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Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much indeed for inviting me to participate in this Forum.
Just a few months ago the world was looking anxiously to the financial crisis in Europe. Meanwhile the euro is again rising against the emerging economies’ currencies. Economic forecasts suggest that Europe’s economy will grow by 1.4 percent in 2014. There are increasing indications that Europe is over the worst. But we are not out of the woods yet.
This development would be inconceivable without substantial efforts at national level. Spain is an outstanding example here. Only a year ago, the Government was being urged on many sides to apply for a full rescue package. Not only has your country managed to get through the crisis without a full bailout package, it will even be able to end the banking rescue plan very soon. I would like to congratulate Spain on this achievement.
Over the past few years Spain has introduced decisive reforms on the labour market and with regard to the restructuring of the banking system and the consolidation of public budgets.
We in Germany are aware of the difficult situation facing many Spaniards. But I am confident that the major reforms your country has undertaken will pay off in the foreseeable future. Germany has supported Spain in these efforts from the outset.
Tackling youth unemployment is our common goal. We are helping to find training places in Germany for young Spaniards. This cooperation between our two countries aimed at improving vocational training for young people will have more than just an immediate benefit.
German businesses are making an important contribution too. Almost 1200 German companies are active in Spain, providing some 300,000 jobs.
The economic indicators for Spain are already pointing to improvement: the risk premium for Spanish government bonds has fallen steeply, Spanish exports are on the up again, and the current account is likely to be in the black this year. Confidence in Spain as a location for business is returning.
We are all delighted about that. I believe we need to learn again to open our ears to good news as well as bad. Nevertheless, we must not forget the strategic situation.
The real competition is not among us Europeans. The real competition is between Europe and the world. If we look beyond the shores of our own continent, we see a world undergoing sweeping change.
In recent years China has grown at a speed that generates the economic strength of Spain every twelve months. Today India is already home to more than twice as many people as the entire European Union. In less than 30 years it will be three times as many. In 2000 there were just 200,000 Internet users in Viet Nam. Today the number is 30.8 million.
What we have here are new global players with considerable economic clout which aspire to play an increasingly prominent role in the conduct of world affairs, on the political stage, too.
There is no guarantee of the great prosperity we enjoy in Europe, which makes life here so attractive. It is crucial that we Europeans make good use of the pressure to change that has emerged from the crisis. The reform course we have agreed in Europe is one we must stick to.
The triad of solidarity, consolidation and new growth through increased competitiveness is bearing fruit.
We know that no European member state will remain strong and well in the long term if Europe itself becomes the sick man. We cannot detach our fate from that of Europe. We Europeans are bound together by a common destiny.
Just last week in Kyiv I was able to see for myself what an attraction our European values and ideals exert. The pro-Europe demonstrations in Ukraine have been going on for almost three weeks now. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to call for their country to move closer to the EU. The way in which the Ukrainian Government reacts to the pro-European demonstrations will also be an indicator of how serious the country is about leaning towards Europe on the basis of shared values and ideals.
We need to protect and propagate these shared values. Our fundamental values are our trump card in this globalised world. If we can live up to our own standards, we have every reason to enter this contest over values and social systems with our heads held high.
Together with a number of EU colleagues I have launched a legislative initiative to ensure better protection of European fundamental values and principles of the rule of law, including within the Union. Efficient institutions, effective decision-making procedures and democratic legitimacy are the major priorities for the coming years.
Only if we Europeans act together will we be able to stand up for our liberal lifestyles and our social market economy model in a world of change. Europe is more than a single market and a single currency. Europe is a community with a common destiny and shared culture. In our changing world we must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who share our values.
Thank you very much.