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17. 3. 2009 15:48

Statement delivered by A. Vondra on the Conference: Industrial competitiveness

Conference „Industrial competitiveness – Challenges, opportunities and the role of policy in difficult times“ Panel 1: Did European industrial policy deliver? Brussels, March 17th, 2009

Mr. Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen,
The motto of the Czech Presidency is „Europe without barriers“. When we chose this slogan 3 years ago, we wanted to express our commitment to free trade and our firm belief that EU´s global competitiveness can be best boosted by enhancing four fundamental freedoms of the Single Market. Today this belief remains the same, but what has changed is the context: from what was meant to be a liberal offensive, crisis has made a rather defensive mission.
Czech Republic´s industry is a working example of how prosperity can be forged thanks to the open markets and the level playing field granted by the Single Market. Today, Czechs are presiding over the Council for the first time in their history, which builds up our feeling of responsibility for the future of the EU. For both of these reasons, the Czech Presidency feels the duty to promote and defend, hand in hand with the Commission, the principles of the Single Market and of a non-interventionist industrial policy. This is also the main message that we would like to send out at the upcoming Spring European Council. Let me mention just three points, relevant for today´s conference topic – the role of policy in difficult times:

1) Recovery must be played by the rules. The European Council will send out a strong message that getting real economy back on track is our priority. Member States have launched significant recovery programmes, which are now well underway. The overall stimulus this offers represents 3.3% of the EU's GDP or over 400 billion Euros. Of course, Member States' responses are different. They face different situations, and have different margins for manoeuvre. But we are going to insist at the European Council, that measures taken by Member States to support the real economy and employment should be implemented in a timely, targeted and temporary manner, while respecting the following guiding principles: promoting openness within the internal market and vis-?-vis third countries; ensuring non discrimination of products and services from other Member States and ensuring consistency with long-term reform objectives. Which brings me to my second point.

2) The economic downturn should be seen as an opportunity for new advances to address today’s global challenges. The European Council is going to insist, that the renewed Lisbon Strategy remains the effective framework for increasing EU´s competitiveness. Structural reforms bolster the credibility and complementary impact of stimulus measures. The short-term measures taken by the EU and the Member States must be in line with the medium- and long-term objectives of the Strategy. We should speed-up work and take measures in the following areas: removing barriers while preventing the creation of new ones and achieving a fully operational internal market; further reducing administrative burdens; improving framework conditions for industry in order to maintain a strong industrial base and for businesses with a special focus on SMEs and innovation; stepping up and improving the quality of investment in knowledge, education and research. The 2009 Key Issue Paper, adopted 2 weeks ago at the Competitiveness Council, has identified several additional measures to improve framework conditions for industry: such as implementing the Small business act, facilitating the flow of lending to the real economy or bringing the European patent finally into being.

3) Protectionism is NOT a way out of the crisis. Protectionist action triggers protectionist reaction. Protectionism is making it harder for European producers to access third country markets. For the prosperity of an economy, whose exports (excluding intra-community trade) equalled to 1,133 trillion USD in 2008, this would be a lethal policy. We are committed to avoiding any new trade restrictions being created towards third countries and expect the same attitude from our trading partners. The up-coming European Council is going to call for a swift conclusion of bilateral trade negotiations and of the WTO Doha Development Agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no better way to finish this statement than by expressing my thanks to the Commission and specifically to Commissioner Verheugen, who has played an extremely important role both in seeking tools for responding to the crisis, as well as being a guardian of the Treaty and the long-term interests of the EU. An efficient Commission is a blessing for every Presidency. I believe that together we will stand the test of this crisis, like the EU already successfully did so many times in the past.

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