On January 1, 2007, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia assumed the first “tripartite” presidency in the history of the European Union. Although members of a team during an eighteen month period, each of the countries is individually responsible for the six months period during which it is the President of the European Union. A tripartite presidency ensures continuity, makes long term planning possible and eases the consistent execution of a programme of common work. Our tripartite Presidency is also an expression of unity in diversity which is a characteristic of Europe.
We will shortly celebrate, in Berlin, the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome, which established the pillars of the European Union as we currently know it. It was the effort developed since then in favour of peace, social and economic prosperity, consolidation of democracy and promotion of human rights which allowed the European Union to be formatted. We Europeans share the same values. This common understanding of belonging to Europe, to its culture, traditions and identity allowed us during the past 50 years to create a solid institutional background – the European Union – and to develop a sense of community. Simultaneously, the internal market and the economic and monetary union provided European producers and consumers with a large domestic market in an ever more global world.
The European Union is now a model for other countries and regions. Its successful matching of market freedom with individual responsibility and social justice is admired the world over. From its origins, with six founder members, the European Union grew in size, and now comprises 27 Member States, which others wish to join. Its integration model is a source of inspiration. The African Union, for instance, mirrors the European Union not only by name; its institutional structure is equally based on the structure of the European Union.
However, we must deceive ourselves. In the beginning of the 21st century, Europe and the Europeans are facing enormous new challenges:
– economic. Since the end of the Cold War, the global economy is ever more intermingled and billions of other people share today, with their labour and creativity, the global competition for employment and remuneration;
– environmental. Climate change and its effects, such as the scarcity of water, drought and floods, are changing the basic living habits in Europe. Only with a global effort, especially of the developed countries, will it be possible to tackle global warming;
– cultural. The preservation and promotion of cultural diversity are part of the basic principles of the Community. On the other hand, cultural dialogue has acquired a new meaning in the context of globalization. Other peoples ask: “What values do you, Europeans, have as symbols? What is really important for you? What do you expect from us and what can we expect from you?”
– and because Europe performs a relevant role in maintaining world peace and because we have to ask how can Europe successfully perform this role.
Europe will only be able to maintain its social model and continue to be a model unto others if we, Europeans, can adapt to the new conditions of the 21st century. For 700 years Europe has been one of the centres of world development. If we do not want do miss the train and wish to reach adequate development, we have to once again become a centre for innovation, investment and economic dynamism. The relevance of the European model for the rest of the world depends upon its sustainability in a strong economic situation and upon innovation.
However satisfactory is the current economic recovery in Europe, this can only be sustained if we make a credible effort to carry out the necessary structural reforms, either at community level, but also – more importantly – at the level of each of the Member States.
The Lisbon Strategy defined the objectives to be reached for us to continue competitive. Above all we need to invest in education, research and development.
With 480 million people, of which 300 million shares a common currency, Europe is the largest internal global market. The Euro is the second most important currency in the world and the economic and monetary union is one of Europe’s answers to globalization.
However, Europe is not yet a harmonized economic area in many facets. A greater effort is required to build the internal market and, in this perspective, the opening of markets which are still protected must be a priority. The liberalization of the electric power and gas market, for instance, continues to be an important objective. We must be very clear as to where our national interests are truly placed. A genuine internal market, together with a determined social and cohesion policy, will bring more long term benefits, providing us with greater capability to compete in the international markets. A single currency alone cannot guarantee an economic development free of problems.
If the Union wishes to be considered a key performer, it must act as such, and this implies a number of long range international relations, immediately with our neighbours in Eastern Europe and in the Mediterranean.
Last summer we were faced, as in previous years, with terrible and deeply moving sights of men, women and children from many African countries who, arriving in Europe totally exhausted, fought desperately for survival. These sights show that we cannot ignore the destiny of our neighbouring continent. The future of Europe is intimately connected with the future of Africa. For this reason we must hold an open dialogue with the African countries, as equal partners. The time has come to talk with Africa and not solely about Africa.
It is in this sense that Europe is faring. In its 2005 Strategy on Africa, the EU recognizes that the essential political conditions in Africa have improved overall, and states its support of the African Union in its efforts to handle the issues with which that continent is faced. The European Union acts as mediator in crises, from the Ivory Coast to Darfur. It is important that the mission to Darfur, especially, constitutes a message of hope to African countries. It is necessary that peace and stability are established in the Sudan and in other locations in Africa, so that the economic progress for which Africans have yearned for so long becomes possible.
Europe and Africa have many issues in common which are worth discussing. But things must be done, not just talked over. Substantial measures are required, as for instance, the opening of Asian markets to African products.
We sincerely hope that the Summit of European and African Heads of State and of Government foreseen for the second half of 2007 is a success. Until then, both Germany and Portugal will do all in their power to guarantee that the background exists for a constructive meeting.
The International Conference on Climate Change took place in Nairobi in November 2006, and five years will have gone past, this month, when the Ministers for the Environment of the European Union gave the green light to the Kyoto Protocol. Current scientific studies show that, until the end of the century, our climate will change faster than ever. We have to recognize that climate change is not a far distant phenomenon, but a current reality which demands decisive action. We have to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and, in parallel, the European Union must start to prepare the way for a future global climatic regime. The EU has to achieve a credible and pioneering role in the issue of climatic policy if we wish to persuade other States with high levels of emission to reduce their emissions of hothouse gases. This is specially applicable to emerging economies, such as India and China, but also to Africa, who, with reason, calls attention to the fact that the major share of world pollution is produced in the Northern hemisphere.
An effective climatic protection is not only an ecological concern, but also an economic requirement. The economic consequences of uncontrolled climate change would be enormous. In a paper published in the autumn of 2006, Nicholas Stein, a prestigious British economist, stated that we can lose up to 20% of Gross National Product (GNP) if we do not act now. However, the cost of an effective action of climatic protection is low in comparative terms, corresponding to approximately 1% of world GNP.
World energy consumption is constantly increasing. In China alone it increased by two thirds in the last three years. In its turn, the increase in demand renders fossil fuels more expensive and, faced with a long term increase in energy costs, many enterprises are concerned as to their competitiveness. Some developing countries currently spend 80% of their foreign currency in energy imports, which means fewer funds available for the urgent fight against poverty. Faced with this picture, Sweden has proved its strategic vision, setting as a target total independence from oil, gas or coal by 2020. Giving up oil is an ambitious objective, but a step in the right direction.
We are pleased with the recent approval by the Council of Europe of an energy action plan which sets out the basic components of a new European energy policy. The achievement of the internal market, including the liberalization of the electric power and gas markets, the increase in competition, the reduction in consumption, greater effectiveness and a more generalized use of renewable energies are crucial factors in a long term energy policy. With regard to renewable energies, the Council of Europe gave an important message through the commitment of reaching a 20% share of renewable energies in global energy consumption in the EU by 2020, and by setting a minimum obligatory target of 10%, to be reached by all Member States, for the share of bio-fuels in the total consumption of petrol and diesel for transport purposes, also by 2020.
There is still a lot to be achieved, however, specifically in the field of energy efficiency. Scientists state that the application of a multiplying factor of five on the current levels of energy efficiency over the next few years is within the limits of possibility. However, there is a great need of research and development in this area. Greater, thus, is the reason to quickly and effectively implement an action plan for energy efficiency in the EU. A common energy policy is required in order that the role of the EU, in the issue of international energy relations, reflects its political and economic relevance.
But Europe is not solely an economic and social community. It is its duty to assume its share in the responsibility for a fairer world order and, consequently, with more stability, and to be able to make its influence felt. From our point of view, a constitutional treaty for Europe is an important step in that direction. The project of the Constitutional Treaty has as objectives making the Union more democratic, more transparent, more agile, more efficient and better able to act as a key performer in the world scenario.
– by giving greater powers to the European Parliament and giving European citizens the right to directly influence Brussels policy;
– by making clear who is responsible and for what in Europe, thus permitting that decisions are taken by those who are nearer to the issues;
Better able to act
– by permitting that more decisions are taken by majority.
Europe is not alone in the world. The world expects a lot from Europe, but it will not wait for Europe. Let us join forces, once more, and we will be able to prove to ourselves and to the world that it is possible to change challenges into opportunities.