At the December European Council summit President Barroso summed up 2013 as "a breakthrough year in terms of getting Europe's economy back on track".
Speaking at the final press conference following the European Council meeting in Brussels on 19-20 December, President Barroso said: "The euro is no longer in danger. Reforms are taking hold and this is slowly being felt by our citizens, the markets and our international partners. Yes, we have still very important problems - unemployment remains at an unacceptable level and we need to keep up the pressure to deliver growth measures – but the general economic situation is clearly improving. Europe is acting, Europe is working."
A clear demonstration of that fact is the unanimous political agreement on the Single Resolution Mechanism reached by EU finance ministers this week. President Barroso hailed this as "the beginning of the end of bank bail-outs". "Banks, not taxpayers, will carry the cost for their own mistakes", he said at a press conference on Thursday, following the first day of the summit.
The Single Resolution Mechanism is the last piece in the comprehensive reforms that the European Commission has been developing to create a thriving, yet more responsible, European banking sector.
"Over the past five years, we have radically changed the rules for banks in the European Union. We have now a single rule" said President Barroso. The fact that agreement has been reached "shows the EU can make swift progress even when issues are complex and politically sensitive".
President Barroso also highlighted the common rules for resolution of failed banks and for protecting taxpayer's deposits in the event of bank failures: "Today Europe's banks are better capitalised, better able to manage risks and better supervised."
Security and Defence
President Barroso also welcomed the decisions of the European Council on the security and defence: "We need a strong and credible Common Security and Defence Policy, so that Europe can play its full role on the world stage. This must be underpinned by a competitive and efficient security and defence sector."
He added: "With around one and a half million jobs and a turnover of ninety six billion Euros this is a sector that is very important for the European economy. This is primarily a task for the EU Member States, but the Commission can assist within its area of competences. In this sense we have already tabled proposals to strengthen the internal market and the competitiveness of our defence industry."
Three main themes were developed in the discussions: a genuine internal market for defence, a comprehensive industrial policy that creates opportunities for all Member States and industries of all sizes throughout the EU and synergies between civil research programmes, Horizon 2020, and those co-ordinated by the European Defence Agency.
"A stronger Common Security and Defence Policy is not a luxury", the President concluded. "It is in today’s world a necessity. It is also a pre-condition for a successful foreign and security policy. It's a great contribution for Europe's role in the world. And we believe, after today's discussion, that we can say that all Member States agree that a comprehensive EU response can make a difference."
Speaking after the close of the European Council summit on Friday, President Barroso recalled the tragic events which took place at Lampedusa. "Through our dedicated Task Force, we have worked out together a comprehensive, balanced and practical strategy to respond to this urgent and complex situation", he said. "We have recommended 38 concrete actions [and]… set aside financial support of up to €50 million, including emergency funding. Implementation is now the key point".
Eastern Partnership Summit, Syria and the Central African Republic
Turning to the subject of recent international developments, President Barroso discussed the recent Eastern Partnership Summit and subsequent events in Ukraine. He reiterated that the EU remained committed to the signing of the agreement with Ukraine. "The continuing protests and demonstrations in the country show clearly where the Ukrainian people stand" President Barroso said. "They want freedom, they want prosperity, they want stability."
President Barroso emphasised that the EU's position of principle remains unchanged. "We want to be very clear that our partners must choose their path freely and of course with their full sovereignty. We are ready to stand by and support our partners in their reform process". President Barroso also drew attention to the important successes of the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit, including the initialling of the Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova.
President Barroso then spoke about the "shocking and deteriorating" humanitarian situation in Syria and also the situation in the Central African Republic, where France recently intervened based on a UN Security Council resolution. He outlined the support that the EU is offering, observing that "all this simply underlines the crucial role that Europe is playing, and must continue to play globally."
At the final press conference on Friday, President Barroso paid tribute to the work of the Member States, the European institutions and the Council Presidencies throughout the year. He thanked President Grybauskaite in particular for her efforts in leading the Lithuanian Presidency in the second half of 2013. President Barroso gave his wishes for a merry and restful Christmas, and looked forward to an interesting and challenging year to come.