Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
Tomorrow is Europe Day and we celebrate the achievements of the European Union: 62 years of European integration.
We should never forget how far we have come; where we were 60 years ago and where we are now - a project that started with 6 countries, now with 27, very soon 28 countries: a real continental nature. Europe united around the values of peace, freedom and solidarity. I think we should never stop being proud of how much has been accomplished. But while it is important to commemorate the past, we have a duty to prepare for the future.
Over the past two years, we have made very important progress in building a true economic union. I would even say that more has been achieved in the last two years than the previous ten. We are delivering a robust response to the crisis by repairing our banking system; strengthening our economic governance; setting up credible financial firewalls and providing unprecedented solidarity to Member States in difficulty.
At the heart of our response has been a twin track approach of stability and growth. That means restoring sustainability to our public finances – because the crisis has shown that debt fuelled growth is unsustainable. And it means creating the conditions for growth and jobs, through structural reform and targeted investment.
That is a message we re-iterate in the paper the College has agreed today.
For two years, the Commission has pushed this twin track approach: in my State of the Union speeches, in the roadmap for stability and growth we presented last October and in this year's Annual Growth Survey. We have always made clear that we cannot have stability without growth and we cannot have growth without stability.
So, I am extremely pleased to see the new momentum that is clearly building in our Member States to kick-start the stalled engine of European growth.
The Commission's message for Europe Day is that we need to seize upon this new momentum to deliver on the many proposals for stability and growth that we have tabled.
Firstly, there must be no let-up in our focus on stability. We need to stay the course, without being blind to an evolving economic situation. Fortunately, the stability pact is designed in an intelligent way. The rulebook allows for adaptability while remaining firmly focussed on sustainability. Reducing debt and deficits is essential to build confidence and cut borrowing costs. Every euro spent on interest payments is a euro less for jobs and investment.
Secondly, to regain competitiveness there must be an acceleration in structural reforms. There is work to do at both national and EU level. Member States should reduce taxes on labour to stimulate job creation. This is a theme that we will return to in the country specific recommendations at the end of this month. At the European level, for example, we need to finally end the bickering and clear the way for the launch of the EU patent, which we estimate will save businesses €250 million per year. And in general, we need stronger action for the deepening and the enforcement of the single market. There I also see greater awareness among our Member States about the need to remove barriers that in fact restrict the potential of our single market.
Thirdly, so after stability measures, after structural reforms, we need to step up investment. Investment is also important. The European Council, following the Commission proposal, has already called for approval of the project bonds. This should be adopted by June. This is a concrete way of making funds available now while avoiding putting extra pressure on public finances. I am pleased to see that this is on track, meaning that a contribution of €230 million from the current EU budget could be used to attract funding of up to €4.6 billion over the next two years for key infrastructure projects in transport, in energy and in the digital area.
As I first suggested in my State of the Union speech last September, I also want to see an increase in the lending capacity of the European Investment Bank. Boosting its paid-in capital by at least €10 billion would make available much needed funding in support of job creation, particularly if targeted at small businesses. I would like to see this agreed at the next European Council in June. And if we are serious about investment for growth, we need to agree an EU budget for the next seven years that shifts the focus of spending to growth enhancing measures, and focus also in competitiveness – and I would also add the budget for this year because some of the measures should indeed be frontloaded. I hope that Member States which are calling for more measures to support growth will reflect this in their positions on the EU budget. It will be a contradiction to support growth through investment and not be able to commit the funds necessary to work for that at the European level.
We all agree I think that we need to boost growth in Europe. We have put our ideas on the table. I welcome others who come forward with their own. So let us seize the moment to have growth and stability in Europe.