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Ten years at the helm of the European Commission: Some reflections on Europe

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Ten years at the helm of the European Commission: Some reflections on Europe

Chatham House

London, 19 October 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

They say a week is a long time in politics. Well I can tell you that this decade has certainly been a long time in European politics.

In 2004, the year I started in this job, the world looked very different. We'd just recovered from the dot-com boom, but smartphones were still science fiction. The Iraq invasion had just finished, the question of post-Kyoto was only just coming onto the agenda. Diplomats were still reporting these developments back to our then 15 European Union capitals by telegram.

A lot has changed since then, not least the successful expansion of the EU to 28 member countries, almost doubling its membership. But there has been one constant after my first time here: for the past ten years Robin and his colleagues here at Chatham House have kindly extended me a standing invitation to speak here. You have had the patience of angels – and I am delighted to finally be able to be with you today.

The past years have brought unprecedented economic shocks and seismic shifts in global geopolitics. Europe has faced challenges no-one could have foreseen in 2004.

It has been my privilege to lead the European Commission, working so that the Union could weather the storm, and emerge more united, more open, and, I hope, stronger.

Europe has shown great resilience. It has shown its capacity to reform.

But there will be further challenges ahead. So today I would like to share with you three reflections on what we could learn from the last ten years, what that could mean for the future of our Union – and the part the UK could play in that.

My first observation is that unity is essential if we are to face the challenges of today.

The crisis dispelled any illusions about how interdependent European economies are, particularly - but not only - for the countries which share the common currency.

When the financial crisis turned into a sovereign crisis and then an economic crisis, the risk was that countries would pull back, and look to protect their own. The risk of fragmentation and disunity was a real and present danger. And that would have had a disastrous impact for all.

Had the European Commission not been so firm in upholding our common rules on state aids, we would have entered a costly subsidies race. A bad way to spend tax-payers money, but also bad news if – like the UK – over half of your trade is with other Europeans, and access to a free market of over 500 million people – the biggest intenal market in the world by value - is one of the big draws for your foreign inward investment.

Had Greece left the euro, the economic and financial damage would have spilled over throughout the single market. Politically, the euro and the European Union would have been shaken to their very foundations.

That is why I fought so hard for a united response: a balance of fiscal responsibility and deep structural reform in the countries concerned, and solidarity and a credible backstop from more prosperous countries.

GREXIT did not happen. Countries like Ireland and Portugal have successfully exited their programmes and are on the path to sustainable growth. And in January Lithuania will become the 19th country to adopt the euro.

My second reflection is that if we stand together, openness to the world is a unique asset.

Because we resisted the pressure to think national at the height of the crisis, Europe was able to speak with authority globally.

The G20 was a European initiative. Through it we obtained a global commitment against protectionism, but also coordinated frameworks for sustainable growth and tough action on financial market irresponsibility and on tax evasion.

And despite the adverse economic conditions, the Commission has promoted open markets and tapped into the growth potential of global trade. We have concluded deals to bring down trade barriers with South Korea, the first of what we call a new generation of trade agreements, and Singapore in Asia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Central America and with West, East and South African regional groupings. We have just finalised a landmark agreement with Canada. We have also launched negotiations with major partners such as Japan and the United States. Together with the agreement we hope to reach with China on investment, these could add 2.2% to EU GDP.

This is not just about our economic wealth, but about our political relevance on the world stage. If the EU engages as a whole, we can be a shaper in international fora such as the UN, the WTO, and the G7 or the G20.

Exporting our values: peace, security, fairness and the fight against poverty. Standing together to support the democratic right of the people of Ukraine to choose their own destiny. Leading the international debate on climate change.

My third point is that because Europe is much larger and because of the reforms we are making, Europe today is stronger than it was ten years ago. I have no doubts about that. I know for some it's counterintuitive, but I'm sure that the Europe of 28 counts much more in the world than the Europe of 12 – and I remember that well, when I was foreign minister. The way that the Americans, the Chinese or the Russians look at us today is completely different. Now we count much more in the global decisions than 20 or even ten years ago.

The reality is that in the last decade the European Union’s inherent power of attraction has brought in 13 new countries, almost doubling its membership, increasing its political influence and economic potential and guaranteeing that half a billion people can live in freedom.  

It is no secret that some believed that wider and deeper were not mutually compatible, and perhaps even shaped their policies accordingly.

But the consolidation of enlargement to the central and eastern European countries has been successful. The Lisbon Treaty has given us a solid basis for our Union to work effectively with 28 Member States and to stay united in our diversity.  

We have laid the ground for more robust economies and better employment prospects for the future. The Commission has used the tools we have to build consensus around three fundamentals.  

First, serious structural reforms for jobs and growth that are – unlike the Lisbon Strategy - actually implemented by everyone, big Member States as well as small.

Targeted investment for growth in things like research and training for the jobs of the future, interconnection and energy capacity, by focusing the EU budget on investments that matter, and pressing those who have surpluses to encourage demand.

Dealing with the deficits, planning for macro-economic risk and promoting responsible spending, via the strong economic governance rules the European Commission proposed and is now enforcing.

In short, the same formula of consolidation, structural reform and sensible investment that has got the British economy back in shape these last years.

And we have overhauled financial services regulation and supervision. When I proposed banking union with a single supervisor for euro area banks in an interview with the Financial Times in June 2012 it was met with scepticism and, in some quarters, outright opposition. But today it is a reality. And I remember well when some European Council colleagues, Heads of government, asked me why I was speaking about a banking union if the banking union is not in the treaties. I replied, politely but firmly, that yes, a banking union is not in the treaties but without it we will not be able to fulfil the goals that are set in the treaties, namely stability.

These reforms created the conditions without which it would have been much more difficult for the European Central Bank to reach its independent decision to be ready to use all means to uphold the euro.

The countries which share the euro will need to honour their commitments to structural reform and deepen their cooperation further in the coming years. I believe this should be done through the existing Treaties and avoiding parallel institutions, because that is also the best guarantee of equal treatment for those who have not yet, or will not, join the single currency.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union has reformed fundamentally over the past ten years, and will need to continue on that path. Making Europe stronger – institutionally, politically and economically – is a process of constant improvement. I would say constant reform, not revolution and certainly not counterrevolution.

So where does the UK and its existentialist European debate fit into all of this?

In 2006 I gave the third annual lecture in memory of the observant and incisive journalist Hugo Young. I took as my starting point what he called 'the hallucinations… that have driven the British debate for so long'.  I argued that if our proud nations are to maintain their place and prosperity in a new, complicated globalised world, Europe simply cannot be an add-on.  

I still believe that as passionately today.

Just as nearly 70 years ago peace could not be built by one country alone, today even the largest, proudest European nation cannot hope to shape globalisation – or even retain marginal relevance - by itself. It is only together that we have the weight to influence the big picture.

Does that mean a relentless march to one single super-state as some would have us fear? For me the answer is a resolute no. I may prefer a glass or two of good red wine than a pint of beer when I am out on the election trail. But I too come from a country with a long history, a trading nation, proud of its culture and tradition. And it may be a revelation to some, but the vast majority of people living in Europe are also rather attached to their national identity – however they may choose to define it.  

I believe that our future is as an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe – acting as sovereign nations to freely pool their effort and power where that can deliver results that are in their own self-interest. My experience is that those countries which use European leverage to project their interests globally matter more. Just look at the evolution of power inside the European Union and in the last ten years. The point is not, as some people suggest, an issue of the trend to a superstate. The point is in terms of power of each country. How can a country better maximise its power and influence in the world, is it in or outside of the European Union? I think that those who are reluctant to use that European leverage to project their interests globally are missing an opportunity to maximise their influence.

My vision of the Europe is as a union of citizens who share the same basic values of peace, freedom, democracy, and a just and decent society.  

A union which is stronger because we cherish our diverse histories, cultures and traditions.

That is why I have never challenged the UK’s preferences on the euro – and indeed have personally ensured that every proposal we have made to reform financial services legislation has guaranteed the integrity of our internal market and fairness for everyone, whether in or out of the euro.

I have never argued you should join Schengen and open your borders, nor did I criticise your decision to exercise your opt-out rights under the Treaties. But I have worked to ensure that the UK can re-join the 35 police and criminal law measures identified by the government as key for bringing security to the British people. And that is even more important given the very real and direct threats our societies face today.

Our union is strong because it respects diversity; our Treaties guarantee that, for those who accept the fundamental rules of the club there is always a place, and there is always equality of treatment. 

That is why I do not underestimate the very real concerns UK citizens are expressing about Europe. These merit a substantive response.  

You don't like the idea of a huge EU budget. I get that. By the way, it's not – and with just 1% of Europe's GDP we will need to fully use the agreed flexibility if we are pay our bills to those we are committed to invest in. Like Cambridge University for example, which consistently tops the tables for winning EU research funding.  

But it's a shame that the political debate here focuses only on absolute figures, when quality of spending is so much more important. This Commission has reformed the budget to focus on providing funding in countries and regions for the things that really matter – investment in research, in young people, in a more connected Europe.

You don't want to be paying for armies of Eurocrats. I get that. We are cutting one in twenty staff across all EU institutions and agencies. The reforms we have introduced will save €2.7 billion by 2020 and €1.5 billion per year in the long run.

Personally I support the government's aim to get more of Britain's best and brightest to work in our institutions. The number of British officials is less than half of what it should be and falling quickly. Constant criticism and a pending existentialist debate do not make us the most attractive employer for young British graduates.

You don't want Europe to meddle where it should not. I get that. Since 2004, the Commission has cut red tape worth €41 billion to European business. We have not interfered with the height of hairdressers' heels, or the ergonomic design of office chairs.  

We have scrapped legislation on bendy cucumbers – although the supermarkets were the first to complain. We have introduced evidence-based policy-making, consultation and impact assessment as the norm.  

There are wide-spread concerns in the UK and elsewhere about abuse of free movement rights. I get that. Already in 2011, after constructive dialogue with the British Government, the Commission took forward changes to the way income support is dealt with under European social security rules. This benefit is now only due to those who have already worked and paid into the UK system. Since then we have undertaken concrete actions to support Member States as they apply the anti-abuse rules, for example on sham marriages.

I believe that any further changes to address some of the concerns raised should not put into question this basic right, which cannot be decoupled from other single market freedoms, the freedom of movement.

The Commission has always been ready to engage constructively in this discussion. But changes to these rules need all countries to agree.  

And it is an illusion to believe that space for dialogue can be created if the tone and substance of the arguments you put forward question the very principle at stake and offend fellow Member States. It would be an historic mistake if on these issues Britain were to continue to alienate its natural allies in Central and Eastern Europe, when you were one of the strongest advocates for their accession.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the years to come the UK could be facing a choice – to stay or leave the European Union. As I have just set out, there are clearly some issues which can – with the right spirit on both sides – be discussed and improved, without putting into question the fundamentals.

But what I do have difficulties with is the assumption – largely unchallenged by politicians here – that there is a permanent tension between the UK interest and the European interest. My experience is to the contrary.  

When the UK engages, your voice carries weight, your arguments motivate and your pragmatism convinces.     

Let's take just a few current examples:

- firstly, energy and climate change, where successive British Governments have strongly supported our climate policy proposals. The current Government is fully behind the 40% emissions reduction target which I hope the European Council will agree this Friday;

- secondly, foreign fighters and radicalisation, where the action plan the UK brought to the last European Council meeting found strong endorsement;

- thirdly, Ukraine, where the UK has shown great solidarity and has been among the strongest supporters of a principled European response to unacceptable Russia's actions.

Just three examples of where Britain is on the right side of the argument, backing the right solutions to the real problems and driving a common approach of the European Union.

But would the UK have been able to accept the costs of climate change mitigation without knowing that competitors would make the same commitment? Could the UK alone have imposed capital market sanctions on Russia without others making similar efforts in other sectors?  

In short, could the UK get by without a little help from your friends? My answer is probably not.  

It worries me that so few politicians on this side of the Channel are ready to tell the facts as they are. To acknowledge that in today's world there are some things which we can only do effectively by acting together – as evidenced so well by the government's Balance of Competences review.

My experience is that you can never win a debate from the defensive. We saw in Scotland that you actually need to go out and make the positive case. In the same way, if you support continued membership of the EU you need to say what Europe stands for and why it is in the British interest to be part of it.

In fact, even if I understand that emotionally the case for keeping the United Kingdom is different in nature, rationally many of the arguments used by the three main political parties in the Scottish debate are just as relevant for British membership of the EU.  

And you need to start making that positive case well in advance, because if people read only negative and often false portrayals in their newspapers from Monday to Saturday, you cannot expect them to nail the European flag on their front door on Sunday just because the political establishment tells them it is the right thing to do.   

And now I come back to Hugo Young and his hallucinations.  Because you should not be under any illusion that it is only about Britain.

Every one of our European countries has its own wish list - and its own red lines. The way we make progress together – united, open and stronger, hopefully – is through pooling our interests. In this club, all members need to accommodate one another.

I created waves in February when asked about the possibility of regions leaving Member States, as I pointed out that negotiating an accession treaty is no easy feat.  

Negotiating any major constitutional change is difficult and very risky. And the uncertainty it creates has a direct and immediate upstream impact on confidence, including the investment decisions of industry.

So it is legitimate that British business is expressing concern. Over three-quarters of CBI members want the UK to stay in, because they consider the single market is worth between 62 and 78 billion pounds to the economy. Five out of six City UK members say they do not want to see the UK leave, and the same is true for manufacturers. The Government's own figures show that some 3 million UK jobs are linked in some way to the single market. And concern is also starting to be expressed by some of your closest international allies, including the US.

The big question that the UK needs to ask itself is this: are you sure you are better off outside than in? Only the British people can weigh up the pros and cons and decide that. From our side, the door has always been, and will always stay open.

As I see it, British membership of the EU is a double win. Being in the EU is good for the UK, and having you in the EU is good for a united, open and stronger Europe.  

But maybe it matters little what an outgoing President of the European Commission thinks: this case is one which needs to be made nationally. I know that perfectly. It is now high time to get out there and dispel the illusions.  

After ten years in this job, I will of course be a very keen observer of how your debate evolves. In the past years the EU has shown its resilience and its capacity to find creative democratic solutions to the toughest challenges.  

By staying united and open, Europe faces the road ahead with a stronger stride. It is for you to decide, but I hope the UK will continue to walk that same path with us.

I thank you for your attention.

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Daily News of 2014-10-10

EXME 14 / 10.10

DAILY NEWS

10 / 10 / 14

News from the European Commission's Midday Briefing

Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Commission européenne

Commission adopts detailed prudential rules for banks and insurers to stimulate investment in the economy

The European Commission has today adopted delegated acts under the Solvency II Directive and the Capital Requirements Regulation which will help promote high quality securitisation, ensure that banks have sufficient liquid assets in testing circumstances and introduce international comparability to leverage ratios.

Today's package is part of the ongoing calibration of the regulatory framework to ensure that it enables the financial sector to effectively support the real economy, without jeopardising financial stability. It is also part of the overall objective of the European Commission to boost jobs, growth and investment. As President-elect Juncker announced in his Political Guidelines of 15 July , he intends to mobilise up to € 300 billion in additional public and private investment in the real economy over the next three years by proposing an ambitious Jobs, Growth and Investment Package during the first three months of the mandate of the next European Commission. See also MEMO/14/578 , MEMO/14/579 and MEMO/14/580 .

10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit

The 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit will take place in Milan, 16-17 October 2014. The Summit will be chaired by President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, who will represent the European Union together with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. It will be hosted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the Government of Italy. The Summit will also bring together Heads of State and Government from 51 Asian and European partners and the ASEAN Secretary General.

President Barroso said: "The ASEM Summit is the moment when Europe and Asia get together. This 10th edition in Milan will be a key opportunity to further strengthen our ties. As two of the most important stakeholders of the global order we have a shared responsibility to shape a more prosperous, sustainable and fairer world. A lot can be achieved if we reinforce our economic and trade cooperation as well as promote our partnership on the environment, social issues, culture, education. At this Summit we must underscore the significance of connectivity between our continents to achieve our common goals. ASEM is more than an official meeting; it is an encounter of people, ideas and projects".

Please also refer to MEMO/14/582 for additional information.

Other news

President Barroso welcomes the Prime Minister Nguyen Tang Dung of Vietnam

This Monday, President Barroso welcomes the Prime Minister Nguyen Tang Dung of Vietnam for a working lunch at the European Commission. Leaders will discuss Vietnam's domestic situation including human rights, economic recovery in the EU, state of play of the FTA negotiations, PCA including ratification process. Regional issues, in particular the Asia-Europe Summit, ASEAN, South China Sea/East Sea, Ukraine and Middle East.

After the working lunch, President Barroso and the PM of Vietnam will together witness the signing of the cover letter of the EU-Vietnam Multiannual Indicative programme for 2014-2020 by Cssr Piebalgs and the Vice-Minister for Planning and Investment, Mr Nguyen Chi Dung.

President Barroso visited Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City last August.

Economic reforms in EU increased in 2008-14 – BEPA survey

An independent survey for the European Commission has shown that economic reforms in the EU have picked up in pace and intensity over the last six years, with the most intense reform activity concentrated in countries implementing adjustment programmes. The report, by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors, found that particular progress was made on reforming budgetary rules, financial markets, the business environment, pension systems and EU-level economic governance. As an illustration, out of a total of 258 country-specific recommendations to Member States in 2011 and 2012, 78% were implemented, at least partially, in the space of a year.

Ahead of the survey's launch, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said, "Today's survey clearly shows an accelerated pace of economic reform since 2008, which is having a clear impact. We are seeing the first signs of improvement, but we cannot say we are out of the crisis until we have effectively tackled unemployment, particularly among our young people, where the threat of a lost generation stills casts a long shadow. I hope this report reassures citizens that changes and reforms, although painful at times, offer us all a more secure future. I hope this strengthens the resolve of political leaders to stick to their reformist path, for the good of their citizens and the future of Europe."

Read the survey in full: http://ec.europa.eu/bepa/pdf/economy/survey-of-economic-reforms-report.pdf

Fonds social européen: 2,9 milliards d’euros au service de la croissance et de l’emploi pour la France métropolitaine

La Commission européenne a adopté aujourd’hui le programme opérationnel national français pour la mise en œuvre du Fonds social européen (FSE) en France métropolitaine au cours de la période 2014-2020.

Avec ce programme, la France recevra 2,893 milliards d’euros du FSE en vue de soutenir l’emploi, la formation professionnelle, l’inclusion sociale et la lutte contre le décrochage scolaire. Ce programme national métropolitain sera complété par vingt-deux programmes régionaux en métropole et huit dans les départements et régions d'outre-mer, auxquels le FSE contribuera à hauteur de 2,883 milliards d'euros.

Commissioner Piebalgs to sign development programmes for Belize, Lesotho, Togo and Zambia

European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, will sign today the National Indicative Programmes (NIP) for development cooperation with Belize, Lesotho, Togo and Zambia in the 2014-2020 period, which amount to €869 million. The signing ceremony with representatives of those countries will take place in the margins of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Commissioner Piebalgs said: “The programmes that we will sign are the fruit of close cooperation with the four partner countries and reflect their own policies, strategies, and needs as they have defined them. I am particularly pleased to see that energy and governance are key priorities for these countries, as clear drivers for sustainable development and growth. Our support will target EU resources where they are most needed and most effective.”

Code Week EU kicks off tomorrow!

European Code Week 2014 kicks off on 11 October with over 1500 events bringing the digital world to life across the EU and countries from Norway to Turkey.  Seven European education ministers have already incorporated compulsory coding into their school curricula, with another five countries offering it as an option in schools. This is particularly timely, as reports show Europe could soon have one million unfilled jobs because Europeans lack the digital skills to fill them. Vice President Neelie Kroes said: "Coding is the new literacy – a fundamental set of skills for girls and boys alike. It’s not a boring computer science lesson; it's a way to make all subjects more interesting. So join an event near you and boost your understanding of the digital world.”

Choice of Court Convention: EU businesses receive a major boost for international trade

EU Justice Ministers today approved a decision ratifying the 2005 Choice of Court Agreements Convention . The Convention promotes trade by clarifying the rules governing international trade disputes, where the parties involved have chosen a competent court. "This is the external dimension of 'Justice for Growth': a great example of how justice policy serves to boost economic growth and job creation by creating the right conditions for European businesses to flourish in their trading with non-European partners," said EU Justice Commissioner Martine Reicherts.

The European Commission assesses the situation of visa non-reciprocity with certain third countries

The European Commission adopted today a report assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy. Visa non-reciprocity refers to instances where citizens of a non-EU country enjoy visa-free travel to the EU, yet this country requires EU citizens of certain Member States to obtain visas for travel to its territory. This is the first report since the entry into force of the revised visa reciprocity mechanism in January 2014. Not all third countries' nationals must have a visa in order to travel to the Schengen area for a short stay. The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa ("the negative list") and of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement ("the positive list"). It is therefore logical that, in the spirit of solidarity, the EU also seeks that third countries on the "positive list" grant a visa waiver to citizens of all EU Member States. For this reason, a visa reciprocity mechanism has been set up. Read the Visa reciprocity report .

EU Solidarity Fund: Commission moves to help Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria after May's major floods

EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, has today announced an aid package worth nearly €80 million proposed by the European Commission for Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria after flooding disasters struck the countries in May and June 2014. The proposed aid of €60.2m to Serbia, €8.96m to Croatia and €10.5m to Bulgaria is to help cover part of the emergency costs incurred by the public authorities in these three countries due to the disasters. In particular, it will help to restore vital infrastructure and services, reimburse the cost of emergency and rescue operations, and help cover some of the clean-up costs in the disaster-stricken regions. Serbia, which is currently in negotiations to join the EU - and therefore eligible for the Fund - suffered the worst of the damage.

President Barroso in Milan for the Asia-Europe Meeting and Business Forum

From Wednesday to Friday, President Barroso will travel to Milan to take part in a series of high level events.

On the 15 October, President Barroso will commence his ASEM encounters in Milan with a meeting and a dinner with the PM of China. The next morning, he will have an informal breakfast meeting with ASEAN leaders.

Afterwards, President Barroso will speak at the closing ceremony of the in the Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF), together with President Van Rompuy and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan and Italy. The AEBF is expected to attract around 300 high-level business representatives and CEOs from Europe and Asia. The overall theme of the AEBF will be “Enhancing business relations to foster economic integration between Europe and Asia”. The 2014 edition will take stock of the previous fora to ensure continuity of the process, while consolidating existing partnerships and addressing new paths of economic cooperation. The event will provide a unique opportunity for Asian and European business leaders to network and exchange views on economic and investment relations. This is the ideal platform to engage with political leaders from Europe and Asia on how to best meet today’s and tomorrows’ challenges.

In the afternoon, President Barroso takes part in the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit – which takes place on 16-17 October. The Summit will be chaired by President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, who will represent the European Union together with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. It will be hosted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the Government of Italy. The Summit will also bring together Heads of State and Government from 51 Asian and European partners and the ASEAN Secretary General.

ASEM will be an excellent opportunity for dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe, as ASEM partners represent approx. 60% of world population, GDP and trade.

The overarching theme of ASEM10, "Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security" aims to capture the key objectives for this Summit:

ASEM partners need to be responsible in addressing current challenges, whether regional or global.

ASEM is about partnership between Europe and Asia.

Economic and trade cooperation is a vital part of sustainable growth in Europe and Asia.

Security is a prerequisite for further development and the issue has gradually taken increased importance on the agenda of the ASEM process.

The summit is expected to be followed by a press conference on Friday afternoon.

Preparation of Economic and Finance Ministers Council

On 14 October in Luxembourg, Vice-President Katainen, Vice President Barnier, Commissioner Šemeta and Commissioner Dominik will participate in the meeting of the EU's Council of Economic and Finance Ministers. On the agenda are two important legislative proposals: first the Council will try to reach political agreement on a proposal extending the scope for the mandatory automatic exchange of information. It will also debate a proposal to restructure the taxation of energy products and electricity. It will be also updated on the progress made on the banks’ contribution to the resolution funds’ front. As to non-legislative activities, the Council will discuss measures in support of investment as well as research and innovation, as sources of renewed growth. It will be informed of the outcome of Meetings that are currently taking place in Washington, namely: G20 Finance Ministers' and Central Bank Governors' meeting and annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank Group. The Commission will also inform the Council on the situation of payments in the EU budget.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council, 13-14th October 2014

The Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting of October 2014 will take place in Luxembourg on 13-14th October 2014. The Commission will be represented by Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki and Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Ciolos. A press conference will be held at the end of the discussions on Monday late afternoon (for Agriculture) and Tuesday lunchtime (Fisheries). The public debates and the press conferences can be followed by video streaming: http://video.consilium.europa.eu . Over an official lunch, Ministers will discuss issues related to the Climate and Energy 2030 policy framework ahead of the October 23/24 Summit.

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Dutch cable TV operator Ziggo by Liberty Global, subject to conditions

Following an in-depth investigation, the European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of Dutch cable TV operator Ziggo by Liberty Global. The approval is conditional upon the implementation of a commitments package. The Commission had concerns that the merger, as initially notified, would have hindered competition by removing two close competitors and important competitive forces in the Dutch market for the wholesale of premium Pay TV film channels, and by increasing Liberty Global's buyer power vis-à-vis TV channel broadcasters, allowing it to hinder innovation in the delivery of audio visual content over the Internet (so-called over-the-top or "OTT" services). To address these concerns, Liberty Global offered to sell Film1, its premium Pay TV film channel. Liberty Global also committed to terminate clauses in channel carriage agreements that limit broadcasters' ability to offer their channels and content over the Internet, and not to include such clauses in future channel carriage agreements for eight years. These commitments remove the Commission's concerns.

Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Milford Haven refinery by Klesch Refining

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of the Milford Haven Refinery and its ancillary assets ("Milford Haven") of the UK by Klesch Refining Limited of the UK. Milford Haven refines crude oil into gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, jet fuel, LPG and propylene. Klesch belongs to the Klesch Group, that produces and trades chemicals, metals and oil. The Klesch Group owns and operates the Heide Refinery in Germany, which alsorefines crude oil into gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, jet fuel, LPG and propylene. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns, because the overlaps were very limited and the new entity would continue to face strong competition from a number of credible players. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7402 .

Calendar

Commissioners' weekly activities

Top news

Upcoming Commission activities for the weeks ahead


What Commissioners said

Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn tells EU Ministers in Milan that Cohesion Policy and Economic Governance must go hand in hand - backed by a sustainable budget

Addressing EU Ministers at the Informal Council Meeting on Cohesion Policy in Milan today, Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, stated, "We have placed Cohesion Policy at the centre of the EU economic governance and European semester processes and the policy has become THE investment pillar of those processes. " He added,"Investment in general and cohesion policy in particular, can only deploy their full impact under sound economic conditions. Investments in SMEs can only flourish if SMEs have access to credit. In a nutshell, cohesion policy and the EU economic governance process and the European Semester pursue the same objective: sustained and sustainable economic growth. This is why consistency and coordination between them is so crucial". Referring to the Commission's proposals to amend the budget in order to avoid systematic delays in payments to beneficiaries, the Commissioner appealed to the Ministers, "The Commission counts on your support and the support of the European Parliament to provide now the resources to fulfill our obligations. It is time for a sustainable EU budget, not for undermining EU action".

Poverty: conclusions of the conference 'The Europe 2020 poverty target: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward'

Speaking at the high-level conference on ‘The Europe 2020 poverty target: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward’, László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, urged Member States to improve their social welfare systems, set more ambitious targets to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion and ensure those targets can be reached. The conference took place in Brussels on 9 October, and gathered over 200 stakeholders from EU countries, including high-level policy makers, social partners, civil society, academics, social entrepreneurs and key actors in the EU institutions. See also MEMO/14/572 .

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Joint press statement between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the European Union

European Commission

Statement

Hanoi, 25 August 2014

Joint press statement between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the European Union

1. At the invitation of Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Nguyen Tan Dung, President of the European Commission (EC) José Manuel Durão Barroso, paid an official visit to Viet Nam from 25-26 August 2014.

During the visit, President José Manuel Durão Barroso held talks with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung; paid courtesy calls on General Secretary of Viet Nam Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, State President Truong Tan Sang; received the Degree of Doctor Honoris Causae upon H.E. Mr. José Manuel Durão Barroso from National Economics University (NEU) in Hanoi and addressed NEU students; visited Ho Chi Minh city; had a meeting with the Chairman of the People Committee of Ho Chi Minh City and met with Vietnamese and European businesses.

2. In the spirit of friendship and mutual understanding, President José Manuel Durão Barroso and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung informed each other of the developments in the European Union (EU) and Viet Nam, discussed measures to intensify Viet Nam-EU multi-faceted cooperation, and exchanged views on international and regional issues of mutual interest.

3. The two leaders expressed satisfaction with the impressive development of bilateral relations. They highly appreciated the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership and Cooperation (PCA) between Viet Nam and the EU as a qualitative leap in the bilateral partnership, that allowed the broadening and deepening of relations beyond the traditional areas of trade and development to include areas such as environment and climate change, human rights, science and technology, transport, tourism, energy, education and culture, peace and security. Both sides also welcomed the increased flow of visits and contact at all levels since signing of the PCA, especially the highest level. President Barroso underlined the commitment of the EU to its relations with Viet Nam, appreciating Viet Nam's role as important partner for the EU and a key player in ASEAN and internationally.

4. President Barroso expressed his pleasure to return to Viet Nam since 2007 and witness first-hand Viet Nam's impressive socio-economic achievements. The two leaders welcomed the deepening of Viet Nam-EU economic ties and rapid development of two-way trade and investment. They welcomed the continued expansion of bilateral trade and the EU's position as Viet Nam's largest export market and 2nd largest trade partner. The leaders noted that the EU is also one of the largest foreign investors in Viet Nam with a total of EUR 495 million in 2013. President Barroso expressed his belief that Viet Nam would continue to be an attractive destination for foreign investors, including European investors and businesses.

5. The leaders welcomed the good progress in negotiations towards a Viet Nam-EU Free Trade Agreement and expressed the wish to conclude the negotiations swiftly. They emphasized that a mutually-beneficial Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will offer new business opportunities for economic operators, enhance inflows of Foreign Direct Investment and promote growth and employment. President Barroso acknowledged the substantial progress Viet Nam has made in its transition to a market economy initiated by the Doi moi policy and encouraged Viet Nam to pursue the path of economic reform. The EU and Viet Nam agreed to intensify the market economy status (MES) process which aims at enabling Viet Nam to qualify for MES as soon as possible towards mutually beneficial and equal partnership.

6. Both sides agreed to continue encouraging and facilitating Vietnamese and European businesses to step up investment, business and establish partnership, particularly in prioritised areas including, among others, industry, infrastructure, transportation, energy, finance, services, health, space applications and tourism.

7. President Barroso informed the Prime Minister of Viet Nam about the ongoing economic recovery in the EU. Domestic demand is firming; important reforms have been implemented, and growth-friendly fiscal consolidation is bearing fruit. Europe's economic recovery is gradually also reaching the labour market, where unemployment figures have started to decrease, though they are still at an unacceptably high level. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung highly appreciated the visit by the European Commission President at a time when Viet Nam-EU relations had seen significant progress and both sides were preparing for the celebration of 25 years of diplomatic relations (1990-2015). Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung congratulated the EU on successfully overcoming the recent macro-economic challenges and moving forward with the process of expansion and integration.

8. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung appreciated the ratification by a large number of EU Member States of the PCA between Viet Nam and the EU and expressed hope that the European Parliament and remaining EU Member States would soon ratify the PCA.

9. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung thanked the EU and the EU Member States for the pledge of EUR 542 million development assistance for Viet Nam in 2014. The EU and the EU Member States thus remain the largest grant aid donor of Viet Nam. President Barroso assured the EU's continued support to Viet Nam's reform process, including through development cooperation. He confirmed the significant increase of bilateral development assistance to Vietnam from EUR 300 million in 2007-2013 to EUR 400 million for the period 2014-2020. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung expressed appreciation for the strong contribution of the EU to Viet Nam’s development efforts and welcomed the choice of focal sectors "sustainable energy" and "governance and rule of law" as pertinent and well aligned with Viet Nam's development priorities.

10. The two leaders agreed that good governance, human rights, the rule of law and adherence to the international rules based system were conducive to development internationally and nationally. President Barroso recognised the progress of Viet Nam in meeting the challenges that come with a modernizing society. In this connection, President Barroso shared the benefits of vibrant media and internet. The EU side welcomed Viet Nam's election to the UN Human Rights Council in November 2013 as sign of determination to further promote and protect human rights.

11. The two sides stressed the importance of ASEAN – EU cooperation to the region and welcomed the achievements both sides have accomplished in over 37 years of relationship. The two sides appreciated the agreements made by both sides' Foreign Ministries during the recent 20thASEAN – EU Ministerial Meeting in Brussels in July 2014, including working towards the upgrading of the partnership to a strategic one and enhancing cooperation in ASEAN Connectivity and maritime security and safety. In this regards, the EU highly appreciated the role and efforts of Viet Nam as the current Country Coordinator of the ASEAN – EU relationship and as Co-chair of the Ministerial Meeting in achieving those results.

President Barroso further stressed strong commitment to ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture and support to ASEAN Community building efforts, including the ASEAN post – 2015 Agenda. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung reaffirmed supports for EU's enhanced engagement in ASEAN-led regional architecture and in this connection, applauded EU's recent doubling of the support for ASEAN to EUR 170 million in the period 2014 - 2020. Both sides agreed to work closely to further enhance ASEAN – EU relationship.

12. Viet Nam welcomed the EU’s commitment to support the sustainable development of water resources in the Mekong sub-region, including Mekong-Danube cooperation in the ASEM dialogue on Sustainable Development, particularly in sustainable water management, environmental protection, infrastructure development, public-private partnership, capacity building, etc. in line with the EU Water Diplomacy and support ASEAN centrality in regional cooperation mechanisms.

13. Both sides highly valued the exchanges and cooperation between Viet Nam and the EU at multilateral fora and international organizations; agreed to continue coordinating and supporting each other on issues of mutual interest. The two sides recognized the 10th ASEM Summit (Asia – Europe Meeting) to be held on 16th and 17th October 2014 in Milan as an important opportunity to forge stronger ties between Asia and Europe.

14. The two leaders discussed the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea/East Sea and agreed that territorial disputes should be settled peacefully in a spirit of cooperation and respect of international law, including the United nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 1982). President Barroso reiterated the EU's support for a political-diplomatic process and the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through legal dispute settlement mechanisms. President Barroso also affirmed the EU's support of ongoing efforts to work towards a formal and legally binding Code of Conduct. While hoping that these discussions can be intensified and completed as soon as possible the EU calls on all parties in the meantime to avoid unilateral actions that escalate tensions, threaten peace, stability, maritime security and safety in the region and abide by all other elements of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

15. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung expressed his conviction that the official visit to Viet Nam by President of the European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso would contribute to developing Viet Nam–EU multifaceted cooperation in breadth and depth, bringing about practical benefits for both sides, and actively contributing to peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the region and the world.

16. President of European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso extended an invitation to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to visit the EU in October 2014 on the occasion of the Prime Minister’s attendance in the 10thASEM Summit, and expressed gratitude for the thorough and warm reception reserved by the Vietnamese side for himself and the European Commission Delegation.

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