As you know, the Commission I have the honour of presiding is a political one, with a political mission.
As I said in my recent State of the Union address “political” means tackling the great challenges that stand before us today.
Being political is about leadership, about taking decisions. Which is why this Commission has chosen to focus on ten political priorities.
Boosting jobs, growth and investment. Creating a Digital Single Market, an Energy Union, and a new Migration policy – to name but a few.
But don’t worry, I won’t repeat the entire State of the Union speech, here. As it seems, the speech was too long, it took 80 minutes because people normally expect that you can explain the world, the future of the world, the past of the world in ten minutes. I am not able to do that and 80 minutes were not sufficient. But I will need less time today than the other day at the European Parliament. Because Kristalina offered me fifteen minutes. Yes, fifteen minutes I was told.
Politics in a democracy is also about being accountable.
As politicians, we are accountable to Parliament, to some extent to the Council and Member States, and to the people of Europe, who want us to create jobs and growth and expect us to solve the refugee crisis.
You can hold us to account on our achievements, and as a political leader among others, I am welcoming that.
Today, under the leadership of Kristalina, we discussed the EU budget. We need a budget to achieve our aims. The budget for us is therefore not an accounting tool, but a means to achieve our political goals.
Just look at the central role of the budget is playing in the Commission’s work.
It is not an accident that I created the post of a Vice President responsible specifically for the budget.
This cements the key role of the budget in the very heart of the Commission´s tools.
And it is no accident that I asked Kristalina Georgieva, a politician of exceptional skill and talent, to fulfil this role. I am not fishing for compliments. I am describing the Vice-President.
She is making sure that all parts of the Commission play by the same financial rulebook.
To me, now more than ever, what is important is what we can do with our budget.
We need now, first and foremost, to use the budget to solve the refugee crisis.
Last week I said: There is not enough Europe in this Union.
Refugees are sleeping out in the street; in the rain – in 2015, in Europe.
It is September. It is getting colder.
History will hold us to account if we do not succeed in solving this crisis in a humane and civilized manner.
We see countries closing their borders and some of them are closing their hearts.
Closing borders is not the solution. If you have survived bombs and warfare, and crossed the Mediterranean in a rubber boat, a fence won’t stop you.
I call on all Member States to recognise this reality and show solidarity.
And I ask the countries of Europe, the citizens of Europe, to show solidarity with those people who have fled their homes, seeking safety.
Solidarity is an easy word to pronounce, but it is an empty word if it is not followed up by action.
Member States have finally agreed to relocate 40,000 people. The Council is meeting – as we are speaking – in an extraordinary meeting to discuss our proposal to relocate another 120,000 people.
The Council is also discussing our other proposals. Living up to our legal and moral obligations has of course a financial impact. We will need more resources for Frontex and other EU agencies, and we must invest in the neighbouring region where the burden of hosting refugees is even by far higher than it is for us.
Sometimes I am asking myself, if the Lebanese people – 25% of the Lebanese population are refugees – if the Jordanian people – they have 600,000 people – do understand what we are discussing here: 120,000. We are ridiculous giving the magnitude of the problem. But this is not the time for business as usual. I said it before: if you really want to help these people, you have to put your money where your mouth is. Provide us with the funds needed to combat this crisis.
Last week I announced proposals to establish a Trust Fund to tackle root causes of irregular migration in parts of Africa.
In our draft budget for 2016, we have planned a big increase for two Funds dealing with Asylum and Security. These funds underpin the migration package presented by First Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Avramopoulos.
For 2016, we have set aside nearly €9 billion to respond to external crises, such as those in Ukraine and in Syria.
As I said last week, we will propose steps towards a European Border and Coast guard. Naturally, we will have to find appropriate funds for this, too.
We are not, as Commission, asking for a blank cheque and I know well that times are still difficult everywhere, but less in this part of the world than in other parts of the world.
Our budget is limited
Our proposed budget for next year is €143.5 billion. This is an increase of 1.6 per cent in nominal terms, but not in real terms, adjusted for inflation.
Our proposed budget is less than half the annual budget of Belgium less than half the annual budget of Austria, or €80 cents per day for every European for one year. That’s half a cup of coffee in many places, certainly in Brussels; in Luxembourg it is more costly.
Deciding what to spend this budget on is a political decision.
The refugee crisis is the most acute example. But let me give you some examples of what we do in support of our ten main political priorities:
- In July, we proposed a €35 billion package to help Greece grow. The money is there. Greece has to take it.
- We plan to use nearly half of next year’s budget to stimulate growth, employment and competitiveness. That is our main duty for the next coming years.
- For 2016, we have set aside more than €1.5 billion for the Connecting Europe Facility. This directly supports political priorities such as the Digital Single Market and the Energy Union. That sounds like nothing, it is millions of jobs, it is growth, it is organising European attractiveness for others.
- For 2016, we have proposed a rise in payments for Horizon 2020, our research and innovation programme.
Our means are limited. It is not enough to allocate money wisely. We will have to do more, with less. We need to get the best out of the budget and spend money smartly.
This is why we need a better budget, a budget focused – as Kristalina is saying – on results.
We need to make every euro count.
For instance, by using existing EU funds to stimulate private sector investment.
In fact, that’s the idea behind the Commission’s €315 billion investment plan, called Juncker plan. I do not like the name. I do not know who decided to call this the Juncker plan, but they need someone to be guilty if it is not a success. And so they decided to call this the Juncker plan.
But I am pleased that the first projects are now coming off the ground, projects dealing with research into Alzheimer’s disease and energy-efficient buildings.
We should make every euro count twice, by making it achieve multiple objectives. For instance, if we create jobs in the renewable energy sector, we get two objectives for the price of one.
People want us to achieve results. They also want to know how we spend the tax payer’s money.
And I completely agree with them.
We are accountable, not just for our actions, but also for the money we spend and the way we are spending this money. We need to be sure that European funds have been spent correctly and effectively.
In my mission letter to the Vice- President, to Kristalina, I asked her to make budgetary control more effective.
Audits are necessary. But too much red tape can prevent companies from setting up innovative projects. I am speaking to my good friend, the President of the Court of Auditors, whom I meet tomorrow. I am repeating, audits are necessary, but too much red tape is not good.
But rules must also ensure that we have the right level of control on how money is spent.
So, we need to strike a healthy balance: we need rules that ensure accountability, and at the same time guarantee precise results.
To be accountable, we have also to be visible. What is the use of producing results and transparency, if nobody knows about it?
Today we have the opportunity to frankly discuss our budget, its merits and its deficiencies. And today we should examine how we together can improve the way we work.
This conference today is an excellent start, the beginning of the road towards a better budget. There are several things we need to keep in mind along that way.
If we want a better budget, we should not forget to involve, at all stages and at all levels, the Member States, the European Parliament who is a branch of the budgetary authority. Sometimes Member States do forget about that.
We have to involve the Member States, the Parliament because these two are sharing responsibility with us for large parts of the EU budget.
We have to constantly ask ourselves, all of us: are we spending the EU budget for the right things and in the right way?
This is not only relevant when we have the next mid-term review of the budget, or when we draft proposals for the next multi-annual financial framework; an exciting job waiting for Kristalina.
We have to be able to quickly respond to sudden European crises. I think of the refugee crisis of course, but also of our recent €500 million aid package for the farmers.
The budget is not there for the Commission. It is there to improve life for all Europeans.
We need a budget aimed at results, rather than rules.
A road to nowhere built according to the rules, is still a road to nowhere.
We should not spend money just to obey the rules. It is important. But we should invest it with results in mind.
To be precise: our ten political priorities, and, at this very moment, a solution to the refugee crisis.
This approach to the budget, which you have discussed this will not only help us to achieve our political goals.
It will also help us prove that we perform well, and that we can spend wisely.
Because to me, the budget is not about accounting, it is about being accountable.
L´affaire budgétaire que je connais depuis toujours – j´ai présidé le Conseil budget pour la première fois en juillet 1985; la plupart d’entre vous n´était pas encore née – est une affaire importante. On sous-estime l´importance de ce mécanisme de solidarité et d´action.
Je suis celui qui regrette le plus que la plupart des ministres des finances s´en désintéressent. Le Conseil budget, très souvent, est composé par des Secrétaires d´État aux affaires étrangères qui évidemment maitrisent la situation planétaire mais pas toujours la situation budgétaire ou par les représentants permanents adjoints. Je voudrais que la discussion du budget ainsi que sa préparation regagne le centre des intérêts des gouvernements parce que l´affaire budgétaire est importante. J´y attache la plus grande importance. Raison pour laquelle je me répète, j´ai désigné dans la personne de Kristalina une Vice-Présidente aux affaires budgétaires qui par ses fonctions présidentes sait de quoi est fait le monde et de ce que devrait être fait l’Europe.
Donc, prenons le budget européen au sérieux! Ne dépensons pas l´argent comme cela mais concentrons les dépenses sur les grandes priorités que la Commission suite à un mandat du Conseil européen a su définir.
Ich danke Ihnen für die Aufmerksamkeit, die Sie mir haben zu Gute kommen lassen.