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Speech by Minister Žiga Turk at the European Parliament Plenary Session

Mr President of the European Parliament,

Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,

Distinguished representatives of the European Commission,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is of extreme pleasure for me to speak at the plenary session of the European Parliament dedicated to the launch of the new cycle of the Lisbon strategy for Growth and Jobs, the key programme framework for the modernization of Europe and its future.

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 four crucial trends.

  1. At the time that Europe 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.
  2. A 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. Only once in history we were faced with such a revolution in mass communication, this was around 500 years ago, when affordable paper and printing paved the way for the European dominance in the fields of science technology and culture that we have witnessed in past centuries.
  3. 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 the Manhattan Project or 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.
  4. After the industrial age, we are moving into the "conceptual age". An age in which our habits are shaped by values, meaning, empathy.  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. 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 the European 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.

The 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.

We are very pleased that the European Parliament has been constructively involved in the broad debate on the next cycle, preparing reports on Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and Lisbon strategy and in so doing contributing to the visibility of the process. We had several chances to exchange our views (in the framework of the ECON conference, troika and the inter-parliamentary meeting). It is our common goal, of the EP and the Council, to improve the implementation of the Lisbon strategy. For the process to be successful we need also a stronger involvement of other relevant stakeholders such as national parliaments, social partners, regional and local authorities and the civil society.

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.

We would like the Spring European Council in March to mark the start of an ambitious new cycle the Lisbon Strategy:

  • The Council will endorse the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and adopt conclusions on employment policies.
  • We have talked a great deal about whether changes to the wording of BEPGs are necessary and, in the end, colleagues from the majority of Member states have agreed that although certain formulations in the Guidelines could be improved, by opening these questions we would merely trigger a lengthy process of discussions 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. The ECOFIN adopted an unanimous decisions that the BEPGs remain valid for the next cycle, while there is room to revising the narrative 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 drive forward work on the 10 objectives identified in 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 entrepreneurial 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 world-class science and technology and encourage changes in higher education.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 entrepreneurial. 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 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… but just promises in this sphere… 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. Europe must step at the head of these processes, which some call the “third industrial revolution”, having at its core the transition to a low-carbon economy. I am convinced that at the end, the European economy will benefit from this, taking the lead in the technologies of the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need to launch an ambitious new Lisbon cycle for Europe to become a more dynamic, creative, open, entrepreneurial 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. As written by Mark Leonhard 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. This century can however become a European century in the sense of European values and European creativity prevailing in the world. The European creativity is based on a brilliant European cultural heritage. European values how neighbours can cooperate, resolve disputes and look after the environment and human beings are those to which the rest of the world should look up to. We shall not forget about these philosophical foundations when we discuss about the economic and social future of our Union or the Strategy for Growth and Jobs.

Thank you!


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Date: 19.02.2008