I cannot start our conference today without first paying tribute to the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in a car bomb in Malta on Monday. I am convinced that the Maltese authorities will do everything in their power to investigate and bring to light all the circumstances of this hideous crime. In this extraordinary moment, we remember all the journalists who have lost their lives realising their mission. I have been a journalist myself for many years and this is why I know what you feel today. Let us observe a minute’s silence for Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Turning to our work today. Yet again, our Tripartite Social Summit took place in the context of positive economic news. The European economy has finally woken up. GDP growth in the European Union is above 2 per cent, unemployment has fallen to below 8 per cent. The euro area is recording its fastest growth rate since 2011. In fact, the European recovery is no longer a recovery but a European economic expansion. In short, the economic success story of 2017.
It is our common task now to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared as widely as possible. And this is why in our meeting today we discussed, in very concrete terms, how the social partners can be better involved in national policy-making. I remain convinced that only by taking the views of social partners into account can we make real progress. This is especially important in today’s digital age, where citizens, young and old, need to be equipped with the right skills to prosper. This is what I discussed not only with the social partners today but also with the European leaders at the Digital Summit in Tallinn. And at the meeting of the European Council tomorrow, the spirit of Tallinn will drive our political decisions.
The leaders will also discuss migration. As you all know, the Italian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Gentiloni has effectively begun stemming the high flows on the Central Mediterranean we have witnessed since 2014. Thanks to Italy, the numbers of irregular migrants and deaths at sea are finally coming down. But we cannot only remain grateful to Italy. The European Union must now step up its efforts to help. Our Member States should be ready to commit more money to the Trust Fund for Africa. And the European Commission, which is managing this Fund, should make sure that the money is well targeted on stemming irregular migration. I will invite a frank and serious debate among the leaders, so that we sort out this problem once and for all.
On Friday, the European Council will be meeting at 27 to discuss Brexit. I have worked for a balanced message to come out of this meeting. There is clearly not the “sufficient progress” that we had hoped for. So we cannot yet proceed to the second phase of negotiations. However, while progress is not sufficient, there is promising progress, especially following the speech by Prime Minister May in Florence. I will therefore recommend the EU27 to begin internal preparations for talks on the transition and the future relationship.
Last night, I circulated to EU leaders a new agenda to guide the work of the European Union up to June 2019. This is the result of a full round of one-to-one consultations with leaders since our meeting in Tallinn a few weeks ago. From all quarters, there is now a new willingness to energise and enrich our work, draw on new ideas, maintain our unity and increase the dynamism of the EU. I will be calling on leaders to work together according to a strict timetable on the issues we have identified as the most pressing, from migration to EMU reform, where we are deadlocked and where the Gordian knot needs to be cut.
Unity is the objective of the Leaders’ Agenda. Because it is my firm belief that unity is a value in itself and that ambition should not be an excuse for division. So the starting point will always be EU27 or, where appropriate, EU28. However, unity cannot be a synonym for stagnation either.
The social dimension will be an important part of this new agenda. And already in a month from now, at the Göteborg Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, leaders will have the opportunity to discuss social issues. Today’s summit with the social partners was an excellent beginning in this regard. Thank you.