SPANISH PRESIDENCY DEBATE
Mr President, Prime Minister Aznar's performance this morning suggests that his Presidency promises to be focussed and business-like, and committed to addressing the big issues.
The Spanish Presidency has many tasks on the international front. Carrying forward the global war on terrorism is the most difficult and the most important. The Presidency has promised to "resolutely promote solidarity" with the United States at this time of crisis, and it is right to do so. But other foreign problems will crowd in. In Zimbabwe, we have a growing tragedy which requires urgent EU action: smart sanctions need to be introduced immediately and a clear message sent about the dangerous consequences of the criminal path on which Mr Mugabe is currently engaged.
The Spanish Presidency faces similar challenges on the economic front. If Europe is serious about making itself "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010", then Barcelona promises to be a moment of truth. We simply cannot afford continued failure. Europe has to get it right.
Since Stockholm, things have in fact moved backwards. The liberalising agenda has become bogged down by new social and environmental targets. In the last year, we have seen at least three new EU directives which directly reduce labour market flexibility, with more in the pipeline, as well as new national laws, as in France, that tie the hands of business. This is a job-destroying agenda.
In the target sectors for greater competition, the picture is frankly unacceptable. In financial services and telecoms, for instance, liberalisation is proceeding too slowly. The freeing up of energy markets and postal services is way behind schedule.
If Europe really wants to emerge as the global economic leader by the end of this decade, it must show real commitment. We need to make it easier to start and run a business, and to keep and invest profits. That means a lot of vested interests will need to be confronted. We look to Prime Minister Aznar to lead the way.