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"Mr President, President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen. The March part-session of the European Council started with an address by the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, whose speech gave us a good foundation for debate and decision-making on the major topics. There were three of these: continuation of economic growth and the creation of new jobs, response to climate change, and stabilisation of financial markets. At the same time, the Member States have committed themselves to implementing the common principles of flexicurity, increasing social inclusion and consistently linking economic, employment and social policies. The adopted conclusions reflect the positions of the European Parliament and European social partners. Knowledge is also of crucial importance when dealing with climate change. Only with the help of new technologies will we achieve the ambitious targets we adopted at last year’s spring session of the European Council. The strategic energy technology plan forms the basis of the coordinated European policy in this field, which will provide support for ecologically sound, green industry. As confirmed by our social partners at the tripartite summit held at the fringes of the European Council session, climate change brings opportunities for all, that is to say both companies and employees. The ecoindustry alone is growing by 5% a year and today employs 3 400 000 people. Within the energy and climate package we have reached an agreement on the basic principles and the schedule. This is probably the most resounding achievement of this session of the European Council. Our ambitions in the fields of climate change and energy were reconfirmed. It is important that less than two months after the package was published on 23 January, we have reached an accord on two key elements for furthering the debate on basic principles and schedule. The leaders of the Member States have committed themselves to reaching an agreement by the end of 2008 and thus enabling adoption of the package within the deadline, or at any event before the end of the current European Parliament mandate. Ladies and gentlemen, success is down to you too. Only if we adopt the package within the deadline will we justify the expectations of all European citizens and give a positive sign to our partners in the world, especially in the light of the negotiations on the overall post-Kyoto agreement next year in Copenhagen. I would like to underline this last point in particular. The European Council has confirmed three fundamental principles which will guide us in the sharing of tasks and targets among the Member States. Firstly, economic success and cost effectiveness; secondly, solidarity and justice; and thirdly, transparency. I was pleased to note that the Member States no longer regard this process as a sharing of burdens, but as a new opportunity for development. I am also aware of the European Council’s achievement in agreeing to shape a unified European system for limiting emissions and trading in them, and thereby rewarding the current system of national limits. The European Council also faced the possibility that, in the event of failure of the international negotiations, it should assist the energy-intensive sectors in the European Union, because their relocation to countries with lower environmental standards would risk losing jobs in the European Union, at the same time increasing greenhouse gases in general. An important item in the agenda was the question of liberalisation of the internal energy market. It was clear, even at the time when the Commission published its first proposal for the directives in the early nineties, that it would not be easy to establish a unified market, but that it would be a protracted process. Seventeen years later, with the European Council calling for adoption of the political agreement by June of this year, we are getting closer to the target. Here, too, the key to success will be strengthened cooperation with the European Parliament. Melting glaciers, longer droughts and changes in precipitation patterns have a direct effect on geostrategic and security interests. The report by the High Representative, Mr Solana, and the Commission on the security aspects of climate change realistically presents the situation and the risks facing the European Union. This was first document of its kind to have been debated. The European Council supported this report as a basis for further action. Energy and climate issues will be the main topics in all future summits between the European Union and third countries or regions until the end of June 2008, more especially with Japan, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. To enable us to speak and act in unison, we will need to bring our positions closer in next few months. Now something about the financial markets. In response to the crisis in the financial markets, the European Council has unanimously confirmed the need for four measures: firstly, increasing transparency; secondly, improving evaluation standards; thirdly, strengthening credit status; and fourthly, improving market efficiency and giving structural incentives. Three decisions of the part-session summarise its achievements. We launched an ambitious and more modern three-year cycle of the Lisbon Strategy, which offers a better balance between care for people and the environment on the one hand and the competitive, knowledge-based market economy on the other. Secondly, we confirmed the basic principles and schedule for adoption of the energy and climate change package. Thirdly, we defined further measures to stabilise the financial markets. The state asset funds play a positive role in securing capital and liquidity, even in these uncertain times. However, the appearance of new players whose investment strategies are not totally transparent gives rise to some doubts about uneconomic practices. The leaders of the Member States have agreed on an initiative to design a voluntary code of practice for such funds. The European Council devoted a lot of time to an agreement on strengthening the Barcelona process. In my opinion, it was a significant achievement that we managed to place in an institutional framework a debate which had hitherto been informal and closed, or limited to closed circles and informal channels. According to the agreement reached at the last session of the European Council, all the Member States of the European Union and other Mediterranean countries will participate in the Barcelona process, that is to say the Mediterranean Union. In view of standard practice within the Barcelona process, it is entirely understandable that the European Parliament, as an exceedingly important player in the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, will be appropriately involved in the debate on future steps. Because the Slovenian Presidency is striving for a balanced approach to all the European Union’s neighbours, we would like to point out the eastern dimension of European policies towards our neighbours, which must be strengthened in parallel with the Mediterranean dimension. We expect the June session of the European Council to debate these issues in detail on the basis of the proposal put forward by our Polish colleagues. Ladies and gentlemen, the tripartite social summit and the European Council realise that no single measure can be effective on its own without being meaningfully integrated with other measures. At the same time the integrated measures, be it the Lisbon Strategy or the energy and climate measures, are not enough unless we are all fully aware of their importance and contribute to their implementation. In the long run these topics demand much more than impersonal measures; they require fundamental shifts and a change in habits, that is to say a change in our way of life. Confucius said: ‘If you are thinking one year ahead, sow a seed; if you are thinking ten years ahead, plant trees; if you are thinking a hundred years ahead, educate the people.’ All of us together should learn to live a more creative life. We must learn to exchange information quickly and to adopt environmentally friendly habits. The most effective teaching method is by good example. For that reason the governments of the Member States agreed at the European Council to lower the energy consumption of their own buildings and car fleets and to secure a fast internet connection for all schools by 2010. After the March session of the European Council we can say that the debates and conclusions were devoted to the most pressing European issues of the moment. However, the media did not find it very attractive because – and I regard this as a success – we managed to avoid certain debates which would have diverted our attention from the key developmental issues without reaching any solutions. This was one of the reasons why we managed to take a few more steps forward, but there is still more to be done. The new cycle of the Lisbon Strategy primarily emphasises implementation of the reforms. Lately we have often witnessed some erroneous perceptions that the reason for the rise in retail prices and unstable financial markets is that the European Union has a weak economic foundation. The truth is precisely the opposite: it is the relatively firm foundation of the European economy that explains why the uncertainties in the global financial market and the price of crude oil and other commodities have had fewer consequences for the European Union than would have been the case had the economic foundation of the European Union been weak. Let us glance at some of the economic indicators. The European Union’s public finance deficit has fallen by more than half since 2005. Public debt has gone down to less than 60%. Economic growth reached almost 3% in 2007. The labour market is offering 6.5 million more jobs than two years ago. These results are largely due to the renewed Lisbon Strategy. These are grounds for sober pride and greater self-confidence, but not self-satisfaction. At a time of ever-increasing unpredictability in the global economy, it would be very wrong to rest on one’s laurels and discontinue the reforms. At the launch of the second cycle of the Lisbon Strategy, or the second Lisbon cycle, the European Council stressed that in the period between 2008 and 2010 we must direct all our efforts primarily towards consistent implementation of the reforms. We are supported by the stability of the integrated guidelines, which are still valid, and by the adopted specific recommendations, on the basis of which the Member States will be able to renew and realise their national reform programmes even faster. The priority areas will remain the same: knowledge and innovation, stimulation of entrepreneurial potential, modernisation of the labour markets, and climate change and energy. For each of these areas we have defined concrete measures based on the recognition, famously summarised by Francis Bacon four hundred years ago, that knowledge is power In the European Community today, the importance of knowledge is as great as or greater than that attached to coal in the past. It is the catalyst for economic growth, structural adjustments and social inclusion. For that reason the European Council introduced the ‘fifth freedom’ in the field of knowledge and innovation. The ‘fifth freedom’ will eliminate barriers to the free flow of knowledge. It will provide mobility for talented people and open access to knowledge and innovation, which should attract even more Europeans to take part in creative processes. The establishment of the new European Institute of Innovation and Technology, confirmed two weeks ago by the European Parliament, also offers new opportunities for the utilisation of Europe’s research and development potential. To strengthen the competitiveness of companies, particularly small and medium enterprises, the European Union is planning measures to facilitate operations and speed up development in the unified market. In view of the fact that small and medium enterprise employs the greatest number of people and is an important force in research and development, it has to be provided with suitable legislation, easier access to sources of finance and, most of all, more intensive cooperation in innovation. The social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy was strongly stressed at this session of the European Council. I think it was given the strongest support to date. We have reconfirmed the importance of investment in human resources. Through learning and training we can eliminate inequality and poverty, reduce youth unemployment, create new and better jobs, and ease the transition to a knowledge-based economy. That is why we have invited the Commission to prepare a review of the knowledge requirements of the European Union up to 2020."@en1

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