Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier on the results of the sprign European Council to the European Parliament in Strasbourg

14.03.2007 - Speech

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Mr President,

Please allow me, following our debate on the Berlin Declaration, to inform this House about the results of the spring European Council.

I am happy to do so, for – let me say this at the very outset – in the Presidency's view it was a successful Council. A summit which provided answers in areas in which the citizens rightly expect decisive European action.

A summit which showed that the European Union – despite all the prophecies of doom – can remain capable of action even in an enlarged configuration. That the Member States, supported and encouraged by the Commission and Parliament, are in a position to overcome their differences and set themselves ambitious common goals – even if in individual cases it may not always be easy to reach decisions.

It was a summit which showed that the Union is prepared to square up to the pressing tasks of the future. A summit which provided momentum and gave us courage to believe that we can succeed in breathing new life into the faltering process of reform and renewal in the EU in the coming months.

This – alongside the concrete, substantive results, which I will go into in a moment – this is the message sent out by our most recent summit. This is the signal we intend to take up in two weeks' time when we mark the Union's 50th anniversary in Berlin and throughout Europe. This is the impulse we would like to carry over with us into the second half of our Presidency as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The main focus of the spring summit of Heads of State and Government was energy and climate policy.

Both topics are – quite rightly – very high on the list of people's concerns in Europe. The last few years and months in particular – and most recently the oil dispute between Belarus and Russia – have once again made it abundantly clear how much we depend on energy imports and how vulnerable the European economy is in this regard.

The impact of climate change has become equally obvious. Environmental disasters, glacier meltdown, rising sea levels, drought – these are no abstract buzzwords now. They have become very real dangers.

International studies confirm what the price will be if we do not act now, the price our children and grandchildren will have to pay if we fail to take action.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You know the result of the summit discussions, and I hope you will agree with my assessment: with their decisions, the Heads of State and Government have opened the door for an ambitious, responsible climate and energy policy in Europe. A policy which does not gloss over the extent of the problems facing us, but which seeks effective strategies for countering these problems.

We have taken a big step towards an integrated climate and energy policy. “Integrated” because the one is not possible without the other. Because by far the biggest danger for our climate today is the production and consumption of energy by the people of the world.

This is particularly true of greenhouse gas emissions. With the decisions taken in Brussels, the EU retains its pioneering role in international climate protection. These decisions give us a credible starting-point for the forthcoming negotiations on the follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU makes a firm unilateral and independent commitment to achieve a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. This is an ambitious goal, and huge efforts will be required in all Member States if this goal is to be attained.

However, the Heads of State and Government went even further: a reduction over the same period of as much as 30%, provided that other developed countries and economically more advanced developing countries also play their part.

We can attain these goals only if we enter into the future in energy-policy terms as well. That is why the Brussels Council adopted not only the climate objectives but also a comprehensive energy Action Plan.

At the heart of the Action Plan are two further, groundbreaking targets: to increase energy efficiency in the EU so as to achieve the objective of saving 20% of the EU's energy consumption compared to projections for 2020. And to increase the share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption to at least 20%.

You know that we had to fight hard particularly in order to make this latter target binding. Some Member States had reservations, believing that the target could be too ambitious.

I am very pleased that we were able to agree on this binding target in the end. Because these three objectives make it very clear how closely climate and energy policy are related: without efforts to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies, the EU could not achieve its self-imposed climate goals!

Just as together we reached agreement on the binding nature of the renewable energies target, so we will take a joint, fair approach when it comes to translating the European goal into national targets. We will take account of Member States' different starting points and potentials, and the Commission is called upon to present a proposal on this by the end of this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is not the place for an in-depth presentation of the energy Action Plan. It is more important to give an overall assessment. And, as well as the objectives I have already mentioned, this includes the strategic principles which have been laid down for the design of the internal energy markets, security of supply, international energy policy, energy research and energy technologies.

Let me emphasize one aspect: we will only be able to guarantee security of supply in the medium and long term if we succeed in diversifying energy sources and transport routes. In concrete terms, this means intensifying relations with the major producer countries and building up sustainable “external energy relations” with the countries of Central Asia, the countries bordering the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, the Gulf States and North Africa.

It also means a reliable and transparent energy relationship with Russia. This is one of the reasons why the Presidency continues to advocate the early launch of negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yes, certainly the results relating to climate protection and energy policy are particularly important. But the European Council did not restrict itself to these two topics, as its Conclusions show.

The Spring European Council is traditionally the forum for a review of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs. It is important to say this at the outset: the renewed Lisbon Strategy is beginning to deliver results! There are visible successes, reflected across Europe in increased growth figures and falling unemployment rates.

But the message is also this: that this is not the time to sit back and relax! On the contrary, we want to use the positive momentum. There is no alternative to the continuation of structural reforms and the further consolidation of public budgets. In some important areas – let me mention electricity and gas, postal services and financial markets – the internal market must be extended and completed.

This also includes the reduction of the deficit in the transposition of Community Legislation. In recent years we have made a fair bit of progress here. Whereas the transposition deficit in 2000 was still 3%, on average today in Europe only 1.2% of internal market directives have not been transposed into national law by the deadline for doing so. Here, too, our efforts must be continued, and the European Council decided on a further reduction in the deficit to 1% by 2009.

However, the Lisbon Strategy will only be successful in the eyes of Europe's citizens if its social dimension is further developed as well. This is particularly true in view of the positive developments on the labour markets. In this connection the Heads of State and Government stressed the importance of “good work”, workers' rights and participation, safety and health protection at work and a family-friendly organization of work.

Another element of the decisions must be emphasized: better regulation and the reduction of administrative burdens. Here, too, progress has been made. But here, too, further efforts are required. In particular, we want to reduce administrative burdens arising from EU legislation by 25% by 2012. And the Member States are called upon to set their own national targets of comparable ambition within the course of the next year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the final press conference, Commission President Barroso made a very kind comment on the just-ended Council to the effect that, in terms of the results and the formulated goals, it was the most important summit he had attended in his term of office.

This success would not have been possible without the excellent preliminary work done by the Commission, without the support of the European Parliament, on whose behalf you, Mr Pöttering, participated for the first time as the newly-elected President.

The European Union is on the way towards a modern, future-oriented climate and energy policy. The Heads of State and Government showed that Europe can take on a pioneering role on major global issues. The signal issued by the summit is this: if we Europeans combine our energies, if we act together, then we can successfully shape the future.

This is entirely in keeping with the motto of the German Presidency, with which we headed the European Council Conclusions, and which I quoted in the earlier debate: “Europe – succeeding together”.

Thank you.

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