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Tale hos den irske tænketank IIEA

Tale hos den irske tænketank "The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA)" den 10. februar 2012.

Excellencies, Director General, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning everyone. I am so pleased for the invitation to present a key note address here at the Institute of International and European Affairs. And a special thank to our host today for inviting me. It’s a great honour and a tremendous pleasure for many reasons. One reason is the topic for our discussion today: The future of the European Union, the economic crisis in Europe and what to do about it. That is on everybody’s lips right now. It receives front-page coverage week after week, and an endless stream of politicians, business leaders and commentators provide us with their take on the issue around-the-clock.

Billede af Nicolai Wammn
Europaminister Nicolai Wammen. : Photo by: Mike Mahon, Creative Officer, IIEA. 

Ladies and gentlemen, there exists an old proverb saying that a calm sea does not make a skilled sailor. Ireland and Denmark are both proud seafaring nations with many skilled and experienced sailors. And it is no secret that the rocky waters now engulfing Europe in the shape of too much public debt, stagnating economic growth and rising unemployment require extraordinary seamanship. In contrast to a lot of the opinion makers and doomsday prophets in the media, however, I firmly believe that we witnessed an example of extraordinary European seamanship a little more than a week ago at the informal meeting of the European Council. At this meeting, 25 sovereign European countries managed to agree on a legally binding agreement with significant implications for the kind of fiscal policy they will be able to conduct in the future. And they managed to do it in less than two months. That is by any standard a quite remarkable achievement. It would have been unimaginable before the global financial crisis in 2008, and it would have seemed a bit unrealistic at the end of last year, when the idea of a fiscal compact first began to circulate. Measured against Europe’s extremely bloody and turbulent history in the 20’tieth century with two world wars, endless national conflicts and the Iron Curtain dividing our continent in two halves, it defies belief that most of Europe would be able to come together so quickly in such an important agreement.      

During his appearance before Parliament following the European Council, your Deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore, rightly stressed that the fiscal compact is not an end in itself. It is means to an end. I fully agree with that assessment. The fiscal compact is, however, a necessary instrument to have in our common toolbox. It should be seen as an important part of the EU’s wider efforts to combat the debt crisis. Like Ireland, Denmark is a small and open economy. We sell almost 70% of our exports on the European markets. Roughly half a million Danish jobs depend on our exports to EU Member States and the euro-countries alone accounted in 2010 for 38% of all foreign direct investments in Denmark. In other words, like the Irish economy, the Danish economy is very much dependent on having a stable and well-functioning Euro-zone. That is the reality. That is also why, the Danish Government attaches immense importance to the on-going efforts in the euro-zone to stabilize the situation by ensuring more budget discipline and paving the way for more structural reform.

With regard to Denmark’s national position towards the fiscal compact, I would like to say the following. We will join the agreement to the widest extent possible for a non-euro country and in full compliance with our own opt out from the euro. Our national euro-opt out will continue to stand, until we decide to change it ourselves following a national referendum. Nothing has changed in relation to our opt-out, but our fiscal policy will from now on adhere to the requirements contained in the agreement. That is – I believe - a strong commitment to undertake. It is also a necessary commitment to undertake. As to the requirement spelled out in the agreement not to run annual public deficit of more than 0,5 % of GDP. This is in line with the Danish Government’s commitment to fiscal policy that we declared when we assumed office back in October last year. So in that sense, it was not such a monumental step for us, as it might otherwise have been, to agree to the balanced budget-rule in the fiscal compact.
But as I said, the fiscal compact should be considered as an important step in the right direction and a necessary instrument in our toolbox. Not as the all-embracing answer to the crisis. That would be unfair as well as naïve. We must acknowledge that the challenges facing Europe today go well beyond the burning issue of unsustainable levels of public debt in several Member States as well as the special situation and negotiations surrounding Greece. The euro countries conditions to Greece are clear and we now expect Greece to deliver and keep their promises. The challenges are complex and multi-dimensional. There will be no quick fix and there will be no short cuts. 
As a consequence – ladies and gentlemen – the Danish Government has put forward a program for the Danish EU Presidency that contains a long list measures and pieces of legislation that we hope to get adopted within numerous policy areas. We have chosen to bungle all these items around four key priorities, which are firstly: A responsible Europe. Secondly: A dynamic Europe. Thirdly: A green Europe, and fourthly: A safe Europe.

With regard to the first priority – a responsible Europe, it is clear that we need to re-establish order and stability in the European economies. Despite Denmark being outside the euro-zone, we will work hard on this agenda everywhere we can – in the ECOFIN and the Councils dealing with the growth agenda. We need to create results in order to rebuild trust in the EU. We also want to be a bridge between the Eurozone and Member States outside.

The EU needs to respond effectively and convincingly to the immediate threat posed by unsustainable debt levels in some European economies. This requires a political willingness to implement and comply with the new rules on economic governance that are part of the European Semester. Rules that will be implemented for the first time during the Danish Presidency. Another priority will be to ensure effective implementation of reforms of financial regulation to ensure a sound banking system and to minimise the risk of future crisis. We will work on the Commission’s proposed revision of capital and liquidity requirements for credit institutions [CRD IV] where we hope to reach an agreement with both the Council and the Parliament. We will also give priority to take forward work on the revised Regulation on Credit Rating Agencies [CRA III] and on crisis management in the financial sector, Finally, work will be carried forward on the rules regarding markets in financial investments [MiFID] and on the rules governing market abuse [MAR].

The Multiannual Financial Framework – that is the EU budget for the period 2014-2020 - will be high on our agenda. It is crucial that a new budget will channel more funds to growth-enhancing areas like research, education and green technologies. During the first months of our Presidency, we will focus on clarifying a number of technical budget aspects and as we move along, we will gradually move into a more political phase, where we hope to narrow the gap between the different positions of Member States. It is not realistic to complete the negotiations during Danish Presidency but hopefully, we will be able to provide the European Council with a good basis to finalise negotiations including on numbers before the end of 2012.

Currently governments all around Europe struggle to make ends meet in their national budgets. Our European budget will also need to reflect that we live in a time were financial responsibility is and needs to be at the top of the agenda. But putting together a multiannual budget for Europe should not and cannot only be a question of cutting costs. We need to create growth and jobs in Europe and that aspiration needs to be fully reflected in our EU budget. Financial responsibility and creating growth and jobs must go hand in hand.

The second priority for the Danish Presidency – to return Europe to an economic growth path – is very much about promoting the further development of the Single Market. 2012 marks the 20-year anniversary of the Single Market and it has proved to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of the EU. But there is still a large unused potential in the Single Market. The goal of the Danish Presidency is to contribute to further developing and modernising of the Single market through the 12 concrete initiatives aimed at improving the business climate in Europe. This will include focus on modernising European accounting rules and better access for companies to venture capital as well as more simple and flexible rules regarding public procurement. It also includes better online security for consumers and lower roaming charges, when people use their cell phones abroad. Another key part of a modernized Single Market will be an efficient and user-friendly EU Patent System. Such a system will allow businesses across Europe to avoid having to submit applications with 27 different national patent authorities in order to acquire an EU wide patent protection. Hopefully, European companies will soon be able to submit just one application to a European Patent Office.

As our third priority, we want Europe to adopt a much more ambitious approach to green and sustainable growth. While we engage in urgent crisis management, the European economies must be sustainable in the long run. In recent years, the EU has taken the lead globally on the green agenda by developing a comprehensive energy and climate policy. The time has come to speed up Europe’s transition to a greener and more sustainable economy and the way to do that is by creating economic growth without increasing our consumption of natural resources and fossil fuels. Another way is to put these issues at the agenda when negotiating the reforms of the common agricultural and fisheries policies. But we must also be realistic and we are well aware that this will not happen by itself. We need to work hard and agree on new initiatives, if we are to maintain our comparative advantage to other regions in the world. Otherwise, we risk that knowledge-intensive jobs and high-tech research capabilities begin moving to other countries that possess a clear understanding of how to invest in the transition to a green economy.

As in business or in sports, there can be times, when playing defense is not really an option, if you want to safeguard your position and achieve a positive outcome. I firmly believe that Europe finds itself at such a moment in time today in relation to the green agenda. If Europe is to thrive in a new world order characterized by the rise of non-European giants like China, India and Brazil as well as by increasing international competition to get hold of scarce natural resources, Europe needs to dramatically upscale its research and investments in green technologies, renewable energy and energy efficiency. This is not just about achieving some favorable strategic goal 30 years from now. It is just as much about creating new knowledge-based jobs in Europe in the short term. New jobs that will appear as spin-off and as short-term economic gains from embarking on a green growth path.

European leaders must make it highly likely that tomorrow’s technological advances within solar power or nanotechnology are fostered by Europeans. We should make it highly likely that the next generation of windmills is conceived by European engineers and that the fourth generation of biofuels is developed by European scientists. The Danish Presidency will work hard to promote the green agenda, but we will do it in a consensus-seeking, result-oriented and inclusive way. Needless to say, we will also put a lot of effort into the negotiations on the energy efficiency directive and on the follow-up to the EU’s climate road map. Finally, we will work for a strong European voice at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Our fourth priority is a safer Europe. You remember that the first months of the Arab Spring caused a large number of North-African people to head towards Europe in search of shelter. This refugee pressure and our on-going problems with illegal immigration in Europe underline the need to finalise the EU’s common European asylum system in order to ensure an appropriate reception and treatment of people turning up at our door step. The Danish Presidency will push hard to promote a well-functioning European asylum system and a stronger Schengen cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen, If some of you might be wondering, why I spend so much time on various EU-measures that we hope to get adopted during the Danish EU Presidency, instead of focusing on the current crisis in Greece, my reasons for this are twofold. First of all, I believe that the crisis facing us today is not just an economic crisis. It is also a crisis of confidence in the European project as such. A crisis of confidence in which an increasing number of Europeans cannot see the link between their daily life and the business that goes on in Brussels. In the newspapers and in the evening news programmes, they watch their elected leaders jump in and out of black limousines in front of the entrance to the EU Council building, while the austerity programmes now under way in many Member States are causing them severe hardship. Millions of Europeans are losing their jobs, getting their monthly pay check reduced or seeing their welfare benefits disappear, while the politicians keep on talking at a seemingly endless stream of EU-meetings. Unfortunately, that is a widespread perception of the EU in many Member States today. Needless to say, such a perception has a negative bearing on people’s general view of the European project.

It is my firm believe that the best way to counter this public perception is for the European Union to achieve concrete results that deliver tangible benefits to the daily life of Europe’s citizens. It is by improving and expanding the Single Market into the digital age that the EU can deliver such results. It is by channelling more EU funds to potential growth engines like research and education that the EU can deliver such results. And it is by strengthening budget discipline and helping Member States to implement structural reforms that it can deliver such results. It is through concrete actions and tangible results that the European project will become able to claw back its public support in the 27 Member States. In addition, I warmly welcome of course the EU citizens’ initiative that will come into effect on April first and that will allow one million EU-citizens to ask the Commission to present a proposal. This initiative is an important step in the right direction.

My second reason for highlighting the many political priorities besides the debt crisis is the fact that Europe cannot afford to mono-task. We cannot afford to forget about the other, serious challenges facing us like climate change, the fight against terrorism, our strategic relations with giants like China, India and Brazil or the multiple threats posed by fragile states on the other side of the Mediterranean. In other words, we must be able to multitask. We must be able to perform urgent crisis management on the debt crisis while we deal with the other challenges as well.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Danish EU Presidency is mindful of the responsibility placed on our shoulders at this crucial time for Europe and the European Union. We have prepared well, and we have a good sense of what it takes to conduct a successful EU Presidency from previous experience. Together with Ireland and the other Member States, we will do everything in our power to steady our common European ship in these difficult times. The task for all of us today – ladies and gentlemen, as Member States, as Governments and as single individuals, is to get Europe back on track so that growth and job creation can fill the headlines for the future.

Thank you.