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Speech at the 4th Joint Parliamentary Meeting on the Lisbon Strategy - Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 February 2008

Mr President of the European Parliament,

Mr President of the European Commission,

Distinguished Presidents and Members of national parliaments,

Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a representative of the Member State currently holding the Presidency of the EU Council, I am very happy to accept your invitation to address the elected representatives of all 27 Member States of the European Union. Slovenia's Presidency of the EU Council coincides with a new chapter in the development of Europe. The signing of the Lisbon Treaty marks the end of a period in which we have worked hard at getting ourselves in shape – first economically and, more recently, politically. Europe is now significantly better equipped to open itself to the world and play a part in shaping world trends.

The current moment is marked by a number of other moments.

At the time that European was beginning to think about its development strategy, about the Lisbon Strategy, we understood globalisation above all as Europe's competition with the USA and Japan. Since then, important new actors have consolidated themselves on the world stage. On the one hand they represent rivals and, on the other, partners; be that as it may, they demand a fresh consideration of what European can contribute to this global world and where its real competitive advantages lie.

Since the end of the 1980s the world has been transformed by the communication revolution. In my previous job, where I taught students of engineering and architecture about technical communication, I called it the second communication revolution. The first – affordable paper and printing, approximately 500 years ago – utterly changed the modus operandi in science, technology and politics, since it democratised access to knowledge and communication on paper. Paper and printing brought a significantly wider circle of people into the creative process. They paved the way for the European dominance in the fields of science, technology and culture that we have witnessed in past centuries.

The second communication revolution is happening before our eyes and making efficient electronic communication possible for the masses. Creativity and innovation are no longer closed in rigid organisational schemes. Through open innovations and creativity, we are drawing broad masses of talents into the process. eDemocracy is bringing changes to the method of political decision-making and the roles of government institutions.

We are on the threshold of the third industrial revolution. In the first two, the development of the world was based on energy accumulated over billions of years in the form of fossil fuels. We are facing a challenge that is comparable to a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project: that of significantly reducing our dependency on non-sustainable resources and making the transition to a low-carbon economy. To achieve this we have to mobilise all our scientific, technical, economic and political potential, and we also have to change our values.

After the agricultural age, the industrial age and the information age, we are moving into an age which Dan Pink has called the "conceptual age". An age in which the greatest challenge is no longer providing food, industrial products or even information, an age in which our habits are shaped by values, when we are no longer interested in satisfying basic needs, in the mere usefulness of a product or service but in its design, brand, quality, whether it was produced or manufactured in a fair way, without improper exploitation of, for example, children. When we are interested in whether a product is local, healthy, environmentally friendly and people friendly. These are the characteristics we prize, and which are fundamentally connected to our values and cultural background.

The common thread of these trends are creativity and the influence of values. These are topics close to Europe's heart. Europe has to have the ambition to co-shape or even lead these four trends: globalisation, the second communication revolution, the third industrial revolution and the conceptual age. Now that the constitutional treaty and internal discussions are behind it, this is also what is expected of Europe. Europe's development ideas are framed by the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs.

Following the thorough overhaul in 2005, we can state that the Lisbon Strategy is working.  Economic growth in the last few years has been around 2.7 %, 6.5 million jobs have been created, unemployment has fallen below 7 %, public debt below 60 % and the budget deficit to around 1.1 % of GDP. Structural reforms have improved the foundations of Europe's economy, which is therefore more easily able to cope with crises on financial markets and the growing prices of raw materials, particularly oil and food. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to be complacent. The world economy is sailing into increasingly uncertain waters, and it is therefore important for Europe to hold its course and continue with the reforms and the modernisation of its economy and society.

Implementation of the Lisbon Strategy requires the support of all stakeholders.  The Commission did a good job with the preparation of the "Lisbon package" in December. The Lisbon Strategy is one of the five priorities of Slovenia's Presidency. The social partners, non-governmental organisations and, of course, the European Parliament and national parliaments are involved in a broad-based debate. The reason, in fact, that the Lisbon Strategy is working is that we have transferred a large part of the responsibility for it to Member States.

Slovenia has also seriously tackled reforms

In 2005 Slovenia adopted the Development Strategy of Slovenia and, with the renewed impetus of the Lisbon Strategy, copied it into the National Reform Programme. In this context, in 2006 the government prepared a programme of economic and social reforms in 67 points. We have implemented a thorough tax reform, balanced the budget, modernised the labour market, reduced the time necessary to set up a business, our e-government is the second best in Europe, we are improving the enterprise environment, we have partially modernised the social system, the Bologna process is being implemented in the higher education system.

The results show that the reforms are paying off and that we are on the right track. Slovenia is recording the highest economic growth in the eurozone (between 6 and 7 % in 2007), unemployment has fallen below 5 %, public debt is below 30 % and the budget is balanced. More people are in work and are providing themselves with social security through their work; real wages are also increasing.

In Slovenia we take the recommendations of the Commission and the Council very seriously. We discuss them in both chambers of parliament and with the social partners. We are aware that in the future we have to think about the sustainability of the pensions system and that there is still room for improvement in Slovenia's labour market. Both require tolerant dialogue and broad agreement between generations, with the social partners and between political parties.

Neither Europe nor Slovenia must rest on their laurels. The Slovenian Presidency would like the Spring European Council in March to mark the start of an ambitious new cycle for the Lisbon Strategy:

  • The Council will confirm the Integrated Guidelines – combining macroeconomic, microeconomic and employment guidelines. We have talked a great deal about whether changes are necessary and, in the end, the majority of my colleagues have agreed that although certain formulations in the Integrated Guidelines could be improved, by opening these questions we would merely trigger a lengthy process of harmonisation and slow down the transition to the new cycle, while the end result would be very similar to what we have in front of us now. We are however updating the accompanying text.
  • The Council will endorse the specific recommendations to Member States in connection with their progress in the implementation of national reform programmes.
  • It will urge all stakeholders – the Council, the Commission and the Parliament – to implement the Community Lisbon Programme.
  • It will commit itself to certain key activities and objectives in four priority areas.

These areas express (1) Europe's concern for the environment, (2) Europe's concern for the human being and his social position, (3), efforts for a more enterprising Europe and (4) efforts for a more innovative and creative Europe on which the above is based. Allow me to touch briefly on each of these four areas.

We are placing creativity alongside knowledge and innovation. At the beginning I spoke about how closely modern industry is tied to values and cultural background. Europe must exploit its rich cultural tradition and ethical leadership in certain areas for the competitive advantage of its products. We must continue to invest in research and development. The goal of 3 % is not yet within reach. We must develop top-flight science and technology and encourage changes in higher education, but we must be aware that the West's monopoly in science and technology is coming to an end.

We must draw more people into creative processes. Our fellow-citizens and those from outside. Knowledge must become the fifth freedom; we need a single area of knowledge where access to knowledge is open, where we support open innovation and, of course, where knowledge is suitably protected by a European patent and copyrights. Better coordination is possible of the different European research and development policies, and of these with national policies.

We Europeans must become more enterprising. There is a shortage of highly innovative and creative small enterprises, and therefore special attention must be devoted to the formation and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises and their access to development resources: to knowledge and research infrastructure and to sources of equity finance. We have to deepen the internal market, above all in the sphere of services and network industries, and remove various hidden obstacles. A powerful and functioning internal market is also a much better defence against globalisation than the temptations of protectionism. We need to increase the transparency of financial markets. We must improve legislation and reduce administrative burdens.

We Europeans must maintain care for people. Flexicurity enables a dynamic search for a balance between an economy which wants a functioning labour market, in which it can bring the right people to the right jobs, and security for people by enabling them to find a new job quickly. An educated worker is more attractive to employers and finds work more easily, and therefore we need to provide lifelong learning. In the research-innovation-education triangle, the weak link is generally the last of these, education, and this must therefore be improved. We need to continue to look for an answer to demographic challenges. We particularly need to ensure that young people complete some form of education and find work as quickly as possible. We need to encourage older people to remain active for as long as possible. Only in this way will we achieve 70 % employment. 

We Europeans care for the environment. The year 2007 was the year in which we adopted ambitious, very ambitious… promises in this sphere… 20 %, 30 %, 40 %, 80 %. This year the first concrete plans are on the table and we need to reach an agreement that will be fair to all. This is considerably more difficult. And governments and state bodies must set an example to citizens and other states in this sphere.

Despite the fact that in recent years this topic has been very popular and occupies a good part of political and public space, I am personally in favour of locating it clearly within the Lisbon Strategy. We should not look at energy and climate change outside the context of growth and jobs. The issue touches all the other pillars of the Lisbon Strategy. To take part in the third industrial revolution and in the transition to a low-carbon economy, we need a breakthrough in the sphere of science and technology. Our industry must gain an incentive for the development of a new generation of competitive, energy-efficient products and services and with them break into foreign markets. The objective is not of course the deindustrialisation of Europe and the migration of technologies with high energy needs to other parts of the world where there is less concern for the environment. Through education and training, in other words the mechanisms of the third pillar of the Lisbon Strategy, we can do a great deal in the sphere of efficient energy use.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In one of the first manuals on government, Niccolò Machiavelli had the following to say about reforms: "The reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order […] Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only defend him half-heartedly." We politicians in particular are frequently tempted to oppose for the sake of opposing. The Lisbon Strategy is a strategy for reforms, for the modernisation of Europe, for Europe to get in shape and to shape globalisation and other megatrends. We need more than lukewarm support.

We need to find consensus on the Lisbon Strategy: in the European Parliament and in national parliaments, in politics, with the social partners, civil society and non-governmental organisations. We need a decisive impetus for the new cycle of the Lisbon Strategy so that Europe becomes more dynamic, creative, open to knowledge, an enterprising society that looks after people and the environment.  We also need to reflect as soon as possible on the strategic framework of European development in the period after 2010 and the convergence of the Lisbon Strategy and the Sustainable Development Strategy.

Europe can give a great deal to the world. This century will not be a European century in the sense of Europe commanding the world in a colonial manner, or because Europe will have the most powerful industry or knowledge. This century can however become a European century in the sense of European values and European creativity prevailing in the world. As Mark Leonard has written, a method by which neighbours can cooperate, resolve disputes and look after the environment and human beings must prevail in the world.

Each of us in this hall can contribute something to this.


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Date: 12.02.2008