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President Barroso, Rector Hemmingsen, Assistant Professor Adler-Nissen, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me. And thanks to all of you for coming today. It is always great to be back at the University of Copenhagen
Let me thank the University and the European Commission for organizing what has so far been a highly successful series of public debates about the EU.
Many of the most difficult and urgent challenges have been discussed. As policy-maker and Prime Minister in charge of the Danish EU Presidency, I appreciate the input and inspiration provided.
I am a firm believer in spirited and informed public debate as an instrument to help shape government decisions. In particular, I believe in the importance of engaging young people. You will inherit the Europe we try to shape.
These debates are perhaps even more important when times are tough. The inter-dependence between the Member States of the EU means that the crisis has an impact everywhere.
Millions of Europeans are finding themselves at the receiving end of cut-backs, lay-offs, bankruptcies, rising debt and a frozen housing market.
That is also why I continue to argue that the need for a Europe that sticks together and acts in concert is greater than it has been for a long, long time.
The European debt crisis cannot be handled by any individual Member State acting alone and uncoordinated.
To handle the crisis, Member States must co-operate, make compromises and align their different capabilities in order to achieve maximum firepower.
The economic crisis – and I want to be completely frank about this – has put the co-operation within the EU under strain. It has, however, also made it abundantly clear that the way forward goes through enhanced co-ordination, stronger common rules and more joint action.
In the last months, some have criticized the EU for not taking appropriate action.
I strongly oppose this view.
The actions over the last months have showed that the EU is willing to act together and act in solidarity:
The fiscal compact, the new bail-out programme for Greece, the strengthening of the firewall and the structural reforms under way at national levels. These are common actions show that we can act together.
Many countries, for example Ireland, Italy and Spain have initiated substantial reforms of the labour markets that will make a difference. And a wide range of countries are liberalizing their product and service markets and taking other steps to enhance competition, for instance the Baltic countries.
These are all examples of an EU and its Member States willing to take necessary and far-reaching decisions.
And let’s not forget, these are decisions that hardly anyone thought possible just a few years ago.
But let me also underline that recent developments have shown that the debt crisis is far from over. We need to keep up our efforts to conduct sound fiscal policies in all member states.
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Thanks to Denmark’s particular history in the EU - being a small country outside the Euro-zone, with a fixed-exchange rate vis-à-vis the Euro, - our Presidency is well placed to act as a bridge-builder.
Today, there is a widespread recognition among Member States that by pulling together politically and economically at this difficult point in time, Europe might come out stronger on the other side than we had envisaged just a few months ago.
The lesson is that whatever one country chooses to do - it will affect the rest. And that our solutions must be carried out in coordination with one another.
All Member States must keep their own house in order. Not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the whole.
Our individual sovereignty, our individual room for maneuver, depend on the actions of others with whom we share trade, borders and values. It has always been like this – but the crisis has made it even clearer to us all.
And knowing this, we must take the appropriate measures to move Europe forward.
This is why the Danish Presidency remains committed to a positive agenda for Europe. An agenda focused on stimulating economic growth and promoting job creation.
This requires a broad-based effort spanning across many different policy areas. We are trying to bring forward 12 initiatives that will modernize the Single Market and improve the business climate in Europe.
Last month, we concluded negotiations with the European Parliament on the revision of the roaming regulation and we soon hope to adopt the regulation on a European system of standardisation. This will help the spread of new technology in Europe, reduce administrative burdens on companies and create a new basis for growth.
In the on-going negotiations on the next EU-budget, we are seeking to build a consensus in favour of allocating more funds towards growth-enhancing areas like research, education, energy efficiency and green technologies.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the theme for our discussion today – “The future of the EU – moving forward together?” implies a Europe at a crossroads.
A Crossroads, where we need to choose.
But is the choice really between on the one hand - old-style European politics with a few great powers dominating their smaller neighbours on a divided continent, and on the other - a situation where we are forced to plunge ourselves into new treaties leading to a “united states” of Europe?
I don’t think so.
I don’t believe that any of these two destinations for Europe will find much favour with the great majority of European citizens. Nor are they in our interest.
What I do believe is that Europe will be capable of working its way out of the current crisis through a relentless focus on achieving tangible results and by applying our expanded economic tool-box in a clever way.
This is what European integration has always been about: finding pragmatic and flexible solutions to common challenges.
And I promise you: it is also what the remainder of the Danish EU Presidency will be about.