By Nicolai Wammen - 10th January 2012
The negotiations on the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the period 2014-2020 will be high on our agenda, and it is crucial that new MFF will channel more funds to growth-enhancing areas like research, education and green technologies
The Danish presidency will spend the next six months working to secure the EU's short, medium and long-term goals, writes Nicolai Wammen.
Throughout most of 2011, the European debt crisis has dominated the agenda of ministerial meetings in Brussels and the member states. The debt crisis and the difficulties in the eurozone that we are experiencing have been categorised as representing an existential threat to the EU. There is no reason to pretend otherwise. As a consequence, the crisis will constitute the framework environment, within which the Danish presidency will have to navigate. In this context, the Danish government will do its utmost to ensure that the EU remains operational, able to produce concrete results and united as a family of 27 member states.
Naturally, we will focus on the immediate economic crisis management and we will work as hard as possible to push through EU legislation aimed at stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, imposing stronger budgetary discipline and better economic governance. Targeted measures within these areas are important, but they must be accompanied by structural reforms and fiscal consolidation at the level of member states. All of this will be necessary to overcome the current crisis, and the Danish presidency will approach the task of pushing these issues forward with the urgency that the present situation requires. Denmark does not have the euro, but we are as concerned about the depth of the crisis in the eurozone as its members. With regard to the priorities for Denmark’s EU presidency, they will centre around four key objectives: ensuring an economically responsible Europe, helping the EU return to growth, promoting a green agenda in Europe and ensuring a secure Europe, both externally and internally.
Our philosophy behind these four objectives is that long-term debt reduction in member states is only realistic if our economies achieve higher growth rates. We must stimulate growth while we simultaneously tighten our belt. To perform this delicate balancing act we must become better at obtaining more with less. We must become better at squeezing more value out of every euro spent. The EU has room for improvement here.
In addition, the EU needs to produce more tangible results by applying the community method. Because the approach of Jean Monnet – the logic of small steps based on lessons learned rather than grand, ideological projects – still works. It is by producing added value of real importance to the daily life of Europe’s people that the EU can move forward and ultimately gain the public trust that it needs.
With regard to the first priority, it is clear that we need to re-establish order and stability in the European economies. We need to respond effectively and convincingly to the immediate threat posed by unsustainable debt levels in some European economies. We can only solve our common challenges if we manage to find common solutions, but we must also live up to our common responsibilities. This implies a political willingness to implement and comply with new rules on economic governance. These new rules will be implemented for the first time during the Danish presidency through the first full European semester. Among other things, it will include improved procedures for monitoring economies, structural reforms and enhanced budgetary discipline in member states.
The negotiations on the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the period 2014-2020 will be high on our agenda, and it is crucial that new MFF will channel more funds to growth-enhancing areas like research, education and green technologies. We plan to have the MFF on the agenda for four to six general affairs council meetings during the Danish presidency. We will also put the MFF on the Ecofin agenda, in order to get crucial input from finance ministers. During the first months of our presidency we will focus on finalising technical clarification. And as we move along we will gradually move into a more political phase, where we intend to start narrowing the gap between member states positions. We will focus debates in council on the principles and parameters which are important for the overall picture and each heading. The outcome of this will form the basis for the negotiating box we hope to be able to present to you in the latter part of our presidency.
This was also how it was done last time the MFF was negotiated. The idea is to outline the structure of the final deal, and to identify the central elements, which will have to be part of the final deal. Hopefully we will be able to present a full negotiating box at the council in June where as many of these issues as possible are settled. This will provide the council with a basis to finalise negotiations, including on numbers, before the end of 2012. We will press ahead with technical, as well as political, clarification during our presidency. And we will do our utmost to develop the basis for the final negotiations to be concluded by the Cypriot presidency and EU president Herman Van Rompuy.
As a second objective for the Danish presidency, we want to promote the further development of the single market. 2012 marks the 20-year anniversary of the single market and over the years that have passed it has proved to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of the EU. But there is still a large unused potential in the single market that may assist our common endeavours of turning things around and further promoting cross-border cooperation and interaction in Europe. The commission proposes 12 concrete initiatives aimed at improving the business climate in Europe. This will include, among other things, better online security for consumers and lower roaming charges when people use their cell phones abroad. Another key part of a modernised single market will be an efficient and user-friendly EU patent system. It will allow businesses across Europe to avoid having to submit applications with 27 different national patent authorities in order to acquire an EU wide patent protection. If things go as planned in Brussels, European companies will soon be able to escape this hideous paperwork as they will only have to submit one single application to a European patent office. These are some of the initiatives that the Danish presidency wishes to pursue along with more bilateral trade agreements between the EU and third countries.
Despite the difficult economic crisis that Europe is struggling with today, we must not forget about the bigger picture. We must keep the long-term growth prospects in mind, while we engage in the immediate crisis-handling. Our economies must be sustainable in the long run. Therefore, the Danish government wish to put more emphasis on green growth as our third big priority. The EU has in recent years taken the lead globally by developing an ambitious energy and climate policy. It is essential in our view that we continue Europe’s transition to a greener and more sustainable economy by creating growth without increasing our consumption of resources and energy. This does not happen on its own. We need to work hard and agree on new initiatives if we are to maintain our comparative advantage to other regions of the world. Otherwise, we run the risk that knowledge-intensive jobs and high-tech research capabilities will move to other countries that possess a clear understanding of how to invest in the transition to a green economy.
In business, as well as in sports, there can be times when playing defence is not really an option if you want to safeguard your position and achieve a positive outcome. Sometimes, you can be forced to play offensively, even though you have been dealt a weak hand and most people expect you to lie low. I firmly believe that Europe finds itself at such a moment in time today in relation to the green agenda. If we want to preserve our prosperity and our impressive living standards in the longer term, we cannot afford to be constrained by short-term thinking and forget about the bigger picture. If Europe is to thrive in a new world order characterised by the rise of non-European giants like China, India and Brazil, as well as by international competition to acquire scarce natural resources, we must dramatically upscale our research and investments in green technologies, renewable energy and energy efficiency. This is not just about achieving some favourable strategic goal 30 years from now, but just as much about creating new knowledge-based jobs in Europe in the short term. New jobs will appear as a spin-off and as short-term economic gains from embarking on a green growth path.
European governments should make it highly likely that tomorrow’s technological advances within solar power or nanotechnology are fostered by Europeans. We should make it highly likely that the next generation of windmills is conceived by European engineers and that the fourth generation of biofuels is developed by European scientists. The Danish presidency will work hard to promote the green agenda, but we will do it in a consensus-seeking, result-oriented and inclusive way. Needless to say, we will also put a lot of effort into the negotiations on the energy efficiency directive and on the follow-up to the EU’s climate road map.
As our fourth priority, the Danish presidency will take the lead on a number of important initiatives within justice and home affairs. The first months of the Arab spring caused thousands of north African people to head north towards Europe in search of shelter. It underlines the need to finalise the EU’s common European asylum system in order to ensure appropriate reception and treatment throughout Europe. The Danish presidency will work for a well-functioning European asylum system and a stronger Schengen cooperation.
Despite the fact that we live in times of crisis, we must not forget the long-term challenges that await the EU at the end of the crisis. The Danish presidency will do its utmost to address both short-term and long-term challenges and opportunities within the scope of our responsibilities and contribute as much as we possibly can. By standing as one, I am confident that the EU will succeed in pulling Europe out of the crisis.
Nicolai Wammen is Denmark's minister for European affairs