I hardly exaggerate by saying that more than ever has the cooperation in Europe been put to the test in recent years. This test will continue for the foreseeable future as the debt crisis continues to worry the financial markets about the long-term sustainability of European economies.
With low levels of growth and high levels of unemployment, the unrest in Europe is understandable. But important decisions have been made in order to confront and contain the crisis. In 2010, the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) was created in order to provide financial support to eurozone countries in serious financial difficulties. Significant additional steps were taken towards strengthening the EFSF and ensuring the soundness of the European banking sector in 2011. Lastly, in December 2011, the European Council decided to strengthen economic robustness in Europe by pushing forward a new intergovernmental treaty on a reinforced economic union – the fiscal compact. The Council reached agreement on the fiscal compact at the summit on 30 January 2012 and it is now expected to be signed in March 2012.
The fiscal compact will strengthen stability, coordination and governance in Europe and, being a small open economy, highly dependent upon the stability in the Eurozone area, Denmark supports this initiative. In other words, we are well underway consolidating European economic governance.
The primary task for the current Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union is to unite Europe and build bridges between the Member States that participate in the euro and the Member States outside the euro. This task has become even more important in light of the fiscal compact, as not all Member States chose to participate in the agreement.
During the Danish Presidency new and stricter budget rules will be enforced, entailing better supervision of EU economies, ensuring that all Member States implement the promised reforms. It is important to ensure that Member States continue their efforts of implementing necessary reforms and exercising budget discipline.
In order to restore momentum for economic growth in Europe, the Presidency will push forward the difficult negotiations of the next seven-year budget for the EU (MFF) for 2014-2020. It is crucial that a new MFF channels more funds to growth-enhancing areas like research, education, and green technologies. Economic moderation in Europe must be accompanied by growth-promoting initiatives. Budget cuts cannot stand alone. This has been a central message from the Danish Presidency from day one, and I was therefore pleased to note that this was also the message from the European Council on 30 January.
Furthermore, the Single Market needs to be expanded and digitized to fully take advantage of new opportunities from technological developments. We will work for concrete results on some of the European Commission’s 12 specific initiatives aimed at stimulating new growth. For example, by reducing the bureaucratic burdens for small and medium-sized enterprises, increasing consumer protection when shopping on-line and making it cheaper to use mobile services across EU-countries.
Economies in Europe must also be sustainable in the long run. We will therefore set a proactive green-growth agenda at the European level. In our view, it is essential that we continue Europe’s transition to a greener and more sustainable economy, if we are to maintain our comparative advantage to other regions of the world. Otherwise, knowledge-intensive jobs and high-tech research capabilities may move out of Europe.
The EU Presidency is a major task. However, with a pragmatic and results-oriented approach, we want to contribute to moving Europe forward. Together we can work our way out of the crisis.