Check Against Delivery

"Strengthening the ownership of the EU"

It is a pleasure for me to attend the 4th European Family Business Summit here in Amsterdam.

It is often said that that family is a link to our past and a bridge to our future.

The same can be said about family business. Family businesses, whether big or small, represent a model of sustainability, resilience, responsibility, and long-term business orientation.

As you say in your own mission statement, your businesses are “the cornerstone of responsible ownership and long term entrepreneurship.”

Therefore I find the theme of this conference, family business "the Sustainable Choice" very well chosen. On this occasion, I am happy to share with you my thoughts and expectations on the future of Europe, globalisation and how this impacts European family businesses.

This spring, the European Commission has launched a debate on the future of Europe.

Against the background of ongoing change both on the European and global scale, the year of the 60th anniversary of the EU Treaties is a good time to have an honest and open debate on our future.

The European Union is a historic achievement. It has brought peace, prosperity and security on the European continent. It remains our common heritage. We are bound together by history, geography and common interests. We will continue to develop our cooperation on this basis.

But we are also confronted with unprecedented challenges.

The outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership and the start of negotiations on the UK's departure create a new situation for the EU.

Globalisation, migration, terrorism and populism are profoundly affecting the daily lives of Europeans.

People may feel uncertain whether tomorrow will be better than yesterday. And populists seize upon this frustration and fear.

We cannot give in to the politics of intolerance and hatred or to attempts to break up the EU.

Therefore we want to tackle the challenges facing us all in Europe together, as a family.

We want the Member States, business and citizens to strengthen their ownership of Europe, to build the Europe they want.

We have put different scenarios on the table to stimulate the debate with the EU Institutions, Member States, among citizens, businesses and civil society.

On the basis of the conclusions of this debate, we expect the European Council to decide on a course of action to be rolled out in time for the European Parliament elections in June 2019.

Too often, the discussion on Europe’s future has been boiled down to a binary choice between more or less Europe. That approach is misleading and simplistic.

Europe could evolve in many ways by 2025. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. But the current challenges need not necessarily be limiting for Europe’s future. The Union has often been built on the back of crises. And there are choices we can actively make to shaper our destiny.

The alternative and perhaps also complementary scenarios we have put for discussion can be summarised as follows:

  1. Carrying on with full ownership

  2. Nothing but the Single Market

  3. Those who want to do more do more

  4. Doing less more efficiently

  5. Doing much more together

    These possibilities are developed more in detail in our White Paper on the Future of Europe. They range from the status quo, to a change of scope and priorities, to a partial or collective leap forward.

    There are many overlaps between each scenario and they are therefore neither mutually exclusive, nor exhaustive.

    We are not starting from scratch. At the Commission we are already taking today many concrete actions which will shape Europe of the future. The Investment plan, the Single Market and Digital Single Market Strategies, the Energy Union, the Capital Markets Union, the Circular economy package, to name a few.

    But while acting on the present, we have to keep our eyes on the future. We want to build a Europe for citizens, where people and businesses live, work and thrive; where people have purpose today and hope for tomorrow, where each and every one has the freedom to choose his or her path.

    As we are debating future scenarios and how we want the EU to evolve, it is also important to reflect on the impact of globalisation.

    As part of the future of Europe reflection process, the European Commission adopted earlier this month a reflection paper on harnessing globalisation.

    We need to take an honest look at what globalisation has brought to the EU.

    The benefits of globalisation are numerous. But even if the EU has greatly benefitted from globalisation overall, this means little to our citizens if these benefits are not shared fairly and evenly.

    Many Europeans are concerned that globalisation leads to inequality, job losses, social injustice, or lowering standards.

    Countries with lower wages and environmental standards are competing with Europe in low-skill and low-value added industry segments. This is leading to factory closures, job losses or downward pressure on our workers' pay and conditions.

    Many citizens feel that globalisation and uncontrolled migration directly threaten their identities, traditions and ways of living.

    These concerns must be recognised and addressed.

    However, the solution lies neither in isolationism – which has led to disastrous outcomes in the past – nor in a laissez-faire approach.

    Globalisation can be beneficial where it is properly harnessed. The EU must ensure a better distribution of the benefits of globalisation.

    We should seize together the opportunity to shape globalisation in line with our own values and interests, and respond to its opportunities and challenges.

    On the external front, we need to shape a truly sustainable global order, based on shared rules and a common agenda. The EU has always stood for a strong and effective 'multilateral' global rulebook and should continue to develop it.

    Instead of being rule-takers we should be rule-makers.

    For example, the EU could push for new rules to create a level-playing field by addressing harmful and unfair behaviour like tax evasion, government subsidies or social dumping.

    Effective trade defence instruments and a better enforcement of domestic and international rules could also help the EU act decisively against countries or companies that engage in unfair practices.

    On the domestic front, we need to protect and empower citizens through robust social policies and providing the necessary education and training support throughout their lives. This will equip them for the future and redistribute wealth more fairly.

    So, ladies and gentlemen, you have to ask yourselves, what future do you want for yourselves, for your children and for our Union?

    We want everybody to take an active part in this debate. As representatives of European Family Businesses, we invite you to make your voices heard in the process, both as citizens and as entrepreneurs and employers. You have a unique perspective, please make it heard!

    Why is this so important? Our choices on the way forward for the EU will both depend on - and set the scene for – future economic performance and prosperity. These choices directly impact on the development of family businesses that you represent.

There is a key challenge ahead for all of us: make the EU’s economy future-proof. We want to foster convergence of economic and social performances across countries and regions. No one should be left behind. Every generation should be better off than the previous one.

But the EU cannot do all of this by itself. It is a shared responsibility of the EU and the Member States, but also of regions and municipalities throughout the EU.

We want to strengthen the ownership of Europe at all these levels.  

We want the Member States, business and citizens to take better and more active ownership of Europe, to build the Europe they want. The choice is theirs.

As owners of family business you are well placed to know how strong and dedicated ownership combined with an ambitious vision for the future can make a difference.

With more active shareholders, the EU will perform better, ensuring a better return on investment, for the benefit of us all.

Thanks to the work done by the generations before us, we have a solid foundation.  Now let's build together a bridge to our future!