23 April, 2014

30 days to go until the elections: This time it’s different

Ladies and gentlemen,

dear friends,

In 30 days, more than 300 million EU citizens will take to the polls in all 28 EU Member States.

They will go to the polls to elect a new European Parliament.

To directly elect one of the 751 members of the Parliament that will shape EU policies until 2019.

Direct elections of the European Parliament have taken place since 1979.

However, this time, these elections are different.

These elections are different because they are the very first elections that take place on the basis of the Treaty of Lisbon.

And this Treaty, which was agreed by all 28 EU Member States, stipulates that the new European Parliament will “elect” the next President of the European Commission.

This means that the next President of the European Commission will no longer be appointed by the governments of the Member States, as it was the case in the past.

He will no longer be the result of backroom deals among diplomats.

Instead, the next President of the Commission will be the result of an open election in the European Parliament plenary in which he will have to unite a majority of the members of the European Parliament behind his candidacy, which means 376 members.

It is true that the proposal for the next Commission President must still come from the European Council, who decides on this proposal by qualified majority.

In my view, this also makes also a lot of sense. Because next to the European Parliaments, our Member States are an important source of legitimacy in the European Union.

Our Union is built both on our citizens and on our Member States, and with their agreement, not against them.

National governments must therefore be involved in the procedure leading to the appointment of the next Commission President.

However, the European Council cannot propose just anybody as Commission President.

According to the Treaty, Heads of State and Government will have to take account of the results of the European Parliament elections when making their proposal. They will thus have to be sure that the candidate they propose will be able to get a majority in the new European Parliament behind him.

And they have to hold appropriate consultations before making their proposal, notably with the leading political groups in the European Parliament.

The European Council thus cannot propose just anybody – if they want to make sure that a new European Commission President will in the end get elected by the Parliament.

In short: The candidate of the political group that will be the strongest after the European Parliament elections will become the next Commission President. Anything else would make a mockery of the democratic process that is now explicitly foreseen in the Treaty.

It is against the background of this new democratic setting that I have accepted to become the lead candidate of the European People’s Party for European Commission President. And to campaign across Europe for this office ahead of these European Parliament elections.

I believe it is high time citizens see that the Commission is led by elected politicians, and not by unelected bureaucrats.

I believe that it is high time citizens see that European Parliament elections are not a side-show. But that their vote in these elections really matters for the future direction that Europe will take in the next five years.

I believe that this is particularly important now, after Europe has been hit by the worst economic and financial crisis since the 1930s.

A crisis that originated in the United States, but that caused turmoil across the globe, including in Europe.

A crisis that saw more than 6 million people in Europe lose their jobs since 2008.

A crisis during which we had to take unprecedented measures in Europe to prevent further damage to the well-being of our citizens, to stabilise our economies and to keep our Union together.

To me, the crisis has made it more urgent than ever to reacquaint our citizens with the European project.

During this crisis, support for the European project has fallen to historic lows.

Today, only 29% of citizens believe that their voice counts in the EU.

While here in Belgium, 47% of citizens feel that they have a say in European affairs, this figure stands at just 13% in Greece.

This is why I decided to be the EPP’s candidate for Commission President in these European Parliament elections.

Over the next five years, I want to work night and day to get Europe out of this crisis.

To make sure Europeans, notably young Europeans, get a decent job.

And to heal the wounds that the crisis has inflicted upon our citizens and our whole continent over the past years.

The crisis has divided Europe. North against South, East against West. An in addition into an “austerity” camp versus a “growth camp”.

I am convinced that I have the experience to re-unite Europe after this crisis.

Within the EPP, I have been nominated as candidate for Commission candidate on a proposal from my own party in Luxembourg and in addition by the German Christian Democrats and the Nea Demokratia of Greece.

This is to be of more than only symbolic importance.

Over the next five years, I want to work for a Europe that finds acceptance both in Germany and in Greece, and in all other EU countries.

I want to re-build bridges where the crisis has destroyed them.

As Commission President, I will set myself 5 priorities.

  1. My first priority will be to put policies that create growth and jobs at the centre of the policy agenda of the next Commission. As a key ingredient for this, we must create a digital single market for consumers and businesses – making use of the great opportunities of digital technologies which know no borders. To do so we will need to have the courage to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation, in the management of radio waves and in competition law. If we do this, we can ensure that European citizens can soon use their mobile phones across Europe without having to pay roaming charges. We can ensure that consumers can access music, movies and sports events on their electronic devices wherever they are in Europe, and regardless of borders. And we can generate 500 billion Euro of additional growth in Europe in the course of the mandate of the next Commission, thereby creating hundreds of thousands new jobs and a vibrant knowledge-based society. I will work on this project from day one of my Commission.
  2. As a second priority, I want to reform and reorganise Europe’s energy policy in a new European Energy Union. We need to pool our resources, combine our infrastructures and unite our negotiating power vis-à-vis third countries. We need to diversify our energy sources, and reduce the energy dependency of several of our Member States. I want to keep our European energy market open to our neighbours. However, if the price for energy from the East becomes too expensive, either in commercial or in political terms, Europe should be able to switch very swiftly to other supply channels. We need to be able to reverse energy flows when necessary. And we need to strengthen the share of renewable energies on our continent. This is not only a matter of a responsible climate change policy. It is at the same time an industrial policy imperative if we still want to have affordable energy at our disposal in the medium term. I therefore want Europe’s Energy Union to become the world’s number one in renewable energies.
  3. Third, under my presidency, the Commission will negotiate a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the United States of America. It is anachronistic that in the 21st century, Europeans and Americans still impose customs duties on each other’s products. These should be swiftly and fully abolished. I also believe that we can go a significant step further in recognising each other’s product standards or working towards transatlantic standards. However, as Commission President, I will also be very clear that I will not sacrifice Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards on the altar of free trade. Notably, the safety of the food we eat and the protection of the personal data of Europeans will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President.
  4. A fourth priority for me will be to continue with the reform of our monetary union, and to do so with Europe’s social dimension in mind. We have come a long way over the past five years.

In 2008, when the crisis first hit us, we coordinated an “economic stimulus package” worth 250 billion Euro to protect jobs in Europe. We topped this up with a “growth package” of a further 130 billion Euro in 2012.

We have new fiscal rules in place that have allowed our national governments to re-gain the trust of their citizens and investors.

The Eurozone has created the European Stability Mechanism, a new solidarity mechanism to make sure that Eurozone countries never again become the fair game of the markets.

And we have brought all 6000 banks in the Eurozone under common European supervision and control, thereby ensuring that never again taxpayers will have to foot the bill for irresponsible speculation.

The result of these efforts now start to be seen:

  • 5 years after the fall of Lehmann brothers, the European Union is back on track to growth.
  • New jobs are being created as we speak – for example more than 16 000 new jobs were created in Spain just last month.
  • Countries which were at the centre of the storm are exiting their rescue programmes to stand again on their own feet, from Ireland to Portugal and Greece.

I believe that in the next five years, we will have to consolidate and complement the unpre­ceden­ted measures we have taken during the crisis, to simplify them and to make them socially more legitimate.

I see three main areas of change:

  1. We have to re-balance the relationship between elected politicians and the European Central Bank in the daily management of the Eurozone. I admire what Mario Draghi has done to save the euro. However, he had to do so in a clearly exceptional situation. The ECB neither wants nor can govern the Eurozone. The Eurozone should instead be managed by the Commission and by the Euro Group, which in my view should be chaired by a full-time President. The responsibility of the Euro Group includes issues related to the exchange rate. We should not forget this in case the euro exchange rate should increase further and become a problem for growth.
  2. We should also re-balance the way in which we grant conditional stability support to Eurozone countries in financial difficulties. I propose that in the future, any support and reform programme goes not only through a fiscal sustainability assessment; but at the same time through a social impact assessment. The social effects of structural reforms need to be discussed in public. The European Commission could prepare such social impact assessments, and we would present them both in the European Parliament and to the national Parliament of the countries in question. Many reforms are still necessary to stabilise Eurozone countries. But we should all take better care to ensure these reforms do not increase inequalities, but rather reduce them. My party, the EPP, believes in the social market economy. It is not compatible with the social market economy that in a crisis, ship-owners and speculators become even richer, while pensioners no longer know how to pay for their daily needs. In this context, a targeted fiscal capacity at Eurozone level could be developed to work as a shock-absorber if needed.
  3. Thirdly, I am convinced that we have to strengthen the external projection of our monetary union. During the crisis, we have witnessed the important role played by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in several of our Member States. To many of our citizens, the IMF appears to be an alien, rather ideological force which does not take account of Europe’s social model and Europe’s traditions. Most are unaware of the fact that Eurozone Member States could be the majority shareholder of the IMF if they pooled their resources and votes in Washington. A proposal for a joint representation of the Eurozone in the IMF was already made by the Commission in 1998 – but was never followed up. Today, the Treaty allows for the adoption of such a proposal by qualified majority by Eurozone countries, and no longer by unanimity. I believe it is high time that we move ahead with this proposal and strengthen the Eurozone’s voice in the IMF, and as Commission President, I will take care of this. The euro must not only be stable on the inside, but also have a strong common voice on the global stage.
  1. A fifth and last priority for me as Commission President will be to give an answer to the British question. No reasonable politician can ignore the fact that, during the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the United Kingdom. We have to do this if we want to keep the UK within the European Union – which I would like to do as Commission President. I always liked the openness of the UK to the world, its sense for entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as its great sense for trade and diplomatic relations. And I believe the UK is stronger in the EU than outside. Just like the EU is stronger with the UK than without it. As Commission President, I will therefore work for a fair deal with Britain. A deal that accepts the specificities of the UK in the EU, while allowing the Eurozone to integrate further. The UK will need to understand that in the Eurozone, we need more Europe, not less. On the other hand, the other EU countries will have to accept that the UK will never participate in the euro, even if we may regret this. We have to accept that the UK will not become a member of the Schengen area. And I am also ready to accept that the UK will stay outside new EU institutions such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, meant to improve the fight against fraud in the EU, but clearly rejected by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We have to respect such clear positions of the British Parliament, based on the British “opt out”-Protocol. David Cameron has recently written down a number of further key demands in an article published in the Daily Telegraph. As Commission President, I will be ready to talk to him about these demands in a fair and reasonable manner. My red line in such talks would be the integrity of the single market and its four freedoms; and the possibility to have more Europe within the Eurozone to strengthen the single currency shared by so far 18 and soon 19 Member States. But I have the impression that this is as important for Britain as it will be for the next President of the Commission.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

In the next 30 days, I will tour the member States of European Union to explain and elaborate on my political priorities as Commission President.

I will not do this alone. I am very grateful to YEPP, the Youth Organisation of the EPP, which will accompany and complement my busy campaign trail.

My own campaign bus will be supported by five YEPP busses, a bit smaller than my own bus, and all driven by teams of young EPP campaigners.

Together, the YEPP campaigners and I are covering all 28 Member States of the Union by campaign events.

During the campaign, I intend to listen a lot. Because the political programme of the next Commission will not be dictated. It will be developed and discussed together with the European public, different political parties and, after the elections, together with the European Parliament and the European Council.

Because as a candidate of the European People’s Party, I want the next Commission to be a Commission of the people, by the people and for the people.

I am therefore very open for views and suggestions. And I invite everybody to make use of the new website which my team is launching today to send me ideas, to give feedback and to suggest adjustments of the ideas I already outlined.

As said, as Commission President, I want to re-unite Europe and, most important, I want to re-unite the Europeans. And this will start with the way we will develop the political programme for the next Commission.

Thank you for your attention, and I am now ready for questions.