The fog descends over Brussels. Small snowflakes are falling and it’s cold. A general strike is declared, which means that buses, trains, subways, banks, some shops etc. are closed, so it’s pretty quiet here in Brussels. Many valiant co-workers have walked for over an hour in the cold to get to work today.
The EU Summit has begun. Heads of State and Government have just gone into the Justus Lipsus building opposite the Commission building. Expectations are fairly subdued; we seem to have had a flood of Summits recently. An agreement is expected on the fiscal compact. There have been intensive negotiations and now it seems that most countries feel that they can participate. I’m very happy about the deal struck between the Swedish Government and the Social Democrats of Sweden on joining the pact. It is always better to influence and have a seat at the table, and even if Sweden doesn’t have the Euro as its currency, as a country it too is deeply affected by developments in the eurozone.
The economic situation will of course be discussed as well as unemployment and how we can stimulate growth. It is essential that we now leave the navel-gazing and the minute drafting of the fiscal compact, which will only have an effect only in the long term; and focus discussions on growth, growth, growth. The youth unemployment rate in Spain for example is 40%, so it’s not like we don’t have things to talk about.
This morning, I attended this week’s Commission meeting, where we discussed the preparations for the EU summit here in Brussels on Monday. Member states are expected to agree (or not agree) on the so-called euro pact, or fiscal compact. The latest draft should not be difficult for countries like Sweden or Denmark to accept. And in the case of Denmark, the government has the Parliament’s support to join.
From all around, we are being showered with gloomy economic forecasts. That is why it is so important that the compact isn’t the only issue disussed at the summit on Monday, but rather that heads of state and government discuss growth, growth and growth above all.
Today, we have also presented a legislative proposal on data protection in the EU in order to strengthen the integrity of individuals, for example on the internet – a very important issue. In our information society, where communication to a great extent is carried out online, it is increasingly important to have clear rules on who is allowed to use personal data, when it can be used and for what purposes. Also, clear sanctions are needed against those who abuse such data. At the same time, regulation must not hinder the use of the internet as a modern means of communication.
During the preparatory work of the proposal, it has been important to me and my staff to ensure that private, individual bloggers and people using social media like Facebook or Twitter would not be encompassed by this legislation – that, for example, you would not have to obtain permission before mentioning someone in a blog post. It has also been important to make sure that there is as little added bureaucracy as possible for small companies or local authorities. More info on the proposal can be found here.
In a few hours, I’m off to Copenhagen for an informal ministerial meting starting tomorrow morning. This is the first ministerial with the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers during the Danish Presidency. During the meeting, we will discuss our work against terrorism, solidarity in asylum policies as well as the green paper on family reunification, among other issues.