A united, open and stronger Europe José Manuel Barroso is President of the European Commission “When you find yourself in a storm, the only way out is to stay true to your course. The one thing you don’t do is change direction.” (Jean Monnet) Europe has witnessed an unprecedented period of change in the five years since this European Commission took office. The financial crisis evolved into a sovereign debt crisis, an economic crisis and a social crisis, tearing down barriers between European and national politics. In this time of change, business as usual was no longer an option. If the five years before the start of this Commission were defined by constitutional issues that were formally settled by the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, then these 5 years have been shaped by the threat of the financial and sovereign debt crisis. In the face of these challenges, we can all be extremely proud that we have kept Europe united, open and made it stronger for the future. ‘United’, because we managed to keep Europe together and even enlarge it despite the pressures exerted on our countries; ‘open’, because we engaged with our international partners through the G20 to define a global response, we kept promoting trade within the European Union and across the world as a means of growth, and we maintained our commitments to developing countries; ‘stronger’, because the necessary economic reforms are now being implemented across Europe and our economic governance has been reinforced, in particular in the euro area, to make Europe’s economies fitter for globalisation. In doing so, we have built on what is unique about the European Union. Europe is about values. Values like peace, our founding principle, for which we were awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Values like unity and diversity, a source of strength to be treasured. Values like solidarity, with our social market economy and our protection of Europeans less fortunate. These values have guided our work. The EU is more than an economic project. It is a political one. It is a community of culture and of shared values and interests essential to forge a common destiny. Responding to the economic crisis and preparing the conditions for sustainable growth and jobs The European Commission has worked tirelessly to avoid a collapse of Europe’s economies. The lack of regulation and oversight of the financial markets allowed speculation and credit bubbles to emerge. The subsequent aftershock revealed that many of Europe’s member states were living beyond their means and lacked competitiveness. And whilst our economies were deeply interdependent, we lacked the strong governance framework to prevent unsound policies or to handle the crisis when it hit. Over the past 5 years, the Commission has been a driving force behind the initiatives to put this right. Today, Europe is protecting citizens and taxpayers through necessary stronger regulation that guarantees savings, makes banks more responsible and limits bankers’ risk-taking. We brought fairness back into the system. And we have taken the decisive step – unthinkable before the crisis – to create a Banking Union. As a result, the financial sector is now more regulated; and financial regulators are now better equipped to supervise our banks; to deal with difficult economic developments; and to protect your savings. We have put in place a system of collective economic and budgetary governance at EU level that ensures that all governments put and keep their public finances in order and that the necessary reforms are undertaken to make and keep our economies competitive. We have come together to create a mechanism that provides loans to those countries that are under most pressure from the markets. The euro has come out of this crisis even stronger, gaining rather than losing members. We have used all the means at our disposal to keep people in jobs and help those out of work to get back into the labour market, giving special attention to the acute problem of youth unemployment. We have agreed a new EU budget which focuses on investments that help member states, regions, companies and people. And to boost growth and create jobs further, we have opened up new markets across our continent by further developing the Single Market and defending its four freedoms, and across the world by pursuing ambitious global trade deals. Beyond the immediate crisis management, we have developed a long term plan to modernise Europe’s economies. Our Europe 2020 strategy sets realistic but ambitious targets to return Europe to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The new EU budget seeks to enhance competitiveness through greater focus on research, innovation and infrastructure, with special attention given to connect Europe in transport, energy and digital sectors. We have built on the climate and energy goals for 2020 which were agreed under the previous Commission to set out a framework for 2030. Competitiveness, sustainability and security of supply are at the core of our climate and energy policies. On top of that, in our Blueprint, we have set out a clear vision on how to complete the Economic and Monetary Union. Jean Monnet said: “I have always thought that Europe would be forged in crisis.” We have proven him right and the doubters wrong. We have shown what can be achieved when EU Institutions and member states work together. Working for Europe’s citizens While the economic and financial crisis has been the main challenge over the last five years, we have not lost sight of the need to address the other concerns of Europe’s citizens. The Commission has taken a series of initiatives to guarantee free movement of people, goods, services and capital; to ensure choice and fair competition for consumers and companies; and to increase investment in infrastructure. Thanks to the single market, we have been able to bring down roaming charges even further; to bring fairer prices and rights for travellers and consumers; to agree ‑ after over thirty years of negotiation ‑ the European patent, which introduces savings in cost and time for researchers and businesses; and to improve the visibility of job opportunities across the EU to let you find jobs in other member states more easily. It is now more important than ever that the fundamental values on which the Union is built, such as the rule of law, are respected. The Commission has intervened with a number of member states in recent years to ensure that these fundamental principles are respected and that people’s freedoms and rights are fully upheld. And we will continue to do so in a more systematic and robust way through the Rule of Law initiative we have proposed. Addressing the real issues that matter to people requires the European institutions to focus on the areas where it can provide most value. European cooperation is crucial in many areas but it is not necessary in every area. This Commission has proposed legislation where intervention was required but has also cut red tape to an unprecedented degree, saving European businesses more than €32 billion a year. We have repealed 6,000 EU laws since 2005. Europe must be big on the big things and small on the smaller things. Tackling the key issues of concern to Europe’s citizens requires a joined up approach between the different European institutions. The European Commission is the only institution involved in each step of the decision-making process. At the same time, nothing can be achieved without the full engagement of the two sides of the legislative process, because it is the Ministers from national governments and the MEPs who you elect, who together decide on legislation. This Commission has fully invested in making that cooperation work. The democratic process has been enhanced. Each institution has played its role in helping Europe emerge stronger from the crisis. Giving Europe a say on the world stage In an increasingly globalised world, size matters. The economic crisis, global climate change negotiations, concerns over energy security, migration, the Arab Spring and most recently Ukraine have all shown that the EU is only effective if we act together. The economic crisis has put the spotlight on Europe but it has also demonstrated Europe’s ability to exert influence on the international stage. The European Union has set the global standard in many areas, and we have played a leading role in global fora such as the G8/G7, G20, the WTO and the UN. We have also established a stronger global European presence throughout the world, as well as in our own neighbourhood. And from Africa to Asia, from Latin America to the Pacific and Caribbean, we remain the biggest global aid donor – despite the crisis – and have strengthened our political partnerships. The EU’s 2012 Nobel Peace prize should remind us that the EU stands for peace, hope and stability. None of this should be taken for granted. Ongoing events in Ukraine show how the demon of power politics can rear its ugly head at a moment’s notice. Images of young Ukrainians holding European flags as symbols of a brighter, freer future are proof of how much we have achieved. The EU will always support freedom and democracy in its neighbourhood and beyond. Record of achievements Perhaps our greatest achievement is how we have acted. Let’s not forget that some were predicting that a Commission with 27 or 28 members and an enlarged European Union would not be able to work and take decisions properly. We have proven those predictions wrong. Courageous decisions have been made together – united – pointing to a real communauté de destin in Europe. As the shared challenge of globalisation brings us closer together and common values bind us ever more tightly, there is a growing realisation that we need to find stronger solutions agreed by all of us. The last five years have shown that we are up to that challenge: Europe can work well at 28, and our institutions have the necessary capacity and experience to adapt, reform and change for the better. This ‘Record of Achievements’ is only a snapshot of the work done by the College of Commissioners during the past term. We have welcomed a new member – Croatia – to the Union and further expanded membership of the euro to Estonia and Latvia. From fighting youth unemployment to fighting human trafficking; from helping 120 million disaster victims every year to helping Europeans to keep their data secure online, we are creating a united, open and stronger Europe.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, participated in the award ceremony of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU © European Union, 2014

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The EU is more than an economic project. It is a political one. It is a community of culture and of shared values and interests essential to forge a common destiny

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