presidency has been pushing negotiations on 12 initiatives that aim to modernize the Single Market and improve the business climate in Europe.
These proposals will provide real benefits to businesses and consumers through easing administrative burdens and lowering prices.
We need more home-made growth in Europe, and the Single Market must be updated and digitalized in order to achieve that.
A good example of this is the roaming directive, which we managed to reach agreement on last month.
With lower prices for cell phone usage, the directive extends a helping hand to companies that want to do cross-border business.
We are also close to concluding negotiations on a regulation to improve the European system of standardization.
This will help the spread of new technology in Europe and will reduce administrative burdens on companies.
Very soon, we also expect the Council to adopt a Commission proposal on venture capital that will increase access to capital for small and medium sized European businesses.
Easy access to capital is a necessity if we are to stimulate innovation, economic growth and job creation in the private sector.
Let me also add that we are working hard to build a consensus in favor of allocating more funds toward growth-enhancing areas like research, education and infrastructure in the on-going negotiations on the next EU-budget.
And in relation to the EU’s cohesion policy, we want to ensure that the EU achieves a bigger impact in the Member States for the billions of euro spent each year.
The EU’s massive potential in stronger trade relations with third counties must also not be overlooked.
This is why we are working on increased trade between the EU and a number of strategic partners.
Boosting trade means boosting growth in Europe.
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These are some of the steps that will help us tackle the crisis and prepare our European economy for the times ahead.
And in the end, these are also initiatives that in a concrete way will improve the lives of the ordinary citizens of the EU.
So to answer the question of whether or not the EU has done enough to combat the crisis, I will say that we have indeed made a remarkable effort which no one could have predicted possible only a few years ago.
But at the same time, we have much more to do before we have steered clear of our common challenges.
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Ladies and gentlemen, let me now turn to the other fundamental question that I posed in my introduction:
“How do we restore the peoples’ trust in the European project?“
Answering this question must be at the heart of any present-day debate about European affairs.
Because public trust rests at the very core of the European project.
In fact, public trust is the lifeblood of all politics. Be it national or European politics.
Widespread lack of public trust in the European project is poison to our common effort in combating the crisis.
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But how do we regain this trust?
I believe the answer lies not in new symbols of grandeur or new supranational institutions of power.
Rather, the public’s trust in the EU lies in its day-to-day ability to make real and meaningful decisions that positively affect the daily lives of its citizens.
The basic relationship between trust and performance is even echoed in the words of one of the founding fathers of the European Union.
Two days ago we celebrated Europe Day. This is the day when – in 1950 – Robert Schuman announced the following, and I quote:
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity...”
These words are as true today as they were when Schuman put forward his declaration 62 years ago.
Concrete results – ladies and gentlemen – this is the real source of legitimacy in the EU. And it has always been like that.
This is what binds us together in solidarity.
Results equal more trust. Because the very definition of trust is to believe that the one who is trusted, will do what is expected.
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Ladies and gentlemen, looking at the remaining two months of the Danish Presidency, we have a multitude of important items on our agenda.
We are working hard on all fronts, but let me just briefly mention four of the really big ones that I believe can make a real difference.
The first area is the proposal to strengthen capital and liquidity requirements for European banks.
Europe needs to upgrade its financial regulation and supervision in order to minimize the risk of another financial crisis in the future.
Such an upgrade must also help to provide more transparency and more certainty for the markets with regard to the regulatory framework in the future.
We are working hard to get an agreement in the Council and with the European Parliament on this important proposal.
Another big item on our agenda is the so-called “two pack’.
The “two pack” includes initiatives aimed at strengthening economic and budgetary surveillance of euro countries in financial difficulties.
It will also enact stronger monitoring of budgetary plans drafted by members of the Eurozone.
We are hoping to obtain final agreement on these measures no later than in June.
Thirdly, we are working very hard to push forward the difficult negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive.
We need an ambitious and robust piece of legislation that will help us achieve our objective of reaching 20 % energy savings by 2020.
In addition to conserving energy, the Commission has estimated that this directive could lead to the creation of two million jobs in the EU.
This is what we mean when we call for “green growth” in Europe.
Finally, let me also mention the importance of agreement on a unified EU Patent.
The situation today is as follows: Businesses across Europe are required to submit applications to 27 different national patent authorities in order to acquire an EU wide patent protection.
I believe one application should be enough!
These are some of the files we will continue to work on for the remainder of the Danish Presidency.
Because this is what the Danish Presidency is all about. We are dedicated to building a healthy and green economy as the foundation for creating growth and new jobs in Europe.
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Allow me to conclude by reflecting on the headline of today’s conference: “Building the Europe of the Future – Post Crisis Reflections”.
To be perfectly honest, I find the concept of “Post Crisis Reflections” perhaps a bit premature at this particular point in time.
Unfortunately, Europe is not yet in a situation where we can safely say that the crisis is behind us.
The volatile and fragile situation in Greece proves this point.
And one must expect many more hurdles in the way. But while we all hold our breath, we must continue to vigorously pursue the important task of restoring growth and creating jobs.
Because the answer to leaving the crisis behind us and regaining the trust of the citizens is in fact the same.
We need to do it through concrete results, through hard work and not least through joint action.
Wrestling our way out of the crisis is perhaps the most crucial and most difficult challenge of our generation.
But I firmly believe that Europe can do it. It is within Europe’s capacity to do it.
Thank you very much.