Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
I am very glad to be here today with the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. We just had a first, very good meeting between the College and President Schulz – which we will continue after this press conference.
Once again I want to thanks you, Mr President, for your strong commitment not only to the European project as a political project to our common European values, but also to the Community method, to the role that the European institutions - namely the European Parliament and the Commission - have in our Union to defend and to promote the common European good and to think the general interest of Europe above any kind of other considerations.
In our meeting we notably discussed the draft budget 2013 that the Commission has just adopted. We also started discussing about the Arab Spring; as you know President Schulz currently chairs the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.
It is of crucial importance that the European Parliament and the European Commission continue to deepen their cooperation through what I have called "a special partnership". It highlights the strong commitment of both our institutions to the Community Method, as the best way of making our Union progress and prosper. It is important what we do in Europe but it is also important how we do it, so that we do it in a fair way where all are respected, big or small, rich or not so rich, new or old Member States. And the Community method is the only method that guarantees fairness and commitment to the general European interest. President Schulz and I believe that this special partnership is key to move forward the implementation of our economic strategy, which lays the foundation to create sustainable growth and inclusive growth in Europe and also to bring back people into work.
A central element of our Europe 2020 strategy is to ensure that EU funds fully support investment in growth and jobs. Member States have acknowledged this in the past this and have repeatedly stated that we need growth-friendly fiscal consolidation that preserves investment into the future.
This is precisely the double purpose of the draft budget for 2013 we adopted today in the meeting of the College just before receiving President Schulz: a budget that is going to invest in growth and jobs, while recognising the pressure on national budgets. Let me thank publically Commissioner Lewandowski for his excellent work. He will present the details immediately after this press conference.
The draft budget for 2013 shows responsibility and solidarity.
The draft budget shows responsibility because it freezes future expenditure, so called "commitment appropriations", at the level of inflation. It also moves expenditure to areas that can best help to create growth and jobs. And we are rigorously reducing expenditure in areas that are less well performing.
Furthermore we are limiting the increase of the administrative expenditure to 1,2%, which is clearly under inflation. And that represents a true reduction in the Commission's administrative budget. We are also cutting Commission staff levels by 5% over the next five years, starting in 2013 with 1%, which shows our commitment also to the efforts that are being made all across Europe in terms of consolidation.
At the same time, the budget shows solidarity because it is also a budget for investment and cohesion. And it is above all a budget that respects our legal obligations.
I want to make it clear that the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament are bound by the treaties to make sure that the funds are ready to fulfil the obligations that are given to the EU institutions. So we have a legal obligation apart from our political duty to make available the resources for the programmes that have been approved.
Member States and private beneficiaries are now submitting the bulk of their bills to us. This is normal in the last year of a programming period. So to put it bluntly it is now that most Member States are coming to the EU with the bills to pay for their regions, for their programmes. It is now more than in previous years so we have to respect these commitments. And the EU has to pay these bills, there is no way around it. The Treaty itself (art. 323) is very clear about this. This is why we propose an increase in payments of 6.8%. These increasing payments fully respect, and it is indeed under the commitments that were already agreed by the Member States.
If you look at the structure of our proposal it is clear that what we are increasing is the funds for investment and competitiveness and the funds for cohesion.
At the same time what we are reducing administrative and other kinds of expenditure.
We owe this to our public and private beneficiaries, to allow them to complete their EU-funded research work, their infrastructure projects, their training and education classes and to implement their business plans as envisaged. If we don't do it, we will infringe the law and will interrupt a vital cash flow that our economy needs. Let me tell you very frankly that now apparently everybody has agreed that Europe needs fiscal consolidation, but not just fiscal consolidation - we also need investment for growth and precisely this budget is a response to this concern. This is the European investment and more than ever the European budget is important because there are difficulties in most of our Member States in their budgets. It is the only possibility to have at European level some kind of investment, because we need discipline and at the same time we need convergence. We need responsibility and at the same time we need solidarity. And Europe (it is the analysis of everybody that is following our economic situation) needs to complement the efforts in fiscal consolidation and structural reform with appropriate targeted investment. And this budget is a budget for investment.
I therefore call on Member States to show responsibility in the discussion. I think it is not too much to ask for responsibility – to have a reasonable, rational discussion, to speak the truth, to avoid any kind of myths, to avoid any kind of prejudices in a discussion that should be a rational, reasonable one based on solid economic, legal and also political grounds. That the Member States don't forget that now we have more obligations than we had before. Some of those obligations are given to us by the Treaty that was adopted unanimously by the Member States. For instance, the obligations for the new Member that we are going to receive hopefully next year, Croatia. We have to put already in the budget this kind of obligations. This is why I think it is important to underline the need for this kind of discussion.
Let's not forget, because we are also starting the negotiations for the next budget 2014-2020 that at the heart of this discussion should be what I call a political contract among Member States. The more affluent countries are giving a contribution to solidarity and to convergence and the recipient countries are also accepting that this is not a blank check and an entitlement to subsidies, but it is also an obligation for them to pursue policies for increasing competitiveness, for instance the Europe 2020 strategy, so that we can reduce the gaps of convergence, the gaps of competitiveness between our Member States.
In fact the situation is very different in the Council. More often, when we discuss the budget we hear some governments louder than others. We don't hear so clearly the opinions of those, like some I have received just yesterday, that are asking us to invest and they say that we don't have any possibility to pay the bills if you don't respect the commitments, made for us for infrastructure, for cohesion projects, for the social fund. And it is very important to understand that in a diverse Union of 27 Member States the situation is not the same in all countries and that is why we need to underline the political contract that is underlying the overall proposals for the budget.
And finally, on the Arab Spring, President Schulz and I share the view that the situation in the Southern Mediterranean remains volatile and that the European Union has to remain fully committed to support the transitions to freedom and democracy. I also believe that there is an opportunity for Europe apart from our duty to support all those that are fighting for freedom and democracy in our neighbourhood, there is also an important opportunity for the European Union especially also for some of our Member States.
Our meeting with the President of the European Parliament has once again underlined the importance of our cooperation. From now on, if he will agree, we will repeat this exercise on a regular basis. Together our institutions can pave the way for sustainable growth and jobs, for a stronger European Union and also for a stronger democratic legitimacy of our Union, because let's not forget it, the Commission is accountable to the Parliament and the Parliament is directly elected by our citizens.
I thank you for your attention!