INTRODUCTION – WIND IN OUR SAILS
Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
When I stood before you this time last year, I had a somewhat easier speech to give.
It was plain for all to see that our Union was not in a good state.
Europe was battered and bruised by a year that shook our very foundation.
We only had two choices. Either come together around a positive European agenda or each retreat into our own corners.
Faced with this choice, I argued for unity.
I proposed a positive agenda to help create – as I said last year – a Europe that protects, a Europe that empowers, a Europe that defends.
Over the past twelve months, the European Parliament has helped bring this agenda to life. We continue to make progress with each passing day. Just last night you worked to find an agreement on trade defence instruments and on doubling our European investment capacity. And you succeeded. Thank you for that.
I also want to thank the 27 leaders of our Member States. Days after my speech last year, they welcomed my agenda at their summit in Bratislava. In doing so they chose unity. They chose to rally around our common ground.
Together, we showed that Europe can deliver for its citizens when and where it matters.
Ever since, we have been slowly but surely gathering momentum.
It helped that the economic outlook swung in our favour.
We are now in the fifth year of an economic recovery that really reaches every single Member State.
Growth in the European Union has outstripped that of the United States over the last two years. It now stands above 2% for the Union as a whole and at 2.2% for the monetary area.
Unemployment is at a nine year low. Almost 8 million jobs have been created during this mandate so far. With 235 million people at work, more people are in employment in the European Union than ever before.
The European Commission cannot take the credit for this alone. Though I am sure that had 8 million jobs been lost, we would have taken the blame.
But Europe’s institutions played their part in helping the wind change.
We can take credit for our European Investment Plan which has triggered €225 billion worth of investment so far. It has granted loans to 450,000 small firms and more than 270 infrastructure projects.
We can take credit for the fact that, thanks to determined action, European banks once again have the capital firepower to lend to companies so that they can grow and create jobs.
And we can take credit for having brought public deficits down from 6.6% to 1.6%. This is thanks to an intelligent application of the Stability and Growth Pact. We ask for fiscal discipline but are careful not to kill growth. This is in fact working very well across the Union – despite the criticism.
Ten years since crisis struck, Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back.
And with it, our confidence.
Our 27 leaders, the Parliament and the Commission are putting the Europe back in our Union. And together we are putting the Union back in our Union.
In the last year, we saw all 27 leaders walk up the Capitoline Hill in Rome, one by one, to renew their vows to each other and to our Union.
All of this leads me to believe: the wind is back in Europe’s sails.
We now have a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever.
Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails.
For this we must do two things:
First, we should stay the course set out last year. We still have 16 months in which real progress can be made by Parliament, Council and Commission. We must use this time to finish what we started in Bratislava and deliver on our own positive agenda.
Secondly, we should chart the direction for the future. As Mark Twain wrote – I am quoting – years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we did not do, than by those we did. Now is the time to build a more united, a stronger, a more democratic Europe for 2025.