Mister President, Dear Herman,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is always a pleasure to celebrate a birthday, especially when it belongs to someone else.
And I am happy to see here some good friends:
Martin Schulz, who just left; Herman Van Rompuy I know for centuries, because we were party leaders together, then he was a President of the Belgian Parliament when I was a Prime Minister, then we were Prime Ministers together and always good friends. So I am happy that I have the opportunity to be here amongst friends.
My first meeting with the EPC took place ten years ago: on 12 October 2006. It could have been yesterday. As President of the Eurogroup, I spoke about the future of our Economic and Monetary Union. And I am happy to say that, ten years later, all of us are still here, including the euro.
Since then, the EPC has given a home to the European debate. You have become part of the European conversation. As you embark on the next twenty years, you can do so with energy and optimism, and I wish you every success.
[Europe at a moment of change]
When we reach a milestone, we are sometimes tempted to look back. We wonder at how the world has changed. And we try to measure our progress.
This afternoon, I will resist that option. Because I want to talk about where we are today, and the path we must take tomorrow. The Europe of 1996 would offer little guidance. For we have entered a period of profound change – in fact a moment of disruption – which has shaken our world.
For some, disruption brings opportunity. It is a modernising force. For others, it means uncertainty. History tells us to be patient: we must wait for the fruits of change. Even during the industrial revolution, it took many years before standards of living began to improve.
We are familiar with the disruption of our age. Some of the symptoms are painful:
– 65 million people on our planet have been displaced by conflict and persecution;
– climate change has driven others from their home, and this year might be the hottest on record;
– violent extremism has brought insecurity to our streets, testing our commitment to an open society;
– and in our economy, millions of women and men have seen little or no growth in their wages, and many more fear for their future and that of their children.
But change also brings hope:
– like the Polish-British team who used the science of human cells so that a paralysed man could walk again;
– or the young Europeans who are returning from Silicon Valley to pursue their dreams back here;
– or the thousands of people across our Member States who volunteer to work with refugees.
As all of this unfolds, Europe becomes smaller. We represent only 8% of the world’s population whereas at the beginning of the 20th century we were representing 20% of the world’s population. And by 2050, we will be 5% – 5% out of 10 billion people. Our demography brings its own disruption.
In times of upheaval, our Union has always provided answers. Our institutions have upheld the values we hold dear. We have been a source of stability, both at home and abroad.
This is what we call resilience. It is a great virtue for any community. But this is not enough. Our ambition, as the European Union, is not simply to adapt to the world but to shape it. Our goal is not only to protect what we have today, but to build a better society for tomorrow.
[Lessons from the crisis]
We have learnt many things from the two great shocks of our time: the euro crisis and the refugee crisis. The parallels between them are clear.
In both cases, the crisis revealed that our integration was incomplete. Even as our banks became global players – too big to fail – our Member States resisted European solutions. In critical areas, the rules were still national.
Yes, we had fiscal rules for the euro area. But we did not have the governance to foster convergence and prevent crisis. When a Member State faced a shock, we did not have the tools that could offer solidarity.
When it came to Schengen, we faced serious constraints from the start. This was the world of intergovernmental policy, where ministers guarded their territory.
Yes, we had European rules for our external border. Yes, we had common standards for asylum policy. But most parts of the asylum process were left to national rules. Internal border controls were lifted, but each Member State was left to manage the external border.
When crisis came, it put extreme pressure on our system, and it found our weakness. Like water against a dam, it found the gaps and the cracks. It put our very foundation to the test.
We saw the force of contagion. Where one national budget could not respond to the shocks on the financial or sovereign markets, everyone suffered. Taxpayers paid a heavy price: for the banks that needed emergency support and the governments that could no longer fund themselves.
The same was true of Schengen. At the peak of the crisis, frontline Member States were confronted with an unprecedented flow of refugees. This put their systems under heavy stress. It revealed shortcomings in border management. Countries resorted to unilateral measures, waving through refugees or building fences.
None of this was a failure of anticipation. We knew that proper banking supervision, greater economic coordination and fiscal union were needed. We knew that a great region of conflict, from Syria to Afghanistan, could bring instability to our own door. But we had not found the political will to act. Our integration was only half-finished.
As each crisis unfolded – by the day, by the hour – the European Union acted as a crisis manager. We proposed solutions, we mobilised resources, and we helped to build bridges where solidarity was missing.
I will always remember, the nights of May 2010 – Herman, you remember them better than me. Herman was President of the European Council, I was President of the Eurogroup, and we were working closely together. We had to take in this very night some big decisions for the euro’s stability. We made financial assistance available to any country that needed it. It was 2 a.m. on May the 10th when we agreed to provide 750 billion euros via two European Financial Stability Mechanisms.
Two years later, we overcame political resistance to launch the Banking Union. This would lead to a Single Supervisor, a Single Resolution Mechanism and a new system of deposit insurance to protect people’s savings. Brick by brick, we rebuilt stability in the euro area. Today, our house is stronger.
During the first year of the refugee crisis, we proposed and implemented a comprehensive migration agenda: saving lives at sea, providing humanitarian aid, supporting our Member States most under strain, relocating asylum seekers across the Union and returning irregular migrants. A lot has to be done in that respect, by the way.
But this brings me to the critical moment. As refugees continued to risk their lives on the sea, we had to make a breakthrough. We saw that incremental change was not enough. We decided that our next move had to be bold.
In the first six months of this year, we proposed the European Border and Coast Guard; we signed the EU-Turkey statement; we launched a fundamental reform of our asylum system; and we proposed new Migration Partnerships with countries in Africa.
Just as the Banking Union gives new protection to our banking system, so the European Border and Coast Guard, which became operational last week, will strengthen our external border.
Our agreement with Turkey broke the business model of the smugglers. It cut the flow of refugees and saved lives. And our Member States are committing to the resettlement of refugees from outside the European Union, ensuring a safe and dignified passage to Europe.
Our proposal for a Common European Asylum System will help to ensure that we have fairer, more efficient and predictable rules in place.
Our Migration Partnerships open a new chapter in our relations with countries of origin or transit in Africa or in the Neighbourhood. We sit down with our neighbours to look at the root causes of migration. We invest in the local economy, helping migrants and refugees to stay closer to home.
Each of these measures is a game-changer. Together, they are the work of a political Commission. For the European Union, they mean strengthening the foundations of our common project and taking it to the next stage.
As I look to the future of our Union, the lessons from the crisis are clear.
We cannot leave our major projects only half-built for decades: the test will always come. Nor can we respond to systemic threats with incremental change or a quick fix at the very last minute.
When the situation demands bold measures, we must take them, and take them at the right time. We cannot wait until the next crisis to finish the job.
When we identify a threat that is systemic, we must act. The Banking Union, the European Stability Mechanism, the European Border and Coast Guard: these are ideas which are not new. We had always understood why we needed them. But we waited too long to act.
Solidarity is a vital part of our shared project.
No, it cannot be forced, it can only come from the heart. But our Member States need to understand that this is not only a moral question. This is about our ability to function. In a connected world, to share responsibility and resources is to promote our own interests.
And when we need to share our sovereignty, we should do so. If we want to travel freely across our internal borders, we need to secure our external border. This is a shared responsibility that demands European tools.
[The road to Rome]
As we start on the road to Rome and our 60th anniversary, I intend to apply these principles.
The Commission will set out our vision for the long term in a White Paper, which will be launched in March next year. Learning from the lessons we have outlined in our so-called Five Presidents’ Report, and which I have recalled today, we will also propose to reform our Economic and Monetary Union. We will address the political and democratic challenges that our Union of 27 will face in the future.
But before then, we have work to do. In the State of the Union speech, which I delivered some weeks ago, I presented a positive agenda that can deliver results here and now. This is the roadmap that takes us to Rome next March.
Let me say this. We will only succeed if everyone implements what we have already decided. This is what the crisis taught us. This is what solidarity demands.
My agenda is not a call for ‘more Europe’ but a call for action and delivery. Certainly, I believe that the Bratislava summit should have been more ambitious. But let us now implement our roadmap exactly as we have agreed.
Our Investment Plan for Europe is already a game-changer – the first bold step of my mandate. Now we will take it to the next level.
The European Fund for Strategic Investments has already mobilised €127 billion of new investment. Almost 300,000 small firms and start-ups will get new loans.
Now we have proposed to double the duration and the financial capacity of this Investment Fund. We want to reach at least €500 billion of investments by 2020 – and then €630 billion by 2022. If our Member States do the right thing, and make a contribution, we will reach our goal more quickly.
Our Security Union: yes, we are stronger together, sharing the information we have, confronting a common threat. That is a critical lesson from the crisis. To strengthen the Commission’s work on the Security Union, I have assigned its delivery to a dedicated Commissioner.
We need stronger controls at the external border, with better access to information and better sharing. Earlier this year, the Commission proposed that every time someone enters or exits the European Union, we have a record of when, where and why. This important upgrade should be adopted before the end of this year.
Next month we will go a step further by proposing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System. This means we can carry out simple and efficient checks in advance on travellers who no longer need a visa to travel to Europe.
On defence too, we are moving beyond incremental change. We have already started to implement our Joint Declaration with NATO which marks the moment when the EU begins to take responsibility for its own defence. Before the end of this year, we will propose a European Defence Fund, to boost innovation and industrial cooperation.
In our roadmap to Rome, we apply the lessons of the crisis. Bold political action that changes the game: this is our opportunity to reinvent our Union. To change the way we make policy. So that we are not only resilient in a changing world, but able to shape it according to our values.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wanted to keep my final words for our young people. They will be the authors of our reinvention. Even if they suffered most during the crisis, it is they who understand Europe best.
Our Erasmus programme was a bold step that has changed the lives of young people. Since its creation, five million have studied and trained in another country. Those numbers will grow, and they are spreading around the planet as Erasmus becomes more international.
Now we have taken another step: a European Solidarity Corps that will allow young people to volunteer where they are needed most: welcoming refugees, supporting communities after a natural disaster, or simply helping those in need.
I want to see the European Solidarity Corps up and running by the end of the year. By 2020, I want to see the first 100,000 young Europeans taking part.
When they join hands across borders, our young people write new pages in an old story. The European Union is the work of millions of ordinary men and women, weaving the ties of daily life. It is their cooperation and trade, their friendship, their solidarity, which have built the peace and stability that we enjoy today.
Even as our world changes, our Union gives us the strength to shape it.
So that no one is left behind.
So that everyone finds their place.
So that we continue to enjoy what is most precious – our way of life.
Thank you so much.