Ladies and gentlemen,
And looking into the room, dear friends,
I am very happy to be with you. And I would like to thank all those who organised this event. I do know that behind the scene, many things have to be made and we should never forget those who are making our public appearances a success.
I am a great collector of summits. And my collection is growing every day and very quickly: the Euro, Greece, Russia, migration, everything. But I am happy to add a Business Summit to my already rich collection of summits.
You have covered a lot of ground already in your talks, with many of my distinguished colleagues from the Commission taking part: the Euro, the Single Market, Investment, Migration, Digital, the Labour Market, Capital Markets, Energy and Climate. It is the tragic fate of the final speaker: to take the floor when everything has been said. But since I was invited to conclude, let me tell you the truth – my truth – although I do not like to deliver concluding remarks after two days of meetings, which I could not possibly attend. So with the highest authority possible, I will conclude the session of today.
When I took office 19 months ago, I wanted my Commission to be a political European Commission. A Commission that takes responsibility, defends the European interest and provides solutions. A Commission that can manage crises as they come but still delivers its political priorities for the next five years along the lines I had announced to the European Parliament when I took office in 2014.
We are trying to deliver our political priorities and this is what we have done. In spite of all the gloom and doom that we see in the newspapers, the European Union and the Commission are delivering.
In our first month in office, we launched an Investment Plan for Europe that has already mobilised more than 100 billion euros across 26 Member States, with 64 big infrastructure projects and support for more than 140,000 small and medium-sized enterprises.
We helped to secure an historic agreement on climate change – the first of its kind, which charts the paths for public authorities and companies alike.
We brokered a stability support programme for Greece, which kept the eurozone together and anchored Greece to the euro. And I believe that the Greek economy now has the potential to turn the corner.
We are pushing for new sources of growth, following a strict better regulation agenda, and we adopted new strategies for our Digital Single Market, Capital Markets Union, Energy Union and so on, and we started to implement those.
We set out a roadmap for the future of the euro – the so-called Five Presidents’ Report – and we reformed the European Semester of economic policy coordination, so that we can better support our Member States as they are modernising their economies.
We are trying to respond to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. And we are saving Schengen by implementing the Schengen rules. This is not only a symbol of our open society. It is vital for business, since border controls within the Schengen area would cost between 5 and 18 billion euros each year.
And we have done all of this in a context where our security, within Europe and in our immediate neighbourhood, has been challenged.
My point is not to list the achievements of the Commission. But I will argue that today, in a time of crisis, we should also see the European Union at its best: providing stability, showing responsibility, promoting solidarity.
We have approached the British referendum in the same spirit. I have said, from the beginning, that I want the UK to remain a Member of the European Union on the basis of a fair deal. And the deal we proposed is fair to the UK and fair to the other 27 Member States.
The British Prime Minister achieved the maximum of what he could achieve and the other Member States were giving the maximum of what they were ready to give.
Now it is for the British people to decide, and I hope that the great virtues – pragmatism, common sense – will produce a result that is good for them and good for Europe. I do not want to interfere in the British debate.
On all these fronts, the jury is still out. You know that I am not someone who wants to hide the problems and difficulties. But last week, being in Japan, I took a clear message to the G7: there is recovery in Europe and we continue doing our job.
Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in five years. We have five million more jobs than in 2013 – nobody knows it but that is reality. Investment is starting to pick up – nobody is seeing it, but that is the reality. And the state of public finances is improving – nobody is seeing it, but that is the case.
So we are progressing on all these fronts. And in the first quarter of 2016, we were even growing faster than the United States.
We know that the global economy remains uncertain, and our growth will depend on the opportunities we create for ourselves. And we know we need to do more.
This is why we will keep pushing for what we call the virtuous triangle of investment, structural reforms and consolidation of public finances. This strategy is at the heart of everything we do.
I mentioned progress on investment and the Investment Plan for Europe. And I mentioned the main figures. This Plan is not a silver bullet by itself. It was never meant to be. But it works, and that is why we have decided to extend the new European Fund for Strategic Investments beyond 2018. And legislation will be proposed during the autumn.
This European Plan for Investment is called the Juncker Plan. That was not my intention. But those who did believe that it would be a total failure wanted to identify immediately the one who would be responsible. But since it works, it is called the Investment Plan for Europe.
We had to do it as the investment volume of the European Union, both public and private, was 20% less when I started my mandate than in 2007 in the pre-crisis year.
And we had to do it to strengthen the focus on jobs and growth. Austerity is not an exclusive answer. It is a necessary answer when it means rigour, not stupid, blind austerity. This is why we added this investment dimension.
We also need structural reforms. Today, as Europe is starting to recover, we can see a clear trend: countries with the courage to reform are the ones who are feeling the benefit. Those governments who are undertaking the reforms, which from time to time are very painful, are sometimes losing the elections, but nevertheless countries are recovering from bad starting positions.
The Recommendations which the Commission issued a few weeks ago in the context of the European Semester are not lecturing Member States, but suggesting to Member States to undertake the reforms they need. These Recommendations are targeted and they are precise. We have put an end to the shopping lists that tried to do everything but led to nothing, and we now focus on the priorities that require urgent attention.
When it comes to the consolidation of our public finances – the third point of the virtuous triangle I was describing – I want to be clear. The Commission has never argued – although it is often repeated – for blind austerity, and it never will.
We want healthy public finances, based on a growing economy and responsible fiscal frameworks, and we are using the flexibility in our rules to make this happen, including by giving the time and space for reforms.
This does not mean being lax. I introduced in the framework of the Stability and Growth Pact some elements of flexibility, within the room of interpretation of the rules – we did not change the Stability and Growth Pact into a flexibility Pact, because we do think that cleaning up our public finances is essential. Not only for ourselves but for future generations.
It is not to please the European Commission, nor Brussels as some are saying, it is about future generations. Our generation is in charge of preparing a better life for the next generation. And so we have to do our work.
Public deficits have been reduced drastically. And even if the euro area fiscal stance has become more expansionary lately, which is seen as a good thing in the present juncture, deficits are still expected to go down across the board, and our levels of debt are also starting to fall.
When it comes to this very point, the Commission is not making a difference between big Member States and smaller Member States. We are applying the rules as they are. And those who are saying that we would favour, that we would be more generous, when it comes to big Member States are wrong; and they know it, which does not prevent them from saying it.
In pushing for this virtuous triangle – investment, structural reforms and consolidation of public finances – let me stress that the Commission has the issue of social justice and social fairness at its heart.
There will not be any lasting economic or political success unless we can prove that this agenda pays off, not just for some, but for all, and in particular for the most vulnerable among us, notably the ones who have suffered most from the crisis.
This is why the Commission is pushing for a strong social agenda: on youth unemployment, on health and safety at work, on establishing a European pillar of social rights for which we have launched a broad public consultation, and on the issue of the posting of workers. On the latter I am a little bit surprised that several Parliaments in recent weeks were telling us that the issue of posting of workers is a matter for subsidiarity and not for the European Union, although when posted workers are circulating on the European labour market it is a cross-border issue, so this is not a matter for subsidiarity, this is a matter for a collective framing of the conditions they are working in.
This is also why this Commission has a very ambitious agenda on taxation policy, such as the setting up of an efficient and fair corporate tax system, and the progressive creation of a single VAT area.
And the large-scale concealment of funds exposed in the “Panama Papers” confirms the Commission’s push for an urgent and strong stance against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering, within the EU and internationally.
I hope and trust that responsible and forward-looking business will embrace and support this European agenda of fairness as well.
I would like this final message – a message of broad partnership – to be our conclusion today. If we want to stay the course, to strengthen the recovery and to rebalance our economy, with more investment and greater social justice, then we must do it together.
As the Commission, our contribution is clear, and it is the one I have pursued since the day I took office: focusing on priorities – be big on big; modest, timid on smaller issues – stimulating new sources of growth and creating the right conditions for business.
And I would call on you to play your part. Invest in the sectors that create new jobs. Invest in the skills that our young and not so young people need. Help us build the Single Market and Europe of tomorrow. Building the Europe of tomorrow requires time and determination. Whenever you are on your way to realise big ambitions, you have to have patience and you have to have determination.
Thank you for listening.
Compliments of the European Commission