Top EU officials: 2009 ‘Year of many dangers’


Amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, resurgent violence and war in the Middle East, a row between Russia and the Ukraine over gas supplies which left Europe freezing, and skyrocketing expectations for the first Afro-American US President, EURACTIV asked European Commission director generals to spell out their hopes for 2009.

To read a short summary of these responses, please click here.

All is not doom and gloom in the Chinese year of the Ox’

David O’Sullivan, Director General Trade

“In the Chinese calendar, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. It is (according to Wikipedia at least) a sign of “prosperity through fortitude and hard work”. I wish us the fortitude and capacity for hard work we will certainly need. I just hope prosperity returns with it. 

2009 promises to be a year of all the dangers. The economic downturn will bite deeply across Europe, unemployment will rise, and public finances will be squeezed just at the moment when public spending becomes more necessary and social discontent is set to increase, especially amongst the generation of young Europeans for whom the word ‘recession’ has little resonance. All this in a year of institutional change, starting with the Parliament elections in June and a change of Commission in the autumn. Public policy will definitely struggle to respond to this situation. But all is not doom and gloom. 

My first wish for 2009 would be that member states’ commitment to intensified coordination of their economic reactions to the crisis, which was heralded by the December European Council’s decision to back President Barroso’s economic recovery plan, will begin to bear fruit. 

My second wish is that trade policy can play a strong role in providing a way out of the tunnel. EU policies in trade can make a real difference in terms of jobs, investment and new opportunities. I will support Catherine Ashton, EU trade commissioner, in her commitment to keeping markets open through a successful Doha Round and by our policy of free trade agreements. We will also need to pay special attention to the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Finally, my personal biggest wish is that my compatriots will feel able to revisit the issue of the Lisbon Treaty and voice their approval. A Europe of 27 or more member states needs the institutional changes and greater democratic accountability that Lisbon would bring. We could then make the transition into the Year of the Tiger in 2010 with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.”

‘Let Europe be an inspiration for the rest of the world’

Catherine Day, European Commission Secretary General

“As 2009 has already shown, Harold Macmillan’s quote about ‘events’ driving policy in reality is still relevant to today’s world. Apart from ‘events’ such as in the Middle East and on gas supplies, it is a safe assumption that 2009 will be dominated by the economic crisis. Households and businesses across Europe are going to face pressures not seen for many years. The lesson we have learnt over the past decade – that globalisation puts a special responsibility on the EU – means that Europeans know that Europe must be part of the solution. And as we have seen in the recent financial crisis, European approaches often inspire action by the rest of the world.

As well as building long-term competitiveness through the Lisbon strategy, the Commission has taken the lead in defining the immediate response. The Commission’s recovery plan endorsed by the December European Council, on top of the action taken to tackle the failings in the financial system, has set out a clear, co-ordinated strategy to arrest the slump and put Europe on the path to recovery. Turning this plan into action in the coming months will be the first priority for this year.

The EU’s place in the world will also be in the spotlight in 2009. A new administration in the United States will give Europe an opportunity to refresh transatlantic relations. And the Copenhagen meeting on climate change will be a key test of the vision and resolution of the international community – with the Commission in the vanguard of European efforts to show how the EU’s agreement on clear, binding action to tackle climate change points the way for global action. 

For the Commission as a whole, the European Parliament elections, a new Commission mandate and – we hope – the putting in place of a new Treaty will bring a particular challenge. The Commission will be working hard to ensure that European integration continues to deliver positive results for Europe’s citizens. 

Communicate in partnership to get citizens on board’

Claus Sorensen, Director General for Communication

“In 2009, the world is facing huge challenges: the financial crisis, climate change, energy security, conflict and instability. EU citizens want solutions now. To respond effectively to such challenges, the European Union would benefit from a simpler, more efficient method of taking decisions. That is why the EU needs the Lisbon Treaty.

The half-a-billion people living in the European Union demand leadership. They want to know what EU leaders are planning, and why. They also expect to have their say. They expect more complete and accessible information, forums for debate and opportunities to make their voices heard. This flow of communication must be in their own language and conveyed by European and national channels – be they political parties, the media or NGOs. 

Under Margot Wallström’s leadership, the directorate general communcation is working hard, together with the other departments of the European Commission, to engage with the citizens and with information “multipliers” not only in Brussels but, more importantly, in all corners of the Union.

This requires partnership. Indeed, the Commission cannot do the job alone. The three main EU institutions and the 27 national governments have now signed up to working together to “communicate Europe in partnership”. I look forward to seeing that agreement implemented! We shall be co-ordinating our efforts to help people understand and agree or disagree on European issues. We shall also encourage EU citizens to exercise their democratic rights by voting in the European Parliament elections in June 2009. They can make a real difference by pushing that button.

So I hope that, by the end of this year, many more people will have joined in the discussion of where Europe should go and where it should help. I also hope that, by the end of this year, a new referendum in Ireland will have given the European Union the new treaty it desperately needs. 

I don’t want the day to come when my children and grandchildren are simply at the receiving end of policies decided in Washington, Beijing or Brasilia because Europe’s inability to take decisions has made it irrelevant. In short, I hope there will be a good turnout at the upcoming European Parliament elections, that a good strong Parliament and Commission will take office for the next legislature and that our Irish friends will help all of us.”

‘A global climate deal is a must for green recovery’

Karl Falkenberg, Director General for Environment

My first priority would certainly be an international climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. The European Union has prepared the ground with its climate and energy package. This must now encourage action at international level to keep global warming below +2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. There is clear political momentum, with a new US administration, positive initiatives coming from China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies, and a better awareness of the urgency to act. 

Wish number two? I want a green recovery. The environment is not a luxury add-on or something that can only be afforded by rich countries or societies enjoying high growth. Instead, it should be driving a new model of development, based on sustainability, efficiency and solidarity. I strongly believe that the answer to the current slowdown is a strong investment push, as proposed by the Commission. This is clearly needed in the energy sector, but it can also help us use resources more efficiently and improve our management of water, biodiversity, soils and waste. We also need to promote new policies on transport, buildings and infrastructures. And there are good social reasons for such a global approach: a European trade union study showed that, if properly managed, fighting climate change could stimulate employment. This is also the case for other environmental priorities. 

My last wish would be to see the environment high on the agenda during the coming European elections. The climate and energy package has enjoyed overwhelming political support in Council and in Parliament. Internationally, everybody sees environment as part of the European DNA. The European Parliament elections are an important opportunity for confirming that Europe stands for a cleaner, healthier and sustainable environment for all European citizens. 

I have every hope that these wishes will come true. They will certainly be the three main priorities for DG Environment. 

‘Invest in knowledge to better equip future generations’

Jose Manual Silva Rodriguez, Director General for Research

“I wish for research to be considered in 2009 as a key investment in our future well-being. I mean investment, because the effort we make today may not be visible for several years. Equally, failure to invest now will cost future generations dearly. This is especially true in the context of the current international economic and financial crisis. The economic downturn does not put in question the main objectives and rationale for building an open European research area (ERA). Only by further investing in knowledge will Europe be able to ensure that its firms and citizens will be better equipped to take advantage of the next economic upswing.

Of course, the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), with an average annual budget of €7 billion, remains in 2009 the cornerstone of the Community effort to realise the ERA. As its predecessors, in contributing to European competitiveness and to achieving the objectives of other Community policies, FP7 is a key component for the Growth and Jobs strategy. As foreseen by the FP7 decision and as part of the interim evaluation of FP7, we will publish at the end of 2009 a progress report giving the initial findings on the effectiveness of the new actions initiated under FP7 and on the efforts made with regard to simplification.

Furthermore, 2009 will see the setting up of the European Energy Research Alliance and European Industrial Initiatives to implement the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan) endorsed by the 2008 Spring European Council, and the beginning of the implementation of the marine strategy on marine and maritime research.”

‘Use EU creative thinking for a lasting modus vivendi in the Middle East’

Eneko Landaburu, Director General for External Relations

“The Commission’s 2009 work programme is called ‘Acting now for a better Europe’. This shows clearly what we need to achieve this year if we are to show our citizens that they have a bright future in Europe: we need to have the courage and the capacity to act in support of our interests and values.

In my area of responsibility, which is foreign policy, that implies that Europe continue to come up with creative approaches, and to apply them with energy and conviction in order to tackle the problems we face.

In the Middle East, this means that the EU needs to leverage the considerable resources which it deploys in the region to support those who will be called on, after the current conflict in Gaza, to develop a more lasting modus vivendi. In the eastern part of our neighbourhood, it means that we need to continue to support the process of establishing confident and stable sovereign countries that began in 1991.

We also need to maintain our attention on fixing a world financial system broken on the back of an historic regulatory failure, and on moving towards a more sustainable economy that will avoid the worst predictions of the effects of climate change.

This year marks twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A whole generation of young Europeans has grown up in freedom, and 1989 has replaced the Second World War as the last great collective European experience. But 2009 also marks forty years since the people of what was then the free half of Europe first voted for their representatives in a democratic European Parliament.

My wish for 2009 is therefore that the people of Europe take the chance offered to them by the unique system of checks and balances which we have built for ourselves, and vote for a strong Europe, which will enable us better to act in their interest around the world.”

‘Rebuild shattered confidence in financial market’ 

Jorgen Holmquist, Director General for Internal Market and Services

“My wish list for the continued economic crisis ahead of us in 2009 is multiple: I would like to see greater understanding right across the board of the role that single market policy can play in addressing the recession and driving recovery. I really believe that the single market is Europe’s most valuable asset, and as such, we need to exploit it to the full, now more than ever.

That’s why we in DG Internal Market and Services produced a report on 16 December outlining measures we have taken or are in the pipeline that will help create the conditions to relaunch the European economy. This report, a snapshot of progress on the implementation of the 2007 Single Market Review, vividly demonstrates the value of the new approaches to policy making we set out in the review, and in particular the importance of a level playing field for companies.

If we want to do that though, we will have to rebuild the shattered confidence in our financial markets. Our citizens want to see us act effectively to ensure that our markets are properly regulated, that our financial institutions manage their risks properly, and that we have in place the right national and international structures to prevent a recurrence of the crisis in the future.

They want to know that it is safe to invest and safe to borrow. This will not be an easy process, but I am confident that we can lay the foundations in 2009. At the heart of this will be our Communication on the future of financial services regulation this spring, and the more detailed White Paper and public consultation that we will hold later in the year.”

‘Poorest countries are part of a new design of governance’

Stefano Manservisi, Director General for Development

“In 2009, we must invest in development as an integral part of the solution to the current crisis.

The year 2008, punctuated by key events from Accra to Doha, has enabled the international community to stay mobilised regarding the stakes for development. With a strong and united voice, the European Union has crucially contributed to keeping up the momentum. The year 2009 features a crisis – or rather crises – situation, in which the poorest developing countries, although alien to the causes, are suffering the full range of consequences.

Given the magnitude of the crisis, 2009 presents risks that we must tackle, but which also conceal opportunities that must urgently be seized. As highlighted in the G20 conclusions in Washington, this is about ensuring first of all that quantitative and qualitative efforts vis-à-vis the poorest countries, notably in terms of better and effective coordination between development backers and actors, do not pay the price of the crisis. At the end of last year, the Union showed the way forward by mobilising an additional one billion euros to respond to the impact of food hikes in poor countries. Others must do the same.

But it will mean subsequently, and primarily I would say, promoting a response that enables the development of more inclusive global governance. We must ensure that developing countries, notably the poorest ones, are involved in the new architecture of global governance.

The Union should also make sure that it changes the deal by promoting a new development paradigm. A paradigm that can prop up political relations, and cooperation instruments that are truly contractual: that envisage development as an integral part of the solution and not as a ‘consequence’ to be treated. For example, this is what the European Union and Africa are trying to build in the framework of their joint strategy. More than ever before, investing in development is about investing in a future of prosperity and affordable sustainable prices. 

I hope that 2009 opens new dimensions for development policy: a true global policy.” 

‘European farmers fully outfitted for bumpy ride in 2009’

Jean-Luc Demarty, Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development

“People often joke that times are always difficult in farming – especially if you ask a farmer. However, for 2009, the outlook is indeed rather bleak. For the last few years, agricultural commodity prices have been on a rollercoaster ride and many farmers have been caught in a price squeeze. Fortunately, we have a few things on the 2009 agenda of DG Agriculture and Rural Development which can help European farmers get through the bumpy ride.

First of all, we will implement the Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy. This will help EU farmers to be more responsive to market signals, while applying an adequate safety net for the rough times. Climate change is high on the agenda – also for agriculture. With the Health Check, we will now boost the support to projects that target challenges such as climate change, but also better water management, biodiversity, and the demand for bioenergy.

The budget review will be high on our agenda as it could give indications on the scope of the CAP after 2013. And we will continue our efforts to secure a deal in the WTO Doha round which could help kick-start the global economy. Although the agricultural chapter is quite far advanced compared to other areas, we will remain focused and committed.

Regarding legislative work, we will put forward a catalogue of ideas on how to improve the policy framework for high-quality food production in the EU. We will also continue our efforts to simplify the CAP. 2009 will be a year of stock-taking and of laying down the path for future actions. So to sum up, for my directorate 2009 will not be a year of quantity in terms of legislation; it will be a year of quality.”

‘More EU budget flexibility to adapt to new economic and political realities’ 

Luis Romero Requena, Director General, DG Budget

“For the European institutions, 2009 will be a year of change. At the end of the year we will have a new European Parliament, a new Commission and, hopefully, a new treaty.

For the economy, 2009 will be very difficult if the reality matches the forecasts. My hope for 2009 is that, as Europeans, we will be able to learn from this experience how to prevent and manage together an economic downturn of a global dimension. In this context, our medium-term objective must be to improve the budgetary framework for the EU.

The EU budget lacks flexibility. One of the lessons that we can already draw from the actual situation is that we do not have the necessary room for manoeuvre to manage the budget and to adapt it to the economic and political realities. The multi-annual financial framework was an improvement on what went before, but we now need to find the way to improve it by increasing its flexibility. This issue has to be solved in the context of the budget review and the future financial package.

The Lisbon Treaty is the first attempt to change the rules for the adoption of the EU budget. To some extent, it incorporates the existing rules agreed by the institutions over the years, but it also introduces some new rules such as the co-decision of the entire budget by European Parliament and Council. The challenge for the future is the development of the implementing rules allowing an efficient procedure for the adoption and adaptation of the annual budget.

To conclude, I hope that we can take advantage of the future negotiations to increase the flexibility of the EU budget in order to make it more relevant to the real concerns of the EU citizens.” 

‘Strong realism to shape education policies for EU’s well-being’ 

Odile Quentin, Director General for Education and Culture

“When making wishes for the New Year, we need to be conscious of the depth and seriousness of the financial crisis and the impact it will have on our ability to plan and to deliver public policies. So I set down my New Year wishes in a strong spirit of realism.

The policy areas for which I have responsibility as Director-General for Education and Culture are all concerned with building Europe’s long-term capacities. Education and training are vital building blocks for the knowledge society and economy on which we base our future strategy. Policies for culture are about defining the shape of Europe, recognising both what unites us and the differences between us. Policies for youth, citizenship and sport bring the European project closer to its citizens. 

My hope for 2009 is that, notwithstanding the need for short-term corrective actions, we continue to build a shared understanding and common purpose between the European institutions, member states, regions and citizens that good policies in these areas are vital for Europe’s well-being. I hope that we can avoid weakening our long-term future capacities. 

Concretely, I look forward to good progress on two initiatives, both potentially important for the future. The European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) has, remarkably quickly, moved from concept to reality and will soon launch the first calls to establish its operational arm, Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs). My hope is that the clear interest shown to date from academia, enterprises and the research world will translate into strong and innovative action. 

Secondly, I hope that 2009, the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, can capture the imagination of policymakers and actors in education, business and in the arts. It should cause us to reflect on how we can stimulate Europe’s creative, innovative and entrepreneurial capacities. It seems clear that, even before the Year has properly begun, we have opened up an interesting and original set of issues. I look forward to a stimulating reflection, one which will map out useful directions for Europe’s future development!” 

‘EU-US relations to give impetus for science policy-making’ 

Roland Schenkel, Director General, Joint Research Centre

“2009 will be a year of change in the European institutions. For a customer-driven organisation, such as the Joint Research Centre (JRC), this means not resting on its merits, but to gain the confidence of new partners while maintaining the high profile with those who have trusted us in past years. 

The JRC will continue to support key policy files such as the energy agenda and the post-Kyoto strategy, the latter to be adopted in Copenhagen in December. Responding to demands of its customer DGs, the JRC will significantly expand its modelling and socio-economic expertise. In addition, the JRC is establishing a clearing house to improve nuclear safety in Europe which will enable the EC and member states to exchange information on best practice in a much more proactive manner than in the past. 

2009 will also see a significant change in the policies of the United States. Hopefully this will not only lead to a new era in transatlantic co-operation, but also to a new impetus for science-based advice to policymaking. Thanks to its intense collaboration with US partners such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the JRC is well prepared to underpin this policy dialogue. Likewise, the JRC will continue to support the EU’s engagement with developing countries, e.g. through the partnership with the African Union. 

Finally, the JRC itself is going to change. Following the excellent results of its ex-post assessment of FP6 activities, led by former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government Sir David King, the JRC is going to implement the recommendations brought forward by the panel. Most notably, this refers to a new corporate strategy for the JRC which will guide its activities in the years to come and strengthen even more the JRC’s pivotal role in supporting legislation and serving society with independent scientific advice.”

‘Smart use of new technologies’

Fabio Colasanti, Director General for Information Society and Media

“In a climate of economic crisis, the digital economy has an essential role to play. Let it suffice to recall that information and communication technologies (ICT) contribute to 50% of the EU’s productivity growth. Investing more in our ICT, telecom and audiovisual industries is therefore essential to helping Europe to come out of the crisis rapidly and with a healthier and stronger knowledge-based society.

More than twenty per cent of the EU population has a broadband connection and two-thirds of Europeans are regular internet users. But that is not enough. Worse, broadband is not even available to seven per cent of EU population yet. We must do everything to bridge this digital divide and help those who are not yet using the Internet to discover its many advantages. To increase trust in the use of the Internet, we will publish a guide on the rights of Internet users. We will also support the growth of basic services online, like e-banking, e-government, healthcare and e-commerce. 

A vibrant telecoms market contributes to economic growth and offers users new services, competitive prices and more choice. I hope the EU legislator will be able to finalise its review of the telecoms rules before the European elections. Take the example of mobile phones: Europe has an incredible 119% mobile penetration rate, one of the highest in the world. Yet mobility beyond national borders has been impeded by excessive charges. The “roaming” Regulation, which should be revised before the summer, will allow consumers and businesses to pay less for calls, text-messages and downloading data while travelling in another EU country. 

Finally, we should be investing more in the smart use of new technologies. They can make a decisive contribution to our objective to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, while creating business opportunities for generations to come.”

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