European Council of Brussels, 22/05/2013: joint press conference by José Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy
Type: Complete press conference
End production: 22/05/2013 First transmission: 22/05/2013
On 22 May 2013, the Heads of State or Government gathered in Brussels on the occasion of the European Council. They discussed tax policy, with a particular focus on how to improve the efficiency of tax collection and best tackle tax evasion and fraud with the aim of strengthening Member States' fiscal stance and deepening the internal market. Another item on the agenda was energy in the context of the EU's efforts to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness. The European Council also took stock of work on the deepening of EMU.
This video shows the joint press conference given by José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, and Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, on the conclusions of the Council.
Only the original language version is authentic and it prevails in the event of its differing from the translated versions.
||Joint arrival of José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, and Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, at the press conference
||Soundbite by Herman van Rompuy (in ENGLISH): This meeting was brief – as brief as it was effective. Good preparation at different levels during the last week, and the very fact of having this meeting, allowed for good results.
We discussed two issues of critical importance for citizens and our economies: taxation and energy.
Let me start on tax evasion and tax fraud, where it is high time to step up the fight. We've seen headline-after-headline highlight loopholes in tax systems. Fuelling public indignation, and rightly so.
The amounts are staggering. Hundreds of millions of euro go missing each year. At a time of fiscal pressure and social tensions, fighting this is a matter of fairness and credibility. I decided we had to use the momentum. Already in March, leaders had touched upon this, and the prospect of today's European Council debate put more pressure and helped set things into motion, after years of standstill.
Tax matters are always sensitive – hence the treaty-need for unanimity – but by nature tax evasion is something no country can solve on its own. And just to be perfectly clear: we're not talking about tax harmonisation, but about jointly fighting despicable practices like deliberate tax evasion.
So I am pleased that today's European Council managed to unblock a number of frozen files. There is movement, a real acceleration, with clear deadlines-for-result. Especially on four points.
First, on VAT fraud: leaders expect their ministers to sign off no later than end of June on a set of rapid-response measures so governments can crack down on fraudsters. This is a breakthrough.
It follows last week's breakthrough – and this is the second point – on the negotiation mandates on savings taxation agreed by finance ministers, after two years of blockage. The
Union is now in a position to start negotiating straight away with Switzerland,
Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino to ensure these countries apply EU standards. It will do so on the basis of the revised savings directive. This in itself is an important signal, as it points to a Union-wide consensus on a text now in its fifth year of negotiation – for which we set today an end-of-the-year deadline.
Third point, and building on this, we all want the Union to push hard for a global standard of automatic sharing of information, covering a full range of taxable income, and we'll promote this strongly in fora like the G8 and G20. I am glad the timely initiative by a group of member states that sparked this action is now firmly embedded in a Union-wide approach.
Fourthly and finally, a number of issues related to business taxation. Tackling profitshifting, tax-base-erosion and aggressive-tax-planning calls for a coordinated approach, in Europe and worldwide: we all agree on that. Here too we set deadlines for the end of the year, for instance on revising the parent-subsidiary- and the money laundering directives.
||Soundbite by Herman van Rompuy (in ENGLISH): Let me turn to energy. To me it was the right moment for a strategic debate. For a simple reason. The world is in the midst of an energy revolution, doubled with a race for resources. Soon Europe could be the only continent to still depend on imported energy.
Households feel the weight of high prices. Industry finds it hard to compete with foreign firms who pay half the price for electricity, like in the United States.
So all leaders are keenly aware that sustainable and affordable energy is key to keep factories and jobs in Europe. They also know that we have no major 'game changer' on the horizon, so we need to keep working on several fronts. And ideally, with a common approach – rather than 27 separate ones. Today we discussed four points.
First, energy efficiency. There is still a huge potential. After all, the cheapest, cleanest and safest energy is the one not consumed!
Second: turning 27 markets into a true European single energy market. We reaffirm the deadlines we'd set ourselves in February 2011: to have all rules and standards in place by 2014 and no country left unconnected to the common grid by 2015. There's no time to lose: it would bring down prices and could save Europeans collectively each year up to €30 billion in both gas and electricity.
But for that – and it's my third priority – we need investments. No less than €1 trillion by 2020, in modern infrastructure and also in R&D. This is not just about money. Investors are ready to invest, but to spend on, say, pipelines today they need a sense of where we want to be in ten or twenty years time. So a more predictable energy and climate policy is vital.
Fourth and final priority: diversifying our energy sources. Import-wise –making sure no country relies on a single supplier or supply route. And production-wise, exploiting
Europe's energy potential to the full. There is so much more to do on renewable energy, also in terms of jobs. Countries could also develop safe and sustainable ways to tap other resources – conventional and unconventional. Yes, this includes shale gas, which could become part of the energy mix for some member states, perhaps less for others. It's of course up to each country to decide its own energy mix. More generally, leaders agreed on the need to better coordinate, especially, and in advance, on major national energy decisions with an impact on other countries.
||Soundbite by Herman van Rompuy (in ENGLISH): Finally let me stress that the interest and rights of consumers were central in our exchanges. We asked the Commission to analyse prices and impact on households by end of the year. In the end people need to feel the difference.
Finally, we briefly discussed the situation in Syria, reaffirming our commitment to a political solution. We welcome the initiative for an international conference in Geneva, as a chance to re-start the political process. We tasked foreign ministers to prepare it and to take a common decision on the sanctions regime, since it is due to expire on June 1st.
So all in all we had a focused European Council, which set many things into motion – with many deadlines – and incidentally taking place exactly one year ahead of the beginning of the European elections.
At our next meeting in June, we will focus on economic policies, and I hope we can make progress against unemployment, especially for young people. Today I called on colleagues to be ambitious in national efforts and invited them to put forward new ideas, at all levels in the weeks ahead, for jobs for young Europeans.
I repeat youth unemployment will be a mayor theme on our June European Council.
||Soundbite by José Manuel Barroso (in ENGLISH): This European Council has made good progress on our European approach to energy policy and tax evasion and fraud. On both issues we know what we have to do, most of the proposals are already on the table. But indeed the pace of implementation has been too slow. What we need is the political will to act at the European level, and this European Council was important in that respect.
On energy and following the invitation of the President of the European Council, I presented at the beginning of the meeting different scenarios and policy recommendations. I'm happy with the reaction of the European Council and I can say that the conclusions reflect the Commission’s objectives. The reality is that the global energy landscape is changing very quickly and not in Europe’s favour. But we should not be resigned to that.
I really welcome the fact that there was a support for Commission approach for what I called a NO REGRETS scenario, with action in five areas: One, complete the internal energy market; Two, invest in innovation and infrastructure; Three, commit to greater energy efficiency; Four, exploit renewable sources more cheaply; Five, diversify supplies.
So we are making steps on what we could indeed call a European energy community.
There is no silver bullet to solve the strategic energy challenges that Europe faces. But there is much we can do if we act together through Europe. The status quo is not an option, which is why we really need to implement what has been agreed today.
Tackling tax evasion and fraud was the other issue on the meeting of European Council today. This is also about fairness, because we estimate €1 trillion lost each year to tax evasion and avoidance, the equivalent of a year’s health spending across all member states.
This discussion didn't start today. In fact, as the President of the European Council said, some of these issues are already on that table. Five years ago the Commission has put forward proposals for instance in terms of saving, the Tax Savings Directive. The reality is that until now these discussions have been more or less blocked. We also discussed this in the European Council last June, and the Commission has presented an action plan and two specific recommendations on tax havens and aggressive tax planning last December.
But now we see there is a new momentum among our member states, and I think we should act based on this momentum.
So I’m pleased that some decisions have been taken today. Indeed there was a reference to a principle that I believe it is critically important – the principle of automatic exchange of information at European Union level. Quite frankly, I would prefer this to be more precise in the conclusions, but I have to recognise that there was progress in that area. And now finally, it was about time we have this mandate, as Commission, to negotiate with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, to do it as soon as possible.
And so there is also a commitment of the European Council, in the light of these negotiations, and also noting the consensus of the scope of the revised directive on the taxation of the savings income, to call for its adoption before the end of the year. So we are making some progress in this area and this is certainly a positive development.
The reality is that citizens have high expectations that we will deliver a fairer tax deal for everyone. Today's globalised world is also changing in a way that we have to look at these issues in a much more attentive way. Next week’s Country Specific recommendations that the Commission will present will highlight the scope for member states to improve their own tax systems. But beyond this, beyond what can be done at national level or European level, there is also the global level where the European Union should promote a global standard, namely in the G8 – we are going to be there representing the European Union next month in Northern Ireland -, but also in the G20, OECD and in many other international fora.
So from that point of view I believe that we could also achieve some progress on areas that are important, not only in terms of fairness but also for growth, for our competitiveness, namely the progress achieved on energy sector. I believe this is important to build this European energy community.