A brave Europe
I am very happy to be here today, on such a happy occasion - the commemoration of the day Slovakia became a member of the European family!
Enlargement as a success story
The EU’s enlargement story is a success story.
This is an achievement we should be proud of, and one that won the EU the Nobel Peace Prize: Ten years ago, on 1 May 2004, the EU enlarged from 15 to 25 Member States – the biggest enlargement in the history of European integration.
An enlargement that reunited a continent, and now, with three more countries having joined since then, 507 million people.
An enlargement which ensured that peace is now irreversible among the 28.
This is something that should never be underestimated.
Enlargement has strengthened the European Union globally:
In 2012 the EU had 7% of the global population and 23% of global GDP;
We are now amongst the top 5 best performing economies in the world;
We are the largest player on the global trading scene, with 16.4% of global exports;
And we are the largest source and destination of foreign direct investment.
Enlargement has made Slovakia stronger:
About 85% of Slovak exports go to European markets today;
Almost 90% of direct foreign investment comes from EU countries;
Foreign companies have brought along high-end technology, increased labour productivity and helped to modernise the economy;
The single market has offered Slovakian consumers a wider choice of products of better quality and at lower prices;
EU funds represent almost 80% of all public investments in the country. With their assistance, 130.000 new jobs were generated in Slovakia, more than 1000 schools have been renovated, 56 hospitals and more than 200 social care facilities have been modernized;
Growth and jobs were promoted in Slovakia through investments in 26 industrial parks, 116 research institutions and direct support to over 570 small and medium-size businesses;
From 2007 to 2013 a total of €11.6 billion of European cohesion funding was allocated to Slovakia. And in the next seven years, Slovakia can receive a further €20.3 billion to invest in its own development - much more than the entire national budget for one year.
And you were able to join the Eurozone less than five years after your accession to the EU and that was in good part because at the moment of the accession, Slovakia’s finances were already in good shape.
The credit for this must go to Mikuláš Dzurinda and his government. They kept sound public finances and got the national economy in line.
3 million new jobs were generated in just six years from 2002 to 2008;
German exports to the 12 countries that joined since 2004, have almost doubled since then;
UK exports grew by approximately 50%;
For the Netherlands enlargement generated additional income of € 11bn;
Austria's yearly GDP increased by 0.4% thanks to enlargement since 2004.
This has proven all doomsday-sayers wrong. Enlargement has been beneficial both for the new and the old members. And it has led to a situation in Europe where we no longer distinguish between new and old members. But where we are all parts, equal parts, of the European family, whether big or small, West or East, North or South.
I personally stand for this equality of all Member States. I personally also stand for re-uniting Europe, and not for further divisions. This is why I am currently campaigning through the whole of Europe to become the next President of the European Commission. Because I do not believe that divisions help us. I believe in unity.
Fortifying our Union
Slovakia’s EU story is a success story.
And I want to make sure that enlargement of the EU remains a success story.
It is for this reason that I believe, in the next five years, we need to take some breathing time.
We added 13 countries in the space of 10 years. Our focus now must be on consolidation – consolidating what has been achieved and fortifying our Union, after several rather difficult years, let’s admit this.
The Western Balkan countries still need a European perspective and negotiations should continue, in an open-ended way. This is a historic responsibility that all 28 EU countries share.
But for now and for the next five years, neither they nor we are ready to take on further enlargements.
However, we also need to make sure over the next five years that we do not go backwards, that all of the achievements brought by enlargement are not put in jeopardy by further hasty and ill-prepared enlargements.
For Slovakians, the free movement of goods, services, capital and above all people is still considered as the most positive outcome of your accession to the EU.
And Euro membership, the most tangible symbol of European membership and identity, is seen as the second most beneficial result in Slovak public opinion.
But both of these hallmarks of European integration have come under threat in recent years.
First, the crisis exposed several weaknesses of the Maastricht construction. And we responded by strengthening the European architecture and by adding new walls where they had been missing before, notably as regards our Economic and Monetary Union.
Sharing a single currency is not the same as having a common fish quota. Sharing a single currency means that we in the Euro zone have become a community of destiny. This means that we cannot ignore what our partners in the euro zone do with their economic and fiscal policies. Mistakes in one euro zone country can affect us all, this is the painful lesson we had to learn during this crisis. And if we want the Euro zone to succeed and to benefit all our citizens, we must not forget this lesson.
Economic reforms are taken much more seriously today than before the crisis. Budgetary efforts are being enhanced. Economic governance has been strengthened, and the whole economic framework behind the Euro was reinforced through better financial regulation, coordinated oversight and supervision and, very recently, common resolution for banks.
It was not so long ago that many critics were saying Greece would exit the euro and that the euro area would implode.
We proved all the critics wrong. We proved them wrong by deepening an enlarged union, pulling together and solidifying the foundations of our economic and monetary union.
During this crisis, countries in difficulties made tremendous efforts to go back to solid public finances and invest in structural reforms. And other countries showed unprecedented solidarity.
I am thankful today to Slovakia for having shown this solidarity, in spite of initial hesitation and a difficult domestic debate.
It was worth it. Jointly, we managed to stabilize our currency. Jointly, we managed to protect the achievements of European integration. And jointly, we managed to strengthen the foundations our Economic and Monetary Union.
Slovakia is now a member of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a very strong insurance against a future crisis. No speculator will dare to go against the ESM. That we managed to agree on this insurance mechanism shows how strong the political determination is in Europe to protect our citizens and their well-being even under difficult economic and political circumstances.
But all this came at a price. The image of the European Union has suffered. Europe’s sense of pride has been damaged.
And, what I find most worrying, is that the crisis has also seen the rise of a populist debate about the free movement of people.
This is another reason for why these days I am campaigning across Europe to become the next President of the Commission. I believe we need to make people proud of what we have achieved together. And jointly resist populist arguments.
Let me explain this further with the example of free movement.
The free movement of people: a pillar of European integration
Free movement is a cornerstone of European integration.
A right granted to each and every EU citizen, to live, study and reside anywhere in the European Union.
This is the single market: Four fundamental freedoms. And you cannot separate one from the other. You cannot have free movement of services and capital, but not of persons. Not in our Union.
The debate has become emotional, too much so. And it has plagued every enlargement. People were afraid of the Portuguese, they were afraid of the Poles and now they are afraid of the Romanians and Bulgarians.
But there has been no mass movement of people across Europe! On the contrary, we are glad today about the many highly qualified Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens contributing to growth and jobs across Europe.
Mobility in the EU continues to be very low.
We are talking about 14 million Europeans out of 507 million, or 3% of the EU's population,
the majority of which work and contribute to their host country.
Where there is evidence of individual criminal fraud cases, these cases have to be tackled rigorously at national level. EU law allows for this. But this argument, often based on anecdotal evidence only, cannot be used to suggest there is a widespread, systemic problem in Europe.
If we start negotiating freedoms, we will end up having none.
The crisis has been a test for our Union. Economically and politically. We must prove up to the task.
And that must start by protecting the very values our Union is founded upon.
In less than 25 days, 300 million Europeans will go to the polls to vote in a new European Parliament.
Citizens in 28 countries will directly elect their 751 representatives in the European Parliament.
13 of these European Parliamentarians will be directly elected here in Slovakia.
And these could be very decisive seats in these elections.
As this is not a campaign event, I will not explain why it is important that the European People’s Party will win these European elections, and not the Socialists.
I will however set out why we cannot let the populists and extremists win, most of which deny our values, and most of which would forsake such fundamental rights as the right to free movement.
This is why in these elections, every vote counts.
I am very proud to be one of the lead candidates in these elections.
The lead candidate to become the next President of the European Commission.
I will tell you why I accepted to be elected by the European People’s Party as lead candidate:
Because I believe in European Democracy. Because I believe in a European Union which stands up for its values.
A European Union which safeguards the values it is founded on and does not stoop to the level of scaremongering.
A European Union which is responsible with its finances and pursues even the most unpopular of reforms when it has to guarantee a future for our children and grandchildren, a future which is not marred by debt.
A Europe which is not naïve in foreign policy, but equals the challenges set for it, taking economic sanctions against Russia if needed.
This is what I stand for: A Europe that is brave. And principled.
And I hope that on May 25, you will stand with me.
Thank you for your attention."