[Check Against Delivery]
Vice-President for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro
Introductory statement on the European Council debate at the European Parliament
Strasbourg, 21 October 2014
I am honoured to be here today to present to you the views of the European Commission on the European Council meeting this week. The summit will seek to agree on a 2030 Climate and Energy framework, discuss the economy and external developments including Ukraine, and will also address the Ebola epidemic.
Let me start with a few remarks on the economy. This week’s meeting is not one for decisions in this regard. It will be for the new European Commission to initiate the new European Semester in a few weeks from now.
Throughout the crises years, our comprehensive response was always built upon the three pillars of fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and targeted investments.
This is valid still today. While the economic recovery in the EU is fragile and uneven, we are seeing that efforts are paying off. Those countries, which have done the most, are now better than off than those who are lagging behind in addressing the root causes of the crisis.
The reformed European economic governance has been instrumental in making this progress possible. Together we have changed the way that Europe’s economies and financial sector are legislated, supervised and regulated. The framework for that has been created. Now we need to stick to it and to fully implement it. This is very important for restoring confidence.
Agreeing a new framework on energy and climate policies for the period up to 2030 at this European Council will show how credible we are in transforming our economies and societies towards a low-carbon future.
The proposals in our current 2020 framework have been of strategic importance. They have put our Union firmly into a position of global leadership and were widely recognised as a key contributor to the global fight against climate change.
Importantly, we came to these agreements by finding the right mix of ambition and realism. By combining two strands – environment and energy – consensus was possible. There are economic advantages of climate-friendly innovation and investment and the economic case for cost-effective de-carbonization is clearer than ever.
We also broadened the scope to include energy security. Recent challenges to our security and the geo-strategic dimension have given energy security concerns even more impetus. Energy security must therefore be a part of the climate agenda.
Yet, sadly, our European climate ambition is far from being matched by the two most important polluters globally, the United States and China. Public opinion in Europe accepted the targets of 20-20-20 by 2020, even if they were aware of the difficulties in implementing them. The EU felt let down when a comprehensive global deal didn’t happen, despite pressing others to follow suit. But developments afterwards have shown that the Union was – and remains – on the right side of the argument.
There is now a renewed momentum towards a global, binding climate treaty to be agreed in Paris next year. Agreeing on our own 2030 framework now will set the tone. It would provide our Union with key leverage in the crucial phase of the international negotiations.
The Commission’s “2030” proposal from January is the frame of reference for this EU debate. Our proposals are clear, ambitious and balanced, with a 40% emission reduction target at its heart. Now the ball is in the court of the European Council. Leaders must assume their responsibility. We expect difficult discussions but we are confident that a decisive deal is within reach now.
The third issue to be discussed at the European Council is the external situation – in particular the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
With the unsettled conflict in Ukraine we realise more than ever that, to defend our values and protect our interests, Europe needs to take the lead and be active. We need to continue contributing to a political solution. At the same time, we need to demonstrate that unlawful and uncooperative behaviour carries heavy consequences.
The situation in Ukraine is a clash of world views that touches the very heart of the European Union, its principles, its values and what it symbolises: freedom, democracy and rule of law. This is why the EU, from the start, took a principled position against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine’s eastern regions.
And since then, we have done all we could to make the most of a bad situation. A political and peaceful solution of the conflict always remained our first priority. Not any solution, but one that guaranteed the sovereignty, independence and unity of Ukraine. Our relations with our eastern neighbours are not detrimental to their relations with their other neighbours. We never sought exclusivity in our relations. In fact, the European Union has invested a lot in a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, convinced that it is in our common interest to cooperate.
The developments are still unfolding. The European Union continues to work for a political, negotiated solution. The European Commission has made every effort in this regard by taking the lead in promoting trilateral talks in sensitive issues such as trade and energy. Just today, the Commission is mediating another round of talks on the gas issue.
On the security front, priority needs to be given to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. This is the basis to restore and consolidate trust. The ceasefire needs to be respected and verified, elections in the Donbas need to be held in accordance with Ukrainian law and the border needs to be controlled and monitored.
We cannot give up on Ukraine. We cannot give up reaching a solution. If we don’t reach a solution, at risk would be both Ukraine’s independence and also the security, stability and unity of the European continent. We must defend the credibility of a multilateral order based on values, equality and the rule of law.
At the same time, we are greatly concerned by the humanitarian and security situation in Syria and Iraq. It is deteriorating dramatically day by day.
The rapid progression of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) is alarming. Military action in line with international law is necessary. But it is not enough. It needs to be part of a wider effort comprising measures in the political/diplomatic, counter-terrorism and terrorism funding, humanitarian and communication fields.
The Commission has been active on the humanitarian part. To date, around €2.9 billion has been mobilised to those in need in Syria and Iraq. But the security situation negatively impacts the delivery of aid. While military intervention will be the key to defeating ISIL, it is imperative not to link the delivery of humanitarian aid to military objectives. Humanitarian access should not be put at risk.
Unfortunately, there is yet another crisis which the European Council will address, and this is Ebola. The Ebola outbreak is not just a problem for West Africa. It is a challenge for the international community as a whole – and Europe has a responsibility to do its part.
The Commission and the Member States have provided assistance to the countries affected and to the humanitarian effort on the ground, already more than 600 million euros. And it is not just money: 12 Member States are providing medical and other equipment through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. But we need to do more to help the affected African countries and also protect our own citizens. The Commission discussed this issue at today’s College and will feed into the discussions at the European Council.
This week’s European Council will cover very telling issues as far as the need for European unity is concerned. What the European Union is for. What it should do. What challenges it faces.
I look forward to hearing your views here today on how we can work together in order to tackle these challenges.
It is with this spirit of cooperation and with the crucial support of this House that Europe must be successful in coping with today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Thank you very much.