By José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission
Good afternoon. Our meeting this morning with the Social Partners took place at a crucial moment for Europe.
Our exchanges confirmed how important an effective social dialogue is today. I will say that more than ever we need this kind of social dialogue, because we need to have a consensus to keep and modernise the model of society we all believe in – and also because some of the changes require not only consensus among governments and the European institutions, but also consensus in our societies at large. That is why I think that we have to find ways and means of reinforcing the social dialogue at European level, and of course also at national level, and I hope that all Member States of the European Union will keep that commitment to the importance and the central place of social dialogue.
The crisis has made it obvious that Europe must reform – and effective reform is not easy. It requires a lot of courage. Today we have discussed some of those reforms. I cannot say we have agreed on all topics, but at least on one there was a very broad agreement. The message that we received both from the business side and the trade union side is to do whatever is necessary to protect the financial stability of the euro zone, to restore confidence in the euro zone and in the European Union.
Confidence is probably the capital that we need most in Europe and only by solving this so-called sovereign crisis can we restore the conditions for confidence, and only confidence can create the context for growth and jobs.
We have addressed several issues. One of the issues at the very centre of our discussion was unemployment, and especially youth unemployment.
First of all, I stated together with Commissioner Laszlo Andor, our Commissioner for Employment, that we will not achieve these higher levels of employment without further flexibility in our labour markets. It is important to look at this in a responsible way.
We are facing a world with new challenges and very demanding competitiveness conditions. We have to look at this.
At the same time we want to do it while protecting our social model. That is why it is important for instance to look at proactive responses to the situation of young people in Europe; we have launched a young opportunities initiative and I have asked social partners, especially the business community, to back it enthusiastically. We need to come with some quick answers to the more urgent problems. We are ready to mobilise funds, namely from the European Social Fund and from other instruments we have, to give an important response to the anxiety of so many of our young people that don’t see a future today. And we announced to the social partners how we intend to go further with this initiative, namely also in our Country Specific Recommendations where we are going to address in detail the specific problem of young people who are unemployed, following also what has been done already in the Europe 2020 strategy.
The overall point we discussed was how to link dispensable measures of fiscal consolidation that are necessary in most of our Member States to reduce debt and to reduce deficits with prospects for growth. We need growth in Europe.
And we have discussed some of the initiatives from tapping the potential of the internal market to making the most of our small businesses act, to promote the smart regulation agenda, to reach more growth through increased trade also with our main partners and also others, like to anticipate some of the investments that we can do through structural funds.
We are doing everything we can to mobilise and frontload structural funds in an effective way, linking them to growth and competitiveness. Not only in the next Multiannual Financial Framework as President Van Rompuy just mentioned, but if possible just now.
A good example: just last week we have adopted in the Commission – and I hope that the Member States will support it – a guarantee mechanism for countries that are facing particular problems of liquidity with their banks. So that they could use structural funds as a guarantee mechanism. Because there are in some countries real problems of a credit crunch today and since they do not have a margin through their budgets, they do not have margins through their banks, we have to help those countries to find a way of getting some finance to small businesses, to companies, to households, because they also need to see the end of the tunnel through growth.
I also mentioned the point of fairness. It is important that all make a contribution. The financial sector has to make a bigger contribution to the common good. The taxpayers of Europe are giving a lot of support to the financial sector and that is why I believe they also have to come with a bigger contribution.
We are also going to come forward with some proposals for responsibility of financial sector actors including, by the way, criminal responsibility. We are coming forward with the proposal this week in the context of our regulation on market abuse.
So there is in fact a need for a more comprehensive response. We are working on it and I believe that the European Council of this weekend will be critically important. I have got from the intense dialogue today with the social partners their commitment, both to the action to restore confidence and also to the European project.
We need more than ever a strong Europe to respond to the current difficulties we are facing and I believe that it is possible to restore confidence in the future of our economy, in the future of growth and jobs in the European Union.
Thank you for your attention.