I welcome this debate, which takes place only two weeks before the European Council discusses Wim Kok's report on the Lisbon Agenda. This is the European Union's most pressing issue. The health of the European economy is a matter of deep concern to millions of our citizens who remain without a job. It is of vital concern to future competitiveness that Europe will need to deal with the twin challenges of major demographic change and the competition that we are increasingly facing from China, India and other emerging economies.
In July, when Prime Minister Balkenende addressed Parliament, he said that Europe's economy has 'stiff joints and makes little use of its head'. This makes our competitors too quick and too smart for us. Anyone who looks objectively at the developments sees that Europe is losing ground, even in periods of economic recovery. These were wise words and I applaud the priority which the presidency is giving to the economic sclerosis that affects significant areas of this continent. If we do not push radical economic reform, then Europe will fail. This does not apply only to our current generation: it will also leave a legacy of failure for those who come after us.
Mr Prodi claimed earlier this week that the reason for the failure of the Lisbon process is the lack of majority voting in the European Union. What nonsense! The failure lies in the lack of political will to pursue the reforms that are plainly needed. Some people are trying to recast Lisbon to place more emphasis on the social and environmental goals at the expense of the hard economic decisions that are required. It is no surprise to me that the nations of Europe that are producing economic growth are those that have pushed the necessary reforms. No-one denies that these reforms were painful, but they were necessary.
It seems to me that Parliament, the Commission and the Kok Working Group all agree that real progress needs to be made. The question is whether Europe has the courage to move to action, rather than just continuing to express words.