Europe must ‘reunite and reconcile’ after economic crisis

The European elections provide citizens with the chance to opt for a strong, united Europe, says Jean-Claude Juncker.

By Jean-Claude Juncker

11 Apr 2014

At the end of May, around 400 million voters will be deciding what kind of Europe they want to live in. These elections are about choice: will citizens choose a strong Europe that protects our freedoms, defends our values and creates growth and jobs? Or will citizens choose a divided Europe, marred by debt and an unstable financial system in the absence of reform? As the European People’s Party candidate for president of the European commission, I stand for a reunited Europe. I stand for a stronger Europe and I stand for a simpler, less bureaucratic Europe.

The crisis has divided Europe, north against south, east against west. It is a matter of serious concern to see that, today, less than 30 per cent of citizens believe their voice still counts in European issues. In Greece, this figure stands at just 11 per cent. This is why I see it as my task as the new commission president to reunite and reconcile Europe after the crisis, and to build bridges between countries and between individuals.

"It is a matter of serious concern to see that today, less than 30 per cent of citizens believe their voice still counts in European issues"

For me, it has more than just symbolic value that I was nominated both by the German Christian Democrats and by the Greek Nea Demokratia party. I want to work for a Europe with which Greeks, Germans and all other EU citizens can identify.

Europe urgently needs more growth and more jobs. An entire generation is without a job, without a future. This must be tackled as a priority. As commission president, I will work night and day to tackle unemployment.

The recipe that Europe has been applying during the crisis is the right one: showing solidarity with all member states in the European Union which are in difficulty, showing solidarity with the people of these countries, while at the same time asking for reform and fiscal responsibility. Banks must never again be saved with taxpayers’ money.

Europe’s common recipe for the crisis is starting to work in Ireland, Portugal and Greece, which, after often painful reforms, all are on the way back to growth and standing again on their own feet. And in Spain, where more than 16,000 additional people found jobs in the month of March alone - leading to the biggest drop in unemployment since 2006.

When I look at the map of Europe, I see that in Italy, France and Slovenia, under Socialist governments, there is currently a deadlock in structural reforms – work unfinished and a fiscal policy run at the expense of citizens, at the expense of growth and at the expense of employment. As a result, in France, year-on-year, unemployment rose by 0.2 per cent, Italy by 0.3 per cent and in Slovenia by 0.6 per cent. This is, in my view, the best motivation for voters making their choice in the European elections: the Socialists want to carry on as before the crisis, and accumulate debt at the expense of the next generation. The centre-right wants to lead Europe out of the crisis and put Europe firmly back on the path to growth, stability, employment and social justice, while putting the financial system under European instead of national supervision.

I am proud of the Europe we live in today even though it is far from perfect. In the future Europe needs to be big on the big things – like economic and monetary policy, climate change, international trade and migration and not get lost in the small things. Let’s focus in the next five years on getting Europe’s digital single market to work for Europe’s millions of internet users and innovative SMEs - this alone could generate additional GDP growth worth €250bn.

My goal of cutting red tape in Europe has one simple objective - to reduce the regulatory burdens for businesses, especially start-ups and SMEs. Reducing the paperwork, created at both national and European level, will also enable better conditions and mobility for researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators. I want to make it easy for creative people to turn their ideas into reality, so that innovative European products can reach consumers without needless burdens.

"In the future Europe needs to be big on the big things - like economic and monetary policy, climate change, international trade and migration and not get lost in the small things"

In the last few years, European institutions have been granted unprecedented, new powers to stop the financial crisis repeating itself. These new powers are changing the way that the EU interacts with member states and Europe’s citizens. And as more and more decisions that affect people’s lives directly are taken at European level, institutions and decision making processes need to become more democratic. That requires some big changes.

The 2014 European parliament elections are a big step in that direction. For the first time in history we have lead candidates running for president of the commission. And that is chiefly thanks to the European People’s Party - the treaty article that makes the election of the commission president by parliament possible bears our signature. And it is also my party that went even further and held open primaries to select our candidate in a democratic way. We had excellent candidates and I am truly grateful to Valdis Dombrovskis and Michel Barnier for a fair competition.

With these elections, the times when national leaders struck back-room deals on top jobs are over. Whichever political party is able to secure a majority for their candidate in parliament after May 25 will determine the next president of the commission.

So when you take to the polls come May, know this: this could be the birth of European democracy and your vote truly does count, so please make use of it.