Tagged: Market

CALENDRIER du 13 avril au 19 avril 2015

(Susceptible de modifications en cours de semaine)

Déplacements et visites

Lundi 13 avril

President Jean-Claude Juncker meets with Mr Vítor Caldeira, President of the European Court of Auditors and with Mr Henri Grethen, European Court of Auditors’ Member Luxembourg.

Mr Frans Timmermans reçoit M. Jean-Louis Nadal, Président de la Haute Autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives Mr Peter Faross, Secretary General of The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME).

Ms Federica Mogherini and Mr Johannes Hahn attend the Informal Ministerial Meeting with Southern Partners on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Barcelona, Spain.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives Mr Thierry Breton, Chairman and CEO of Atos.

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis makes a European Semester country visit to Rome; meets Mr Pier Carlo Padoan, Minister of Economy and Finance; Mr Giuliano Poletti, Minister of Labour, Mr Ignazio Visco, Governor of the Bank of Italy, and social partners.

Mr Maroš Šefčovič gives an opening speech at the Renewable Energy Economy Forum 2015 organised by the German Association for Renewables (BEE); Hannover.

Mr Maroš Šefčovič attends the Hannover Messe in Germany.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives social partners about the Investment Plan.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives the Confederation of European Paper Industries.

Mr Jyrki Katainen participates in EP Committee on International Trade (INTA).

Mr Jyrki Katainen delivers keynote speech at inaugural conference of EP intergroup.

Mr Günther Oettinger participates in Hannover Messe in Germany: speaks at the policy reception of the German Engineering Association (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau, VDMA) and Deutsche Messe on “Digital production – is Europe missing its opportunity?”.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu and Gyeongbuk in the Republic of Korea.

Mr Miguel Arias Cañete receives Mr Julio Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Global Operations of Schneider Electric.

Mr Karmenu Vella in Riga (13-15/04). (13/04) visits the company Brivais Vilnis; meets representatives of local NGOs and Fisheries Advisory Council. (14/04) delivers speech at the Informal Environment Council. (15/04) attends the Informal Environment Council (joint meeting of the Environment and Energy ministers); delivers opening statement at the Green Bridge Forum.

M. Pierre Moscovici à Paris: rencontre M. Wilfried Guerrand, membre du Conseil d’administration du groupe Hermès et M. Jean-Noël Tronc, Directeur Général de la SACEM.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at an event with the CEOs of SMEs organised by Eurochambres in Brussels.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives the representatives from the European Construction Industry Federation.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Sir Graham Watson.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Members of the Slovenian National Parliament.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska attends Hannover Messe in Germany:delivers a keynote speech at the Forum “Global Business and Markets”, meets with Mrs Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and with Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

Ms Vĕra Jourová in Berlin, Germany: meets with Mr. Heiko Maas, Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Ms. Maria Böhmer, Minister of State and with Dr. Thomas de Maizière, Minister of Interior.

Ms Margrethe Vestager delivers a keynote speech “In Varietate Concordia” at Syddansk Universitet on nation states and nationalism in Odense, Denmark.

Mr Carlos Moedas in Jordan: participates in the conference “Addressing shared challenges through Science Diplomacy: the case of the EU – Middle East regional cooperation”.

 

Mardi 14 avril

Informal Environment Council (14-15/04)

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Minister-President of the Saarland and members of the Saarland regional government.

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Mr Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister of Montenegro

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Mr Jean-Claude Trichet, former President of the European Central Bank.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives Mr Ton Heerts, Chairman of the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and Ms Catelene Passchier, Vice-Chair of the FNV.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives representatives of the Forum of Jewish Organisations of Flanders (FJO – Forum der Joodse Organisaties).

Ms Federica Mogherini in Lübeck, Germany: visits Willy Brandt House with Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development; attends discussion with students; attends G7 Ministerial meeting.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva attends the official opening of the exhibition “The Saga of the Thracian Kings – Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” in the Louvre, Paris.

Mr Andrus Ansip speaks at a policy dialogue on transforming traditional businesses and creating jobs at the European Policy Centre.

Mr Andrus Ansip participates in the meeting of the Working Group of the European Parliament Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on the Digital Single Market in Brussels.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives Mr Edgar Berger, Chairman and CEO, International Sony Music Entertainment, Mr Stu Bergen President, International Warner Recorded Music, Mr Richard Constant General Counsel, Universal Music Group International, Ms Frances Moore CEO, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), Ms Olivia Regnier, Director European Office and European Regional Counsel, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in the Netherlands: meets with Mr Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister; Mr Mark Rutte, Prime-Minister and Mr Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Finance Minister as well as the provinces, business leaders, students and stakeholders.

Mr Günther Oettinger participates in Hannover Messe in Germany: speaks at the event “Industry 4.0 – Made in Germany”  along with Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, and Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and representatives of the industry; delivers a keynote speech ‘Europe’s Future is Digital’; meets with representatives of the industry, start-ups and research: Dr. Andreas Gruchow, Member of the Management Board of Deutsche Messe; Prof. Dr. Peter Gutzmer, Vice-President and CEO of Schaeffler; Mr. Thies Hofmann, Vice President of Business Development at Konux; Mr. Hermann Lertes, owner and CEO of H. Lertes GmbH & Co; Mr. Bernd Leukert, Member of the Executive Board of SAP; Mr. Daniel Siegel, founder of EliSE; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wahlster, Director and CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI); Lucas Wintjes, Senior Vice PresidentSales and Industry Sector Management Factory Automation at Bosch Rexroth.During the day, Mr Oettinger also visits different stands, notably of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, H2FC European Infrastructure Project, OWL Clustermanagement, Microsoft, T-Systems, Siemens, Weidmüller, Endress+Hauser, ABB.   

Mr Johannes Hahn attends breakfast meeting hosted by CIDOB in Barcelona.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Members of the Slovenian Parliament.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Mr José Manuel González-Páramo, EU chairman of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).

Mr Neven Mimica attends the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu and Gyeongbuk in the Republic of Korea.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Branko Grčić, vice-Premier Ministre Croate, Ministre du Développement Régional et des Fonds Européens et M. Boris Lalovac, Ministre des finances croate.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit une délégation du groupe parlementaire SPD du Bundestag.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Patrick Kron, président-directeur général du groupe Alstom.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Anton Hofreiter, co-président du groupe parlementaire des Verts au Bundestag.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Jean-Dominique Senard, Président du groupe Michelin.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Mihály Varga, Hungarian Finance Minister.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives the representatives from the European Association with tolled motorways, bridges and tunnels.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Mr James Hogan, CEO of Etihad.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska meets with Mr Krzysztof Kurzydłowski, Professor at the Warsaw University of Technology.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receives Mr Patrcik Kron, CEO of Alstom.

Ms Vĕra Jourová in Berlin: meets with the Consumer Federation, with the Federation of German Industries, with Ms. Manuela Schwesig, the Minister for Family, Elderly, Women and Youth and with Dr. Meyer-Landrut, the Head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery

Mr Tibor Navracsics announces the winners of EU Prize for Literature 2015 at London Book Fair, London.

 

Mercredi 15 avril

College meeting

European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

Informal Energy Council (15-16/04)

President Jean-Claude Juncker and the College receive the Spanish King Felipe VI.

Ms Federica Mogherini attends G7 Ministerial meeting in Lübeck, Germany.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives the Board of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis attends the Governing Council of European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.

Mr Jyrki Katainen participates in a Committee of the Regions conference on the Investment Plan.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives CEOs from German Insurance companies.

Mr Johannes Hahn receives Mr Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister of Montenegro.

Ms Cecilia Malmström in Paris: meets the Prime Minister of France, Mr Manuel Valls; participates in the citizen dialogue “Parlons d’Europe” (Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po); meets theChief of Staff of President of France, Mr Jean-Pierre Jouyet; visits the Assemblée Nationale; meets the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Laurent Fabius; visits an SME.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Christos Stylianides meets with Mr Nicos Anastasiadis, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Patrick Odier, President of the Swiss Bankers’ Association.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Alexander Erdland, President of the German insurers’ association (GDV).

Mr Jonathan Hill gives a keynote speech at the British Bankers’ Association Reception, Brussels.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receivesrepresentatives of the Flemish Government.

Mr Tibor Navracsics gives a speech and hands over the European Heritage Label Award with Ms Silvia COSTA, Chair of Committee on Culture and Education of the EP, at the Ceremony, Brussels Solvay Library.

Ms Corina Creţu in Romania: visits EU-funded projects and meets with Mr Ioan Rus, Romanian Minister of Transport.

Mr Carlos Moedas receivesProf. Wolfgang Schuerer, Chairman of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate.

Mr Carlos Moedas receives Mr Paulo Moniz, Vice-Rector of the Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI).

 

Jeudi 16 avril

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Honorary Senator award in the European Senate, Düsseldorf-Neuss.

Ms Federica Mogherini attends Global Conference on CyberSpace 2015, The Hague.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva meets the winners of this year’s Juvenes Translatores award at a Special Award ceremony in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis visits Washington and Boston, USA (16-20/04): attends the IMF and World Bank Spring meeting, gives a speech at the Atlantic Council and participate in G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting; has bilateral meetings with M5s Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, Mrs Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, and Mrs Natalie Jaresko, Ukrainian Finance Minister and Mr Ivaras Abromavichus, Ukraine’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. (20/04) gives a lecture at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in Bulgaria: meets Mr Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister; Mr Rosen Plevneliev, President; Mr Tomislav Donchev, Deputy Prime Minister; Mr Bojidar Lukarski, Minister of Economy and as well as business leaders, investors, MPs and students.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Ms Mari Kiviniemi, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Ms Monica Mæland, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Karmenu Vella delivers keynote speech at the Ocean Energy Forum (Hotel Crown Plaza, Brussels).

Mr Karmenu Vella attends the conference “The Atlantic our Shared Resource – Making the Vision Reality” (Palais d’Egmont, Brussels).

Mr Karmenu Vella receives members of the German Parliament.

Mr Pierre Moscovici in Washington (16-19/04): participates in a Public roundtable organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) on the theme ‘The recovery in Europe – the way forward’, delivers a speech at the World Bank / EIB conference on Climate Finance and has bilateral meetings.

Mr Christos Stylianides in Belgrade, Serbia: meets Mr Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister; Mr Nebojša Stefanović, Minister of Internal Affairs; Mrs Jadranka Joksimović, Minister and Mr Relief Marko Blagojević, Director of the Office for Reconstruction and Flood.

Mr Christos Stylianides Belgrade, Serbia: visits the Emergency Centre and attends the ceremony for Serbia’s entry into the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr John Rishton, CEO of Rolls Royce.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Michael Meehan, CEO of Global Reporting Initiative.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at the event organised by the Centre for European Reform, London.

Ms Violeta Bulcin Madrid, Spain: meets with Ms Ana Pastor, Minister for Public Works, visits with Mrs Inés Ayala Sender, MEP; Mr Luis De Grandes; Mr Izaskun Bilbao, MEP and Mrs Tania Gonzáles Peñas, MEP; and with Mr Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Secretary of State for European Affairs.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receivesMrs Monica Mæland, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska meets with representatives of THALES: Mr Serge Adrian, Senior Vice-President; Mr Pawel Piotrowski, Country Director Thales Poland and Mr Marc Cathelineau, Senior Vice-President EU-NATO-UN.

Mr Andrus Ansip and Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska co-chair a roundtable discussion on cross-border parcel delivery with chief executives of national postal operators.

Ms Vĕra Jourová receives Mr Selakovic, Serbian Minister of Justice

Mr Tibor Navracsics gives a lecture as guest lecturer about the European Commission at Corvinus University, Budapest.

Ms Margrethe Vestager in Washington DC, USA (16-17/04): participates in the American Bar Association Antitrust Section’s 2015 Spring Meeting; meets with Ms Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission; meets with Mr J. Baer, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice William; meets with Mr Michael Lee, Senator and Chairman of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee; delivers speech on “Competition policy in the EU: Outlook and recent developments in antitrust” at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; meets with Ms Amy Klobuchar, Senator and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

Mr Carlos Moedas delivers an opening speech at the conference “The Atlantic – a Shared Resource: making the vision reality”, Palais d’Egmont, Brussels.

Mr Carlos Moedas delivers the keynote speech at the European University Association’s conference, Antwerp.

 

Vendredi 17 avril

Ms Kristalina Georgieva receives MsNathalie Loiseau, director of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva receives Mr Jean-Pierre Bourguinon, President of the European Research Council.

Mr Andrus Ansip participates in the Global Conference on CyberSpace 2015 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in Hungary: meets Mr Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister and members of the Hungarian National Assembly’s Committee on European Affairs and the Committee on Economics, as well as SMEs, investors, NGOs, research institutes and students.

Mr Günther Oettinger speaks on the occasion on ‘Energy meets Digital’ ofthe Europa Forum Lech in Austria.

Ms Cecilia Malmström in Maastricht, the Netherlands: delivers speech “EU Trade Policy: Why should European Citizens care?” at the Jean Monnet Lecture, organised by the Maastricht University (Crowne Plaza Hotel)

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and with Mr Pierre Moscovici participate in International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Karmenu Vella receives the representatives from the environmental NGOs Green 10.

Mr Christos Stylianides in Zagreb, Croatia: visits the Parliament of Croatia, meets with, Mrs Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, President of Croatia and Mrs Vesna Pusić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

Mr Christos Stylianides in Gunja, Croatia: visits a site of the 2014 floods to see recovery and rehabilitation projects.

Mr Phil Hogan and Mr Carlos Moedas in Ireland: take part in the round table discussion in Glanbia, visit the Teagasc Food & Research Centre, Moorepark and the O’Brien Centre for Science, University College Dublin (UCD), Belfield.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at a Reuters Newsmaker Event, London.

Mr Jonathan Hill meets Mr Terry Scuoler, CEO of the Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF).

Ms Violeta Bulc in Madrid, Spain: participates at the “Forum Nueva Economía”, meets with the representatives of the of the Joint Committee for the EU and Committee for Public Works of the Spanish Parliament and the Spanish Senate; meets with representatives of enterprises in different transport sectors, CEOE transport council

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska participates at the conference: “I have a right – citizen on the EU internal market” in Wrocław, Poland.

Mr Tibor Navracsics and MrJyrki Katainen at the Investment plan Road-Show, Budapest, Hungary.

Ms Margrethe Vestager in Washington DC, USA (16-17/04): participates in the American Bar Association Enforcers Roundtable on enforcement priorities from leading antitrust authorities in the world; participates in Roundtable on banking reform at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

 

Samedi 18 avril

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and with Mr Pierre Moscovici participate in International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Ms Violeta Bulc attends the Global Show for General Aviation in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

 

Dimanche 19 avril

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Miguel Arias Cañete participates at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate, Washington DC.

Ms Margrethe Vestager delivers keynote speech on transition from Minister to Commissioner at the Danish Seamen’s Church in New York, USA.

Prévisions du mois d’avril:

20/04 Foreign Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

20/04 Agrifish Council (Luxembourg)

20-22/04 Informal Epsco Council

21/04 General Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

24-25/04 Informal Ecofin Council

27-30/04 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

 

Prévisions du mois de mai:

07/05 Foreign Affairs (Trade) Council

08/05 Foreign Affairs (Defence) Council

11/05 Eurogroup

12/05 Ecofin Council

18/05 Foreign Affairs Council

18/05 EYCS (Education and Youth) Council

18/05 EYCS (Culture and Sport) Council

18-21/05 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

21-22/05 Eastern Partnership Summit

26/05 Foreign Affairs (Development) Council

27/05 European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

28-29/05 Competitiveness Council

31/05 Informal Agrifish Council

 

Prévisions du mois de juin:

01-02/06 Informal Agrifish Council

08/06 TTE (Energy) Council (Luxembourg)

08-11/06 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

09-10/06 Informal Cohesion Council

10-11/06 EU-CELAC Summit

11/06 TTE (Transport) Council (Luxembourg)

12/06 TTE (Telecommunications) (Luxembourg)

15-16/06 JHA Council (Luxembourg)

15/06 Environment Council (Luxembourg)

16/06 Agrifish Council (Luxembourg)

18/06 Epsco (Employment) Council (Luxembourg)

18/06 Eurogroup

19/06 Ecofin Council (Luxembourg)

22/06 Foreign Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

23/06 General Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

24/06 European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

25-26/06 European Council

Permanence DG COMM le WE du 11 au 12 avril:

Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, +32 (0)460 764 328

Permanence RAPID – GSM: +32 (0) 498 982 748

Service Audiovisuel, planning studio – tél. : +32 (0)2/295 21 23

Cornerstones of the new EU Energy Union

Vice-President Šefčovič speech at EUFORES 15th Inter-Parliamentary Meeting on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Vienna

Ladies and gentlemen,

Two weeks ago, the European Commission adopted the Energy Union Strategy. I then called it the most ambitious energy project since the European Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s, because what we want to achieve, is nothing less than a fundamental transition of our energy system. We want to set our economy on a new, sustainable trajectory. As one Member of the European Parliament summarized it in a single image: we want to move from a Community of Coal and Steel to a Union of Sun and Wind.

Such an overarching strategy can only succeed if we work together across institutions and stakeholders at all levels: European, regional, national and local. Just like we worked together within the Commission, across portfolios, bringing together 14 Commissioners and 16 DGs. I am therefore very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Energy Union directly with you – parliamentarians from across Europe, civil society, and businesses. Your contribution will be crucial to achieve the goals of this forward-looking energy and climate change policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Energy Union is a big step towards an energy market that is economically sustainable, environmentally friendly, and socially inclusive. An energy market that is integrated, interconnected, resilient and secure. It is a ‘triple win’ strategy, because it will benefit citizens, businesses, and the environment.

For that, we set out a series of concrete actions – both legislative and non-legislative – in the five dimensions that I presented to the European Parliament in my hearing and that, next week, the European Council will hopefully confirm:

  • First, securing our supply. Member States, and citizens, should know that they can rely on neighbouring countries when faced with possible energy supply disruptions. That is what the word ‘solidarity’ means in the energy field; that is how we can build more trust between Member States. We are therefore working on a series of measures to diversify our energy resources and supply routes. Next week, for instance, I will attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), in Kars, Turkey; a project that will bring gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field through Turkey, into Europe. It is this kind of projects we need. But security of supply means much more than only gas, however important gas will remain for years to come. Security of supply means – and I would even say: it means first and foremost – becoming more energy efficient, knowing that for every 1% improvement in energy efficiency, EU gas imports fall by 2.6%.
  • Energy security also means: building a single energy market will allow energy to flow freely across EU countries as a fifth European freedom. This internal market is the second dimension of the Energy Union Strategy.By removing technical and regulatory barriers of cross-border energy flows, consumers will enjoy the fruits of a increased competition – lower prices and better service!
  • The third, fourth and fifth dimensions go hand in hand with the first two and go to the core of today’s conference and the work you do at EUFORES, namely: increasing energy efficiency, decarbonising our economy and investing in innovative renewable sources of energy.

This covers a very broad range of issues, which will require the full involvement of many commissioners. Let me just mention three issues, amongst many other issues, that I intend to give a serious push in the weeks and months ahead.

First, to tap the full potential of energy efficiency of buildings. The figures clearly show why more action is needed in this field: currently, 75% of Europe’s building stock is not energy efficient; buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. About 35% of our buildings are over 50 years old. They eat energy! While older buildings consume about 25 litres of heating oil per square meter per year on average (some even up to 60 litres!), new buildings only need three to five litres on average. So we can – and should – do better.

Second, as the importance of the local level increases, we should pay more attention to initiatives at the local level, of course in full respect of the principle of subsidiarity. Smart Cities are an excellent example of how the municipal level can play a major role in the transformation of the energy market that we’re looking for. Last week I met an impressive delegation of mayors who shared several good examples of successful initiatives from all over Europe:

  • the German city of Heidelberg created an entire neighbourhood with only passive buildings, (in the city quarter of Bahnstadt. The neighbourhood is powered by district heating, primarily sourced from renewables with smart energy consumption meters, creating local jobs and a passive housing knowledge cluster for future projects.
  • Helsinki is a leader in heating and efficiency standards. 90% of the city is serviced by the district heating system with over 90% efficiency.
  • in the north of France, the city of Loos-en-Gohelle transformed its coal mine into a regional research centre of sustainable development. Visitors now face the surreal image of solar panels in front of the mine’s spoil tips.
  • and I could go on…

These examples showcase the various local initiatives which should be replicated across Europe, and I would add: with a particular emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe.

And third, we have to develop an energy and climate-related technology and innovation strategy to maintain Europe’s global leadership and competitiveness in low carbon technologies. Europe has all the necessary elements to become a global hub and a world leader in renewable technologies. It is in this field – in the field of low-carbon renewable energy sources, in the field of energy efficiency, in the field of smart appliances and smart grids – that Europe can regain its competitive edge! Smart grids are the European shale.

We must better focus our research and innovation policies, we must create synergies between energy and ICT (very appealing to young people), and between research and industry. New industries will emerge that will strengthen our economy and further support job creation across Europe.

It is in this context that I would also like to underline the importance of ecodesign and energy labelling. Not only because this framework will deliver by 2020 energy savings that are roughly the equivalent of annual primary energy consumption of Italy, not only because consumers can save several hundreds of euros per household per year, but also because there is a clear business case. If countries such as Brazil, China, Korea, South Africa and others adopt equipment energy labelling schemes similar to ours, it creates a market for our companies. Let us be the first mover and set the standards!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Strategy is written, the principles have been established, the real work starts now. We will start up a series of specific actions, such as:

  • developing a ‘Smart Financing for Smart Buildings’ initiative to facilitate access to existing funding instruments;
  • we will propose a strategy for heating and cooling; it’s an important hook, because as many of you told me: the energy crisis is first and foremost a heating crisis;
  • we will dedicate a significant share of the European Fund for Strategic Investments to energy efficiency and renewable energy;
  • we will review the Energy Efficiency Directive, as well as the Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings;
  • we should bring together potential investors and solid projects. There are investors willing to invest, and there is a need for smart investments, so let us connect the dots and remove obstacles
  • and we will develop, without delay, the robust governance framework that the Energy Union needs in order to deliver on its promises, including to make sure that we reach the targets set by the October European Council.

Through these and other measures, we will make sure that the principles we endorsed – such as the ‘energy efficiency first-principle – are transformed into reality and become operational.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The first reactions to the Energy Union Strategy have been positive and supportive, in the European Parliament, the Environment and Energy Council, amongst mayors, consumers, business associations, think tanks, and academia. Do not underestimate the importance of such reactions: they really help to create the positive dynamics needed to seize the current momentum and to implement what is on the table.

I therefore hope that throughout this process, I can continue to count on your support, whether you are a parliamentarian, entrepreneur, researcher, civil society activist or a citizen, and I am looking forward to your comments and ideas in today’s discussion and over the five years to come.

Thank you.

End of milk quotas: cities and regions are concerned about the implications and are calling for steps to safeguard the incomes of all producers

Meeting yesterday in Brussels, the members of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions raised concerns about the impact of the abolition of milk quotas in the EU, particularly in disadvantaged and sensitive regions. In a draft opinion drawn up by René Souchon (FR/PES), President of the Auvergne region, they call on the European authorities to take urgent measures to safeguard the incomes of all milk producers.

In the positions it has previously taken on abolishing milk quotas, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) expressed its concerns about the plan to end quotas on 31 March 2015, and was highly critical of a measure likely to have an adverse impact on the EU’s environmental and territorial cohesion objectives. The CoR is concerned that this will accelerate the concentration of production in the most intensively farmed areas, harming sensitive or disadvantaged regions, including mountain regions but also so-called “intermediate” crop-growing and cattle-breeding regions. These fears are largely confirmed by the Commission’s latest report (published in June 2014) on the development of the market situation in the milk sector. “In light of the milk surplus and low prices recorded since summer 2014, the outlook is extremely worrying because in many Member States and regions, milk production is an essential pillar of the regional economy and of agricultural added value”, emphasised the rapporteur René Souchon, before adding, “It is essential to ensure a steady income for milk producers throughout the EU in order to maintain agriculture and preserve rural communities in all regions, in the interests of meeting the EU’s territorial cohesion objective”.  

In the draft own-initiative opinion adopted yesterday, NAT members call on the European authorities to take steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, as is the case in most other major milk-producing countries, such as India, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States, which have maintained or even strengthened their support and protection for the dairy sector.

The draft opinion calls for the following in the short term:

  • to quantify how many jobs, how much added value and how many public goods would be lost in “intermediate” and disadvantaged zones if milk production was abandoned;
  • to make contracting more effective by expanding the mechanism to the whole industry, including in particular large-scale retailers – contracting seeks to formalise a long-term commercial relationship between a producer and their client with the aim of ensuring adequate production in an outlet;
  • to improve the operation of the European Milk Market Observatory, and put in place the necessary resources for it to become a genuine steering mechanism, and not just a tool for post hoc observation;
  • to immediately enhance the safety net for a limited period in order to cope with the looming crisis, pending the introduction of another mechanism;
  • to take urgent steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, and to examine in particular the European Milk Board proposal.

In the medium term:

  • to harmonise the compensation payments for natural handicaps , financed 100% by the EU budget, to restore milk collection aid, to support the promotion and development of the “Mountain produce” label for dairy products, subject to an adequate level of food self-sufficiency;
  • to encourage the preservation of dairy production , particularly using more mixed and hardy breeds which make use of the grasslands, rather than production from very specialised herds which consume ever increasing amounts of cereals and soya;
  • to draw up a major rural development plan for all countries which have small herds and where dairy farms are in the majority. It seems like their future may be at risk following the abolition of quotas, even though these farms remain the foundation of rural communities.

The NAT commission

The Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) coordinates the work of the Committee of the Regions in the areas of rural development and the common agricultural policy, fisheries and maritime policy, food production, public health, consumer protection, civil protection and tourism. It brings together 112 regional and local elected representatives from the 28 EU Member States. The commission’s chair is José Luís Carneiro (PT/PES), mayor of Bilbao.

Press Releases: Daily Press Briefing – March 10, 2015

1:19 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Two from the AP, Justin in the front row. It’s going to be a big day. (Laughter.) Michael Gordon’s son, Chris, is here who, as we all know, had an interview with Secretary Kerry, I think, before his dad, not to raise a sensitive issue but – (laughter) – just joking.

Okay. I don’t have anything new, so why don’t we start with what’s on your mind.

QUESTION: You have nothing new at all? All right.

MS. PSAKI: I have many things new. I don’t have anything to start off as a topper, I should have said.

QUESTION: All right. Since we all want to turn our attention, I think, to some press conference that might be happening a little later in New York, let’s try to get through this quickly.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard such a thing may be happening today —

QUESTION: Indeed. Can we —

MS. PSAKI: — from the media.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran? The White House today went further than it did yesterday regarding the letter, calling it a flagrant partisan attempt to interfere in the negotiations, reckless, irresponsible and misguided. I assume that you would agree with those —

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: — those terms. The author of the letter was on a television show this morning talking about what his reasoning is behind – or the main author of the letter talking about what his reasoning is behind it. I’m a little bit confused because the reasons that he said for writing this letter appear to be exactly the same reasons – the same thing that the Administration is negotiating for. Can I just go through a couple of these?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It said that Congress won’t accept a deal because we’re committed to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Is that not the Administration’s point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go point by point through out-of-context points, Matt. I think the same —

QUESTION: Well, this is not —

MS. PSAKI: Let me make a point here. The same principal author of the letter made clear that their goal was to undermine these negotiations. That’s the issue we’re taking with the letter.

QUESTION: I understand. But is it not the Administration’s goal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. But what’s —

QUESTION: Okay. That’s number one. Number two —

MS. PSAKI: What’s your contextual point here?

QUESTION: — Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress. Would such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: If a path to – say that one more time.

QUESTION: If Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, can we —

QUESTION: Will such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: — can we get to the point of why you’re raising these points?

QUESTION: I want to —

MS. PSAKI: Because I think we were – we’ve been pretty clear about what issue we were taking with the letter signed by 47 senators.

QUESTION: Right. I’m asking you, though, based on what he said this morning, his goal and the goal of the signors of this letter appear to be exactly what the Administration has said its own goal is. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we outlined yesterday, we believe – and as my colleagues at the White House have spoken to extensively – and I – well, I’ll get to this point – this type of letter, which was signed by 47 members of the Senate, is harmful to American national security because it inserts these members into the middle of very sensitive negotiations, negotiations that have historically for not just decades, but centuries, taken place between the president, the executive branch, and foreign countries.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen historically – or not just seen historically, as we know historically – we believe that there should be continuity from president to president in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, there are differences of agreement, but you can’t – representing that you’re going to change things or you’re going to change the policy is what we see as the issue here.

QUESTION: Right. I’m just – he was asked what would an acceptable deal look like to you, and his response was: “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.” Is it your understanding that Iran currently has nuclear weapons?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken extensively to —

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: — our concerns about Iran’s —

QUESTION: Is it not, in fact, the case that what the Administration is negotiating for, the deal that it wants to see would result in Iran never – not being able to have a nuclear weapon and the dismantlement of what infrastructure it —

MS. PSAKI: Of course, Matt, but I’m not going to respond anymore to —

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MS. PSAKI: — an interview done by the author who already has done the damage of putting the letter out.

QUESTION: Okay. So the – my – I guess my question is: The goal that he outlines and the other signatories of the letter presumably outline is the same as the Administration’s goal, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Clearly, there’s a problem because they don’t believe you. Can you think of a reason why 47 members of the Senate would think that the Administration is bent on allowing Iran or giving Iran a pathway to develop a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what their thinking is. I think we’ve spoken to what our view is on the letter.

QUESTION: Is the Administration’s position – opponents of the emerging deal, or what looks like it’s going to be, have adopted the slogan, “No bomb for Iran.” Is it not the case that the Administration, given what it said, could adopt the same slogan?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not putting out new slogans here. Do you have a specific additional question?

QUESTION: I’m saying, is no bomb for Iran the goal of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated our goal many times. Do we have —

QUESTION: Which is that, right?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Some argue that the letter amounts to treason, that it’s a violation of the 1799 Logan Act.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a big day for John Adams, isn’t it?

QUESTION: Yeah, right. So what’s your take on that? Do you think it is in violation of the law?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of any conversations within the United States Government regarding whether Senator Cotton and the other signatories violated the Logan Act. This is a legal question, so I’d certainly defer to others on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So but do – but generally, you think it’s within their legal rights? You’re not —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do legal analysis.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to what our concerns are, Justin, which is a combination of the fact that we believe it’s harmful to America’s national security for anyone to insert themselves into the middle of a very sensitive negotiation, and the long history we have of working cooperatively with nations around the globe in seeking to advance our interests where we allow bipartisanship issues to stop at the water’s edge.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Jen, if there is an Iran agreement, it could very well last for 15 years, which would be through the next presidency and beyond and several presidents could have to administer this agreement, then there could be actions required by the Congress in terms of removing sanctions. Why shouldn’t an agreement of that duration, which requires some congressional action at some point to remove sanctions, be submitted to the Congress in some form for approval or a vote of some kind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have envisioned – I will get to your question, but let me just reiterate: We have envisioned a role for Congress – there has been in the past, there is right now, and there will be in the future. Congress had a role in building the sanctions regime, to your point, and so at some point in the duration of this agreement, Congress will be heard on the sanctions relief and there will be a role for Congress to play in lifting sanctions down the line as part of the agreement.

Also to your point, that would be some time from now, because as we know, that’s not something that we’re discussing as an immediate part of this discussion. This is not – it wouldn’t be accurate, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this – it’s not – I’m not – I know you’re not comparing it to a treaty, but it’s different from past – there are comparisons I think I could make to some historic examples, but this is a multilateral understanding between many countries, including the P5+1 and the Iranians. So there’s a role for Congress to play not just in consultations, which is something that’s ongoing, but obviously as part of the sanctions regime, which would be the implementation of it.

QUESTION: But the role that you envision Congress playing, just to be clear, and I know you addressed this before but just to make it as clear as possible —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — you do not envision presenting this multilateral agreement to Congress for any kind of vote as to whether they think it’s in the nation’s interest, even though it’s going to be an agreement of huge consequence and for a significant duration. Is that fair?

MS. PSAKI: And that’s one of the – correct, but that’s one of the reasons we have been consulting very closely with them. There have been a range of hearings, both public hearings, many, many private hearings to hear from them, to discuss with them the status of the agreement.

QUESTION: And so my last question is: Why do you not think it’s appropriate to ask the Congress to vote on it?

MS. PSAKI: We think Congress has an appropriate role, the one that I’ve outlined. We’re not considering a different role for Congress.

QUESTION: Jen, can you explain how —

QUESTION: (Off-mike) —

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: — well, why it’s not a treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – I think I talked about this a little bit yesterday, so let me see if I can go back to some of the points I made then. Let’s see. So a treaty – unlike a treaty or other types of international agreements in which parties are generally required to take similar actions themselves, this deal will primarily reflect the international community putting strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran making verifiable and enforceable commitments to adhere to those limits. So these are political understandings between a multi – several countries, as you know, through the P5+1.

QUESTION: So wait, hold on, hold on. Just – I mean, the fact that it’s several countries doesn’t preclude it from being a treaty. You have United Nations treaties, you’ve had the Potsdam Treaty or the Treaty of Versailles.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So what is it that – is it the fact that the responsibilities are Iran’s and you don’t negotiate an international treaty on Iranian obligations? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about Iran. It’s about what would be needed to be agreed to and committed to by all sides.

QUESTION: But why can’t that be —

QUESTION: Well, could it be —

QUESTION: Why isn’t that a treaty? I mean —

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the specifics of what compose or what requires a treaty legally, Brad.

QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Do you know, was there a decision made? It seems to me that an international agreement like this could be a treaty if all sides wanted it to be a treaty and that was agreed to. Do you know if it was ever discussed with —

MS. PSAKI: Discussed with whom?

QUESTION: Well, among – inside the Administration but also with the rest of the P5+1 and also with the Iranians if it – it’s just whether or not, hey, maybe instead of a political agreement here, we should make this a treaty that has to be ratified and adopted by all of the – all of the governments, however that works in each country.

MS. PSAKI: Our objective, Matt, has been obviously getting to a point of agreeing to the components that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I guess —

MS. PSAKI: That’s been the focus.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of other discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’ll be interesting to know if there was ever any consideration of should we make this a treaty and then there was a discussion about that.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: And then —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, but you had —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: — just – sorry to —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Not to belabor this point, but you guys spent many months talking about the format for how you would create an agreement. And clearly, one of the things that had to have been discussed at some point was what are we actually going to agree to. Is it a treaty, an understanding, a memorandum, a handshake, a tea – a sharing of tea? I mean, you had to have figured out —

MS. PSAKI: A sharing of tea. I don’t think that was an option. But —

QUESTION: That is a contract in some places in the world.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough.

QUESTION: You had to have a discussion on what you were actually going to agree to. How did that come about that you decided political framework or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Not going to outline that further, and I wouldn’t assume that what you just outlined is correct in terms of discussions. Again, our focus has been on technical details and on trying to reach the content of political commitments – on what the political commitments would be by the participants. That’s been the focus of the discussions.

QUESTION: What would be the potential difference between – in terms of the role of Congress – a treaty versus a political agreement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the historical —

QUESTION: Okay. Now —

MS. PSAKI: — documentation on that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. The flip side of this argument: The Iranians, have they conveyed to you in any way that as a result of this letter, they may not have confidence in the United States of America and they may soon not – to sign an agreement? Have they?

MS. PSAKI: No. Let me also just speak to some historical examples, which may help you a little bit, Brad, under – or perhaps not. I don’t want to speak to what will help you or not. But historically, under many administrations, the United States has pursued important international security initiatives through nonbinding arrangements where that has been in our national interest. In the arms control and nonproliferation area alone, some representative examples include the U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Supplier Group Guidelines, the Missile Technology Control Regime. There’s a lot of precedent for this being political commitments made by all sides.

QUESTION: In that statement you just described them as nonbinding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s a legal term, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, presumably everyone who agrees to this – if there is something to agree to – is bound by it. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes. But there’s legal terminology —

QUESTION: All right. And —

MS. PSAKI: — so obviously there’s differences you use depending on what it is.

QUESTION: — in your answer just previously you said that no, the Iranians have not – has there been any contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif or —

MS. PSAKI: No, there has not.

QUESTION: — Under Secretary Sherman or —

MS. PSAKI: I can speak to the Secretary. I don’t believe there’s been other discussions —

QUESTION: Okay. The foreign minister – the Iranian foreign minister said today that this letter shows that the United States Government cannot be trusted. Would you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said, and I think you and I have discussed before, this has never been about trust. This has been about coming to a point where both sides agree to political commitments about what steps they’re willing to take.

QUESTION: All right. And is it your view that whatever damage you say that this letter has caused is done and is – in other words, you think that the damage is over, or is it going to bleed into the next round of negotiations? And can the damage that you say has been done be repaired?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is, again, I mean, a negotiation, of course, between nations, not individuals, not between political parties. And so we certainly anticipate the negotiations will be able to proceed from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so if that is the case, what’s the big deal?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated what the big deal is. This is inserting – this is 47 members of Congress from one party inserting themselves into an international negotiation.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I understand that you’re – that people are – in the Administration are offended by this and think that it is – it shows a lack of respect. But if it really doesn’t affect the negotiations at all, from your point of view, why get so upset about it?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s important to convey that when leaders of other countries are doing business with the United States, they’re doing business with all of the United States. And so this is a – was an effort to insert themselves into a sensitive negotiation. That’s the issue we raised with —

QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify Matt’s point —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: — when you were giving examples of agreements, national security agreements —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — that Congress didn’t vote on, you said that from a legal perspective, the examples you gave were nonbinding. So is it – are you saying that this Iran agreement, if it materializes, from a legal perspective is also nonbinding? It’s somehow binding politically, but from an international legal perspective it’s not binding?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I used the example of Syria, right, as an example. This framework was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval. It outlined steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for successful multilateral efforts to move forward. So I’m just conveying what we’re talking about as it relates to the political understandings and what we’re discussing with the parties.

QUESTION: I guess maybe this a question you could ask the lawyers, because I’m sure it’s not there. But I mean, if it was nonbinding, why did the Syrians comply with it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we – there was an agreement – there were discussions, and they agreed to certain terms.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And then it went to the OPCW and then it went to the UN. So —

QUESTION: Actually, in the case of the security – the Syrian agreement, there was a Security Council vote, which I think made it binding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that – I just said. And then it went to the UN to the Security Council vote.

QUESTION: Right. So could this —

QUESTION: But you’re not going to have that in this agreement.

QUESTION: Exactly. Could you go for —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have more to outline for you in terms of the implementation of a political understanding that doesn’t yet exist.

QUESTION: Wait. Just to clarify, is it legally binding or not, this Iran agreement? Will it be legally binding from an international legal perspective if you negotiate this agreement, or will it be something lesser than that, a political commitment?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question, Michael. What I’m referring to is the political commitments in terms of what the next additional steps would be. I’m not sure how much farther or more information we would have. I’m certainly happy to check with our team and see if there’s more we can clarify.

QUESTION: The problem is is that you’ve stressed over and over again this is not about trusting, right? This is about verifying. But then you’re saying that these are political commitments but not necessarily binding. It would seem to me that if this wasn’t about trust, you would want them to be binding, not political commitments, which are your word. That’s what a political —

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’re talking about specifically how pieces —

QUESTION: Political commitment just means “I will do this.”

MS. PSAKI: It is not that. We’re talking about how specifically pieces would be agreed to between the parties. In terms of the implementation of it, I’m sure we will talk about that at the time we would have an agreement.

QUESTION: Since I don’t understand then what a political – as I understand a political commitment, it means a person or a political entity saying, “I will do this; I commit to doing this.” How is that not anything other than giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, if we get to the point where we have a framework, where we have an agreement, I’m sure we will have a discussion about how things will be implemented.

QUESTION: I’m just asking for the concept of political commitment. What does that mean, beyond giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: I just gave you additional examples of how that has been implemented and how it has worked in the past.

QUESTION: The Iranians have talked about this, whatever it is, that if anything happens, that it being – the idea that the UN Security Council would at least endorse it if not enshrine it in some kind of a resolution. Is that something that you think would be useful?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get ahead of how this would be implemented at this point in time.

QUESTION: So —

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then.

QUESTION: Okay. But then can you understand the – if you can’t talk about how it’s going to be implemented, can you understand the concern that people have when you tell them, “Trust us”?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re saying that, Matt.

QUESTION: No, “Trust us to deliver a good deal. If we can’t get a good deal, then there will be no deal.”

MS. PSAKI: The discussion about a good deal or a bad deal is about the content of the deal. We agree it’s about the content of the deal that we would have to discuss —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — and defend and obviously have a discussion with Congress about.

QUESTION: And – but the content of the deal also includes its implementation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And if you can’t get into how it would be implemented, then there are obviously open questions —

MS. PSAKI: There is not an agreement yet at this point in time, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand. But – so you can understand that the questions are open and that people would have concerns about them. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: We will certainly have a discussion about the content and every component of this if and when there is a framework and an agreement.

QUESTION: Do your experts believe that perhaps there is a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution on the part of the senators that signed this letter? I mean, there are legal —

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question —

QUESTION: — there are constitutional experts that say —

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question to them, Said.

Do we have any more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more.

MS. PSAKI: I know we have a limited amount of time.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you said that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif hadn’t spoken in the last couple of days. Was the last time that they’ve actually spoke the in-person meeting last week?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the EU is hosting a meeting on Monday with the European foreign ministers in the P5+1.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Which —

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be involved?

MS. PSAKI: — they just put out, I think, in the last hour.

QUESTION: Right. Will Secretary Kerry be involved in those?

MS. PSAKI: No, he wouldn’t be. It’s an EU meeting.

Any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Iran? Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Your objection to this letter is because the content or just because they have reached out to the Iranian Government directly?

MS. PSAKI: I think – just – I want to just make sure we get to as many issues as possible and I have talked about this extensively yesterday and today, as have my colleagues —

QUESTION: I’m asking —

MS. PSAKI: — so I’m going to point you to the transcript.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Look, I’m asking —

MS. PSAKI: Abigail, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because I have follow-up question on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m asking this because two years ago, around 20 senators from the U.S. wrote directly to Indian prime minister economic reforms idea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Then again, more than 120 House of Representative members wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister.

MS. PSAKI: Do you remember the content of the letters?

QUESTION: Yeah. It was for the economic reforms in India. They had expressed concern and wanted Indian Government to —

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different thing. We’re talking about inserting yourself into international negotiations that are ongoing —

QUESTION: So both are different.

MS. PSAKI: — that involve the executive branch.

Go ahead, Abigail.

QUESTION: Sorry —

QUESTION: And you have no objection to those letters, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have those letters in front of me. Go ahead. I don’t believe we have expressed any though.

QUESTION: One of the responses of Foreign Minister Zarif was he said that if the next administration revoked an agreement with the stroke of a pen, it would be a blatant violation of international law. Is that an accurate —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments.

QUESTION: One more Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: A quick question, madam. Many countries wants Iran to stop the nuclear program. And also, as far nuclear program and dissensions are concerned, are you going after those who are helping Iran as far as their nuclear program is concerned? And also, who is buying their oil under this international sanction?

MS. PSAKI: Who is buying their oil? We do reports on this every year, Goyal, so I would point you to that. There’s a lot of information available.

QUESTION: One last thing on the broader issue here.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that it’s important for the Iranians and the rest of the world, in fact, to know that this agreement is being negotiated by you and the other others – but on the United States side, by the entire United States. And wouldn’t it make more sense, if that’s the argument you want to put forth, to have congressional buy-in, to have the House and the – or the Senate, at least, in this case —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would change centuries of historic precedent for how international negotiations work, so —

QUESTION: Right, but some of the most important treaties that the United States has signed – or international agreements, I should say, that the United States has signed, have been treaties. Not to say that there haven’t been one – important ones —

MS. PSAKI: There have been some, yes. There have been some that are not.

QUESTION: Right. But if your argument is that this letter undermines the U.S. position because it makes it look like the entire government, all branches of it, aren’t behind this agreement —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was intending to say.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we know members of Congress have their own views – Democrats and Republicans, members from both parties – and they’ve spoken out publicly about that for years now. We don’t expect nor would we attempt to change their right to freedom of speech.

QUESTION: And this will be my last one. Is it the suspicion of the Administration that the 47 senators who signed this letter are not – is it your suspicion that they are not interested in any deal?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think this type of step doesn’t show support for our efforts to achieve a deal.

QUESTION: Do you think they have been highly influenced by the speech made by the Israeli prime minister last week?

MS. PSAKI: I encourage you – it sounds like you need to get yourself to the Senate and ask them some questions.

QUESTION: But Madam, are you —

MS. PSAKI: I think we need to move on, because we have a limited amount of time here, I think, because of – for – to be responsive to the request. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any update on Ambassador Lippert?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Lippert – you may have seen he gave a press conference when he came out of the hospital this morning. I can – I’m happy to touch on some of the points that he made during that. He obviously thanked the South Korean Government. He thanked the doctors. He has been – his heart has been warmed by the outpouring of support from the people of South Korea. That’s what he spoke to. He didn’t give an indication of when he’d return, but obviously, we’re pleased to see that he’s home with his family and will continue his recovery.

QUESTION: Jen —

QUESTION: Can you tell us about (inaudible)? Can you tell us about any additional security measures taken to protect the ambassador since the attack?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics. I think we have said that we’ve been working with the South Korean Government to make sure he has the security that he needs.

QUESTION: And getting to the topic of the press conference that shortly will be held in New York —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that is, to the emails. I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the question yesterday and from before about whether the servers had been checked to make sure that – no answer to that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the server. I have a couple of other updates, but go ahead.

QUESTION: There was – okay. Well, there was a report this morning that this vetting or that this review of the emails that you all are going to have to do of this 55,000 pages is going to cost millions and millions of dollars. Is that accurate?

MS. PSAKI: It is not accurate. The cost and work of reviewing Secretary Clinton’s emails for release would’ve been roughly the same regardless of whether she had a state.gov email or a personal email and regardless of where her email was housed. The story said, of course, millions that’s – the cost and work would have had to be done regardless, because you’d have to review these documents as part of a FOIA process, so —

QUESTION: So, in fact, it will cost millions, it’s just not – it wouldn’t cost any more than what it would have had it been a state.gov —

MS. PSAKI: Millions – I don’t have a cost estimate for you. I don’t anticipate we would, but millions is far outstated regardless.

But I think the important point here – one other point – is that this is – has generally been a paper process, so the review paper-wise, which is one of the points made in the story, is generally how any FOIA process would be done.

QUESTION: So the – are you suggesting, then, that her office handing over the emails in large boxes of paper, aside from any environmental concerns this current Secretary might have about that, that is standard – that’s how this stuff is usually done?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, doesn’t that seem to be a waste of a lot of —

MS. PSAKI: Paper? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Paper and man/woman power, having to go through and sort – I mean, look, paper cuts – there are all sorts of risks here. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Paper cuts is a risk.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make more sense to have this stuff on an electronic database that’s easily searchable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done. I’m not saying that this is how it will always be done. As you know, we are updating – the entire government is updating how they do many, many processes.

QUESTION: Well, right, but —

MS. PSAKI: But one – well, let me just make one point. There is some desire at times when people request FOIAs – and I’m sure there are some people in here who have submitted FOIA requests – to see the original documents and notes that may have been made and things along those lines, and so there is some history here in terms of why, but it’s traditionally been a paper process. Whether or not it should be, that’s a larger question.

QUESTION: Right. Well, maybe it would be both, which doesn’t exactly save the paper, but at least people can search and more quickly, presumably, take – would take much less time.

MS. PSAKI: Your point is a valid point.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: What I was trying to convey is that this is how it’s typically been done, so —

QUESTION: All right. And then last one from me on this: Democratic members of the House – the Select Committee on Benghazi have written – asked Secretary Kerry to expedite the release – or the review and the release of the 300 emails that were relevant to – that you turned over. And I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.

MS. PSAKI: So that is consistent with what we have been discussing internally. Let me just give you just a brief update on kind of where we are. We’ll review the entire 55,000-page set and release in one batch at the end of that review to ensure that standards are consistently applied throughout the entire 55,000 pages. We said we expect the review to take several months. Obviously, that hasn’t changed. The release will be posted on a publicly available website. I will have more information about that hopefully soon.

The only documents from that 55,000 pages that we will review for a separate earlier release are the approximately 300 emails already produced to the Select Committee. Those will be reviewed and released prior to completion of the entire set. Those will also, of course, be posted and made publicly available online.

QUESTION: So in other words, even if you haven’t filed a FOIA request, you’re going to be able to see these – you’re going to put them up publicly anyway so anyone can see them?

MS. PSAKI: The 300 page – all of them?

QUESTION: No – well, both.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. They’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: All – not just the Benghazi ones?

MS. PSAKI: We’re just using FOIA standards. Yes. We’re using FOIA standards, but they’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any idea – I realize that it might be hard for 55,000 pages for you to have an estimate of how much time it will take to go through them by hand, but on 300, it seems a little bit easier. I mean, are we talking weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s 900 pages, which is the 300 emails. It is shorter than 55,000 technically —

QUESTION: By —

MS. PSAKI: — by mathematics. I don’t have —

QUESTION: Technically, but actually —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an estimate on that particular piece. I can check and see if there’s more specificity.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just add one more thing, and I think Brad asked this last week. Specific FOIA redaction criteria has included and would include, since we’re following the same standards, national security, personal privacy, privilege, and trade secrets among others. As per our regular process, we will identify the basis for any redactions. And that’s, I think, something that Brad asked about last week.

QUESTION: And just one last thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know, did anyone ask – given the amount, the volume of this, did you all ask for a electronic version of it as well as the paper?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, Matt. I think this has been handled in a specific way for some time.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: And those were the announcement – you just read the updates that you mentioned, right?

MS. PSAKI: Those are, I believe, the updates —

QUESTION: You said you had updates.

MS. PSAKI: — that I have, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the things we expect Secretary Clinton to say today was that Colin Powell did it too essentially, that he used a private email account. And in fact, his people have said that that account has been shut down for some time, and they suggested that they don’t really have access to it. So my question is: Are you satisfied with the records-keeping job that Secretary Powell has done and with the documents that he’s handed over to you, per your last request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a quick update – actually, this is another update on former secretaries. Also we intend to – I think some have asked about the letter sent to secretaries. We intend to release that as well, the text of that letter, so hopefully soon. Former Secretary Rice – I’m just going to go through all of them if that’s okay – responded to the Department’s letter and informed us that she did not use personal email for official business. Early in March of this year, General Powell advised – and I think he’s spoken to this publicly as well – that he used a personal email account during his tenure as Secretary of State. He did not take any hard copies of emails with him when he left office and has no record of the emails, with the account he used having been closed for a number of years. Former Secretary Albright advised that she did not use email as secretary and has no records in her possession.

I think we are all aware, broadly speaking, that email is an imperfect process, and obviously, we have taken and we will continue to undertake steps consistent with national standards to update what we’re doing in the federal government. And I have spoken to in the past what Secretary Kerry is doing and how we preserve and archive his emails and his documents, and that reflects our commitment to doing that. But clearly, there were more technological changes prior to our efforts to do this.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, The Washington Post reported this morning that a Foreign Affairs Manual update dated October 30th, 1995 mentions the emergence of something called “electronic mail,” and it noted that all employees must be —

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) That brings us all back, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: — yeah, it does; you’re right – and that all employees must be aware that these are important and, quote, “must be preserved.” So to say that it’s an imperfect thing and that he didn’t know what he was doing and they’re all gone now —

MS. PSAKI: Well, but —

QUESTION: — that doesn’t – I mean, they knew in 1995 that they had something here worth keeping.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, with all due respect, I don’t have from 20 years ago the FAM —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — nor do I think that’s exactly a silver bullet. I think we’re talking about how former secretaries archived their emails and the challenge of doing so. Certainly —

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the way Powell archived his emails?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly we respect the fact that former Secretary Powell responded to our request and looked through what was possible, and we’re going to move forward.

QUESTION: What was it? A silver bullet? (Laughter.) Are you accusing one or several former secretaries of state of being werewolves or something? I mean, what is – what does that – (laughter) – I mean —

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to Justin’s quote from The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Well, what you’re saying – what he —

QUESTION: Well, no. I think he was quoting the FAM. Weren’t you?

QUESTION: I was quoting the FAM.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And essentially what you’re saying is ignorance of the law is justifiable. And —

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting, Justin. I’m suggesting you’re referring to a line – I don’t have the FAM from 20 years ago in front of me – from one report. I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations. So suggesting that a line saying that you should be cognizant of your email is indicative of somebody violating something I don’t think is a direct connection.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: But just following up on the question that I asked yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — about the FAM, and not necessarily —

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: — regarding emails, but about the whole thing, the whole voluminous FAM.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Everyone who works for this building, from the Secretary on down, is – every employee, including the Secretary, whoever that is, is – “bound” may be not the right – is supposed to follow the guidelines in that. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you make an effort to follow the guidelines. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, making an effort is not the same as following them. And I recognize that it’s not a law, but it is policy, and guidelines —

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: But everyone is expected to follow them.

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: And —

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s – the FAM is a large document. So —

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: I just want to understand something here. So it is a guideline and not a law.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Does that – doesn’t that leave a great room of discretion or latitude for employees to do whatever they want?

MS. PSAKI: No, it doesn’t. It’s very specifically written. But I think it’s important to differentiate between a guideline and a law.

Go ahead, Lesley. New topic?

QUESTION: Change of – yeah, new topic.

QUESTION: One thing.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure, Elliot. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on the 300 emails.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are those going to be released publicly at the same time that they’re transferred to the Select Committee on —

MS. PSAKI: They’ve already been transferred to the Select Committee.

QUESTION: Oh, they have. Okay. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. So this would be about publicly releasing them, which requires sort of a certain type of review.

QUESTION: Got it. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, does the State Department have a comment on Myanmar’s violence?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on (inaudible) though?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And then we’ll go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, I had a —

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Secretary Clinton needed to communicate classified information, how did she do it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I would let Secretary Clinton and her team speak to that. I think they have spoken to or we have spoken to the fact that this is an unclassified email that was used here. There are many ways to get classified information, and many secretaries get them through paper. So I don’t have any more of an update for you. I’d point you to Secretary Clinton.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a – in her book Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton has said that she used – she fell in love with her iPad. When she was Secretary of State, do you know if she used her iPad for —

MS. PSAKI: I was not working here at the time, so I would certainly point you to Secretary Clinton and her team on whether she used an iPad and what she used it for.

QUESTION: Can I —

MS. PSAKI: Another email question, or —

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, well let’s go to Lesley, and then we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: So a Myanmar – do you have a comment on the violence? Myanmar police beat students, monks, journalists calling for academic freedom. Any comment on that? And where does the U.S. stand?

MS. PSAKI: The protests, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: We urge the Government of Burma to respect the right of protestors to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views. Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society. We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protestors. We are deeply concerned by reports of violence by police and other individuals against protestors and journalists in Letpadan. We are deeply concerned by the reports of arrests and will continue to closely monitor the situation.

To your second question, we are, of course, in regular contact with the Government of Burma. We’ve repeatedly called on all parties to exercise restraint at this point. We are speaking to all the relevant parties and our international partners to ascertain the specific cause of the clashes, and we’re also working to confirm the number of individuals arrested and injured.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we go to Sharm el-Sheikh?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Apart from meeting with President Sisi, you announced yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — are you aware of further additional meetings between Secretary Kerry and other leaders? Palestinian sources said this morning that you would be meeting with President Abbas.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I expect there will be, and we’re still finalizing those details. Let me see if there’s anything that we – is finalized that we can get around to you about additional meetings beyond the conference he’s going there for.

QUESTION: Related to the (inaudible) meeting with Abbas —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today King Abdullah, one of your allies, spoke to the European parliament in Strasburg, and he said that putting off or deferring the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only adds fuel to the extremists and so on, all that rhetoric that he uses. Do you agree with him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said many times in the past that the lack of a peace agreement provides or allows for a vacuum that often is filled by other sources. So I think that’s consistent. I’d have to look at his comments, though, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. He also said that the time has come (inaudible). I mean he’s sort of underscoring a line of urgency, so to speak.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we all feel an urgency. We see an urgency, but as you know, there’s an election going on in Israel, and it’s up to the two parties to determine whether they’re willing to take the steps to move forward. Let’s go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today – oh, sorry. Yesterday, Senators Corker and Menendez asked the Administration to submit a report to Congress on plans to provide in defense lethal assistance to the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: The Freedom Support Act report?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The deadline was February 15th, but it probably wasn’t submitted to Congress. So do you have any schedule for sending it to Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reports are currently undergoing an interagency review. We’re committed to delivering these reports to Congress as soon as possible. The situation – as you know, because we discuss this in here almost every day – is extremely fluid. We want to ensure that Congress has the most complete and up-to-date information, so we hope to submit that soon.

QUESTION: And could you clarify what agency is in charge of doing the report? Is it White House, State Department —

MS. PSAKI: Well, the – President Obama delegated to the State Department certain reporting requirements in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, but there are several agencies who weigh in on the content.

QUESTION: And another question. Yesterday, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed – there was a publication when he called for creation of European army – European Union army.

MS. PSAKI: European Union arming Ukraine?

QUESTION: No, in Europe.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, arming —

QUESTION: As a —

QUESTION: No, an (inaudible) army –

QUESTION: — armed force of Europe.

QUESTION: — for the EU.

MS. PSAKI: An army for the European Union. Oh, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was misunderstanding what you were saying. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: So (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the EU. No, I don’t —

QUESTION: I thought they have NATO.

QUESTION: No, but many of European Union countries are members of NATO, and the United States has legal obligations —

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I don’t think we’ve seen the EU countries speak to that, though.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Venezuela? Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Maduro had a three-hour speech in which he charged that the United States and President Obama particularly had mentioned the seven names and that was a clear signal that he wants to oust – to bring his government down, and as a response named the – one of the seven, the intelligence chief as minister of the interior, justice, and peace. Your reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the sanctions that we announced yesterday are directed at individuals – human rights abusers and corrupt individuals, not the Venezuelan people or the economy. There are specific reasons why each of those individuals under the executive order were sanctioned. The United States remains an important trading partner, is actually Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and despite the statements to the contrary from Venezuelan officials, we are not promoting instability in Venezuela. Rather we believe respect for democratic norms and human rights is the best guarantee of Venezuela’s stability. Hence our executive order. So allegations that these actions are an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan Government are false. The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Government of Venezuela to change their behavior.

Let me touch on one thing, because I think somebody asked it yesterday. It came up on the background call, which is the specifics of the language used in the fact sheet that stated that this was a national emergency. I think it’s important for everybody to understand – I think Elliot asked this yesterday if I remember – that this is how we describe the process of naming sanctions, and there are 20 to 30 other sanctions programs we have. So if you look at similar fact sheets – I understand people look at the context of what’s happening on the ground, but it’s consistent with how we announce and how we describe putting sanctions and putting these executive orders in place.

QUESTION: There’s another angle here. President Maduro is using this action by the President as an excuse to ask today and probably will get special powers, like President Chavez did several years ago, to allow him to do anything he wants to. And he’ll probably get that today.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those announcements. I think our view, obviously, continues to be that he needs to spend more time listening to the views of the Venezuelan people. So that’s what we would recommend.

QUESTION: The – one more?

MS. PSAKI: Anymore on Venezuela before we continue?

QUESTION: The —

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The charge d’affaires, Maximilian Arvelaez, was called today by the minister of the exterior, Delcy Rodriguez. Do you have any readout on the meeting, what they talked about?

MS. PSAKI: The recall of the charge back to Venezuela or another meeting are you referring to?

QUESTION: Another meeting, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any readout of that. We’ve been having ongoing discussions about their desire to have a dialogue about our presence in Venezuela. I don’t have any specific readouts, though.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to —

QUESTION: I’ve got another one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Cuban state press is saying today that Fidel Castro penned a letter to President Maduro congratulating him for his, quote, “brilliant and valiant speech in the face of U.S. brutal plans.” First of all, do you have a reaction to that? And could this kind of rhetoric affect ongoing talks between the U.S. and Cubans?

MS. PSAKI: Discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue as planned, so no, we do not. On the first part, I think I would go back to what I stated about our intention here. It’s not promoting unrest in Venezuela, as was suggested in the speech, or undermining Venezuela’s economy or its government. It’s making clear and sending a strong message about how – about the fact that we don’t accept human rights abusers, corrupt officials – it’s the sanctioning of seven individuals and giving the President the authority to do more as needed.

QUESTION: So there’s no —

QUESTION: So you

The road to 5G

Speech by Commissioner Oettinger at the Mobile World Congress

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be with you on the occasion of this plenary panel on “the road to 5G”. It is my first time at Mobile World Congress and I am really impressed by what is on display here. Just one thing: I thought the show was about phones, not about cars!

This is precisely the point: everything is turning digital, from cars to cities to services to machines. The digital economy is simply becoming THE economy.

And the future network infrastructure, 5G, will become THE infrastructure. Everybody and everything will use 5G. Anywhere, at any time, and on the move, always best connected with almost zero delay and a perceived limitless capacity. Today, we can celebrate that Europe is back in front to continue the journey towards this bright 5G future.

5G

So let’s start with it. This afternoon, the 5G-Public Private Partnership, which was launched here in Barcelona last year, will present our 5G vision, and I can already tell you that it is very exciting.

The digitisation of our economy and society is accelerating. It is unstoppable. With the Internet of Things, we see a new era of connectivity where billions of devices exchange data and instil intelligence in our everyday life. From watches to shoes. From fridges to heating. From hospitals to factories. Any industry will need to adjust to this new reality. But this requires a new generation of communication networks.

5G is expected to be the connectivity infrastructure that will foster this industrial and societal transformation. It is not “only” about more of the same: more capacity, more content, more speed. This is needed, but not good enough. It is about a network infrastructure that is as easy and pervasive as the air we breathe, one that can be used for all sorts of different and personalised usages.

A second key aspect is related to innovation. 5G should become an innovation platform. And with softwarisation and network virtualisation, open networks platforms will lower market entry barriers for service developers, and stimulate a market of third party providers. The same as with cloud computing. Today, we have millions of apps that work on different smart phones platforms. Tomorrow with 5G, the network itself could become a development platform!

5G represents an opportunity for the telecom sector to reinvent itself. With 5G, telecom operators should be able to provide specialised network services to a series of new industry partners: from the automotive, to rail, health or energy sectors. To guarantee that connected cars will be able to react in less than 1 millisecond and avoid collisions. Or that tele-medicine will save lives and not be stuck in traffic. This is why we need the right kind of rules for Net Neutrality. To guarantee an open Internet. But also to allow such specialised services to flourish.

In a nutshell, the advanced 5G infrastructure is expected to become the nervous system of the Digital Society and Digital Economy.

The EU industry has a major role to play in the context of global 5G. It has a strong influence on the competitiveness and innovation of other sectors. Beyond economic matters, it is also about security and technological sovereignty for Europe.

What has been done

These reasons led us to launch a 5G Public Private Partnership. With 700 million euro eamarked under the Horizon 2020 Research and innovation programme to get 5G up and running, while industry partners have committed to leverage the EU funding by up to five times. In one year of existence, this partnership has delivered very convincing results.

First, research is under way. The EU is pioneering 5G research with a set of projects already reaching completion. You can see some dedicated demonstrations here today, at the EC booth and on the corporate stands of key industrial players who participate in these research projects. I invite you to visit projects like METIS, or 5G NOW, to quote but a few.

More is under way, as we will soon award the research grants for 125 million euro to 20 projects to deliver the key building blocks for 5G. They cover novel network architectures, new radio technologies, new service platforms, and innovative utilisation of spectrum. They will place European actors in very good position to contribute towards the future standardisation and spectrum milestones ahead of 5G.

Second, we have progressed on the international front. The European Commission and the Republic of Korea signed a joint declaration on 5G. It is our intention to sign similar agreements with other key regions of the world, notably Japan, China, and the US. We target a single global 5G standard and global spectrum harmonisation. This will maximise global interoperability, and economies of scale.

Last but not least: the 5G vision will be delivered this afternoon. It is a global vision made in Europe and we hope that the whole world will embrace it.

So, what lies ahead?

5G is becoming a concerted global effort in which Europe is playing a leading role. Early 5G deployment is targeted beyond 2020. By then, we need to collectively address a number of challenges beyond research:

– First, we must identify new spectrum for high-performance 5G wireless broadband with a global footprint.

Spectrum – as the essential resource for the wireless connectivity of which 5G will be the main driver – stands at the centre of the digital transformation and is crucial for the completion of the Digital Single Market.

Early identification of a “5G spectrum bands” will contribute to Europe becoming a global hub for 5G development and investments. In the past, European position may have been fragmented, but we cannot afford it in the 5G race. We must build together a European approach in the international spectrum debates with other global actors. The International Telecommunication Union‘s World Radio Conference 2015 is a key milestone, to prepare for the in depth debates that should take place at the next conference in 2019.

But there can be no successful 5G deployment in Europe without enhanced coordination of spectrum assignments between Member States. A call for spectrum reform that European leaders set out in October 2013.

The Commission “Connected Continent” package was a first step in this direction. I welcome the progress in Council, now focussing on net neutrality and roaming. However I will continue to work with them and the European Parliament to achieve a political compromise on some other elements of the package that are vital to a wirelessly connected society and economy.

It contains important measures to facilitate small cell deployment and Wi-Fi which are at the heart of 5G success. Removing administrative barriers for their rapid deployment is the forward-looking policy of today to enable 5G tomorrow.

– Second, the development of standards. 5G standardisation is expected to start in 2016. Research results need to be leveraged early enough so that industrial actors can have very clear positions to defend it in standardisation fora. From the public side, we need to make sure that European and citizens’ interests are safeguarded, notably in terms of global interoperability and openness. Also reforms of the standardisation process, notably on intellectual property, must not discourage investments in research;

– Finally, the 5G full potential can only be realised if close partnership with “vertical” industries are implemented. We need to learn how to more systematically work across industrial siloes and to create cross sector added value. Also adjusting regulations, as they are not always compatible across different sectors. Connected cars are a typical example for which I have already launched an exploratory initiative.

The more immediate future

5G is about tomorrow, yet we need to solve a number of obstacles already today:

4G deployments. 5G will not supersede 4G but build on it. Being a 5G lead adopter requires to be a 4G leader. But Europe is still lagging behind on 4G deployments. There are however encouraging signs, and planned industrial investments on 4G are ramping up. Even more encouraging, Western Europe is leading deployment on latest Long-Term Evolution (LTE) generation, LTE Advanced, with about 50% of networks deployed in Europe. But Europe must do more.

The Juncker package of 315 billion euro is a huge opportunity in that respect. Investment in digital infrastructures is clearly part of this Commission priorities. We are taking steps towards adoption of the Commission proposal on European Fund for Strategic Investments as swiftly as possible so that new investments can start flowing later this year. We have also worked with Member States to define a pipeline of possible projects. Member States have already identified almost five hundred proposals for ICT and broadband projects representing a total investment sum of 151.7 billion euro in the next 3 years. The interest is there, and I encourage the sector actors to support the relevant Member States proposals;

Access and connectivity are core issues for the Digital Single Market strategy announced by President Juncker. In May the Commission will present this Strategy, feeding into the June European Council. But for me, it is clear that a Telecom Single Market is a cornerstone to the Digital Single Market.

To conclude:

With 5G, Europe has a great opportunity to reinvent its telecom industrial landscape. But 5G is much more complex than earlier generations, and it requires committed partnerships not only with the traditional telecom actors but more generally with the vertical usage sectors. It also requires new ecosystems of software developers. 5G is also a bold opportunity to spearhead the digital industrial transformation of Europe, and to support the Digital Single Market.

We are now at the cross road of exciting developments. I expect that the EU industry at large will set the path towards an ambitious 5G technology development and deployment roadmap. And the Commission is providing undivided support to the roll-out of these promising new technologies, at single market and global scale.

Thank you for your attention

 

East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Tokyo

Date: 02/05/2015 Description: Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman addresses reporters during her visit to Tokyo, Japan, on January 30, 2015. - State Dept ImageUNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good afternoon. It’s terrific to be here, but let me start actually on a more sober note – I want to express the condolences of my country, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and all of my countrymen for the loss of yours, and our fervent hopes and prayers that Kenji Goto returns home safely. Unfortunately, the United States has been through this sort of experience, and we know how difficult it is. We are in solidarity with Japan in every way.

I have had excellent conversations here in Japan. As was noted, this is the last stop on a long trip. It actually began not here in northeast Asia, but in Berlin for a G7 political directors’ meeting. I was in Zurich, for two days of negotiations with Iran, and then in Beijing, Seoul, and now Japan.

I have taken this as my first trip in 2015 because the President and the Secretary, this administration and I are very focused on the Asia-Pacific rebalance. And it made sense that we begin a series of what will be high-level visits throughout this year, in recognition of that rebalance. Our alliance with Japan – the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in Asia – continues to mature and develop. We are modernizing our security alliance through investments in new capabilities. We’re also revising the 1997 U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to further ensure Japan’s security, improve interoperability, advance our cooperation with other partners, and enhance our contributions to peace and security.

Meanwhile, we’re enhancing our economic relationship, and we are two of the most fundamental economies in the world. We are doing this both bilaterally and regionally, by negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And I am very optimistic that TPP will in the near future come to a positive point of closure. President Obama has reiterated very recently his commitment to working with Congress to secure a trade-promotion authority, as well as the importance of concluding this ambitious TPP to support jobs and economic growth in all the TPP economies.

Through TPP, our two countries are also helping lead the nation and the region to higher standards for trade. And to achieve these ambitious goals, we’re also working to resolve the remaining bilateral issues between us. In my recent trip in the region, it’s been clear to me that everybody wants to become part of TPP over time; and that TPP is a magnet for the development of trade and a strong economy here in Asia.

Our negotiators have made a lot of progress in recent weeks. There are some tough issues remaining. We are all working to resolve these as soon as possible, so that together we can reap the economic benefits of this agreement.

Regional prosperity, of course, goes hand-in-hand with security. You can’t have prosperity without security, and it’s hard to have security without prosperity. I just came, as I mentioned, from Beijing and Seoul. There is a natural imperative to work together to address threats like North Korea’s banned nuclear and missile programs, and to lower tensions in the East and South China Seas. We are working to build an effective regional architecture, including through institutions like ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and APEC. We do this because these institutions work for principles of fairness and rule of law and against the notion that might makes right. We know they are essential to peace and prosperity and to the security of all countries, large and small.

Beyond our bilateral and regional work, we are also strengthening our global partnership to counter violent extremism. Japan has played a critical role in the global coalition against ISIL and provided very generous humanitarian assistance across the affected area. Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the Middle East in mid-January further advanced Japan’s engagement on this issue. And needless to say, fighting the terror of ISIL is a top priority for all of us in the world.

Japan has also, helpfully, condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea and supported strong sanctions to deter continued Russian aggression in Ukraine. Japan has also demonstrated firm commitment to the people of Ukraine, providing humanitarian assistance and critical financial support to the Ukrainian government.

We are also two of the biggest contributors to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries counter the impact of climate change. This is one of the most crucial issues in the year ahead, as we approach the Paris conference, with Japan having pledged $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

On Ebola, Japan over the last year has donated about $150 million and also provided medical professionals to the WHO response. Japan has worked to alleviate health challenges and poverty across Africa and, quite frankly, across the world, for many years.

Throughout the past decades, Japan has demonstrated firm support for upholding human rights and democratic principles throughout the world.

Of course, the real foundation of our relationship is formed by the ties between our people. When I was a high school student, my pen pal – we used to have pen pals then – no Twitter, no Internet, no social media – my pen pal was a young Japanese schoolgirl. That was my introduction to Japan. Thousands of students make the journey between our two countries each year, and we want more, because they make lifelong friendships through those experiences. Unfortunately, the numbers of Japanese students in the United States are down from their peak in the 1990s, and while they are up for Americans going east, the absolute numbers are still low. In recognition of the seriousness with which both countries take this issue, our governments formed a taskforce that issued a variety of recommendations to increase student exchanges. We’re working with our Japanese partners to implement those recommendations.

In closing these brief remarks, I want to note – as I know you are all aware – that this is the year of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It offers us an opportunity to celebrate the stunning success of the U.S.-Japan partnership over these past 70 years – a partnership that has fostered, and continues to promote, peace and prosperity across the region. We welcomed Prime Minister Abe’s New Year’s remarks. I believe firmly that all parties have an interest in working together in handling commemorations this year in a way that truly promotes reconciliation and strengthens relationships.

With that, let me re-emphasize our belief that whatever challenges arise, you will find Japan and the United States side by side, meeting them together. I look forward to continuing my work with my Japanese counterparts, and I look forward to your questions. Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Mochizuki. I’m with the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Thank you very much for doing this, and welcome to Japan. Let me start with a question about ISIL, the Islamic State. As you know, the Japanese government has been struggling to release Kenji Goto, who has been taken hostage by ISIL for a long time. And now the Jordanian government, who has been cooperating with Japan, is now saying that they can swap the prisoner in Jordan who is a terrorist in prison for 10 years, with the Jordanian pilot who has been taken hostage by the ISIL. So my question is, do you agree with such a kind of swap between prisoners and hostages? And also, we really want to express our gratitude to you because you expressed your solidarity with the Japanese people, but what kind of support can we expect from the U.S. government with this situation? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think you will all appreciate and understand that it is best for me not to answer your question – that what is most important right now is our support for the Japanese people and for Japan’s government and to do everything to bring Kenji Goto home. We will leave that to the discussions that are going on and the decisions that are being made by the government of Japan.

QUESTION: Isabel Reynolds from Bloomberg. On the same topic, you mentioned the Prime Minister’s speech in the Middle East and how you welcomed Japan’s contributions to the War on Terror. Are you at all concerned that the fact that this hostage crisis came immediately after that speech would make Japan waiver in its commitment to the War on Terror?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: There is nothing I have seen and nothing I have heard in my meetings here or in all of my contacts and discussions with my colleagues that leads me to any other conclusion but that Japan, like every other country in the world, believes strongly that the threat of terror must end and that all countries must do whatever we can to stop this inhumane set of acts.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Kazuhiro Kuge from Kyodo News. Thank you for this opportunity. My question is about the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama tonight. What will be the main agenda of the meeting with Mr. Sugiyama, and could you give us some examples and details, if possible?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: In all of my discussions today – which have been excellent, including with your national security advisor and deputy foreign minister, and with some of your scholars as well, and again at dinner with Sugiyama-san – we have covered a range of issues: bilateral – how to strengthen our alliance to make it even stronger than it already is – and it’s an extraordinary alliance – all of the bilateral concerns and issues that we work on together. We’ve discussed regional issues including some that I mentioned in my opening remarks, and also global issues. We’ve discussed everything from the DPRK, which is both a regional and a global issue, to the Iran negotiations. We have discussed the situation in Ukraine. We’ve discussed the world economy. We have discussed the G7. So everything from the work we’re doing on the U.S-Japan Defense Guidelines to what the world is going to look like in this century. It’s been very wide-ranging – as one would expect in a relationship that is this deep and this strong, where we work side by side on virtually every issue of concern in the world.

QUESTION: Anna Fifield from the Washington Post. On North Korea, I’m sure you heard in Seoul this week that South Korea is very much now in engagement mode talking about dropping sanctions, talking about a summit with Kim Jong-un, and they could hardly be more different from your position, the American position, looking at increasing sanctions, the President talking about the inevitable collapse of North Korea. So how concerned are you about the fact that you allies now seem to be going in different directions and seem to be out of sync on North Korea, and how much does that complicate your efforts to get them back to the nuclear table?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Actually, I think there is absolutely no daylight between us and South Korea, and no daylight among any of the partners that are working as part of the Six-Party process – of course except North Korea, with which there is quite a bit of daylight. But with the other partners: none. And I had extensive discussions in both China and in Seoul, and of course here in Japan, and everyone is on the same page. We are completely supportive of President Park’s initiative to have discussions bilaterally with North Korea. She has said that denuclearization is the topic for those conversations, and we agree that that is the priority, as do all of our partners. Special Envoy Sung Kim was just here in Tokyo meeting trilaterally, and he has also had consultations with other partners including China and Russia. And everyone is on the same page: Denuclearization remains the priority. No one – no one – is taking any pressure off of North Korea. We expect there to be no further provocations, and we expect that North Korea will begin to take concrete steps to show that it is serious about denuclearization and making sure that this threat is removed from northeast Asia and from the world.

QUESTION: My name is Shota Sato. I work for TBS television in Tokyo, but I will ask my question in Japanese.

(Via interpreter) It is the 70th anniversary that we are marking this year after the end of World War II, and Prime Minister Abe intends to issue “Abe’s Statement.” There used to be a Murayama Statement and a Koizumi Statement and so forth, and the outline might be the same but the details will be different from the prime minister’s statement. Do you have any assessment or reaction to this?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: As I said, where the 70th anniversary is concerned, we see this as a time to really mark how much progress has been made in those 70 years and what we all have ahead of us. We understand that history remains, and we know that countries in the region are discussing the past as well as looking ahead to the future. And from the United States’ perspective, whatever the countries together resolve, whatever reconciliation works, whatever will strengthen relationships in the region is a good outcome. And we anticipate that we will have that good outcome, because my sense in all of my talks here in northeast Asia is that everyone wants to look ahead to an even better, brighter, stronger future here in northeast Asia, and in the world.

QUESTION: My name is Sakae Toiyama. I’m from Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa press. Let me ask my question in Japanese.

(Via interpreter) We have the Futenma issue in Okinawa with U.S. Forces in Japan. Last November, a governor opposed to the relocation of Futenma to Henoko was elected in Okinawa, and many Okinawans are opposed to the relocation. So I would appreciate your views on this, and what kind of discussion did you have during your stay in Japan about the Futenma relocation? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well of course Futenma came up in my discussions, because it’s an issue of great concern for all of us. The U.S. and Japan have worked very hard to find a resolution that will work for everyone. We expect that the relocation will proceed along the lines that have been agreed, and the U.S. will do everything it can to deal with any impacts that concern the people of Japan.

QUESTION: Anthony Rowley, Singapore Business Times. This is perhaps only peripherally related to today’s subject, but as you are aware, 21 countries recently signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing tentatively to join what is known as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Do you expect the United States to support that initiative, and if so, what will be the essential conditions that the United States will require?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. Actually, the Asian Investment Bank came up in my conversations on this trip. The United States’ position on this is that we will consider any infrastructure structure that helps to increase the prosperity and security of the region. But we want to make sure that any such bank or any such structure lives by international rules and norms, creates a fair playing field, and is in line with the other institutions that currently exist. Don’t replicate, but add to the strength and the value that they hope to bring to the table. So that is the basis on which we believe everyone should take a look at this idea.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. Mainichi Newspaper – my name is Omae. One more time, I have a question about ISIL. In the future, which kind of alliance or partnership do you expect with Japan? For instance, the EU is currently discussing the strategy against terrorism, so do you have any particular thing in your mind?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, the expectations – the expectations that I think Japan and every other country of the over 60 countries that are part of the anti-ISIL coalition – want, is to over time – because it will take time – to degrade and then take out ISIL. But this is not just a military campaign. That’s only one part of the anti-ISIL effort. There is also a need for humanitarian assistance, because there are so many refugees and internally displaced people, particularly out of Syria, as a result of ISIL’s actions. There is a need to deal with the issue of foreign fighters, people who go particularly to Syria and even Iraq to fight with ISIL and then may return to their home countries and create terror there – as we have seen unfortunately in the last weeks. There is an effort to counter violent extremism.

What can we do so that young people don’t think their future rests with q terror organization, but rests with a better education and building a strong economy so they have a job? It is also a strategy that involves strengthening and supporting the government of Iraq as it tries to gain control, and maintain control, of its country in the face of the threat of ISIL. So there are many prongs to this effort – stopping the financing mechanisms for ISIL. Countries around the world are doing different things to try to deal with this issue and to ensure that this threat is eliminated. This will take a considerable period of time to achieve, but there is intent from more than just the 60 countries, because many countries are doing this bilaterally or on their own even if they aren’t part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

QUESTION: Nishimura with Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper. Japan is expecting a visit from Russian President Putin this year. What kind of outcome do you expect if it happens with the timing when Russia and Ukraine have a serious issue?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The decision about visits is a decision for any country to make, not for the U.S. to make for another country, so I will leave it for Japan to make its own decision. What I will say, which the European Union in its Foreign Affairs Council meeting reinforced yesterday, is that Russian aggression in Ukraine in support of the separatists is continuing and getting worse. The aggression in Mariupol last week that left 30 dead, including women, children, the elderly as well as over 100 injured, is something that must stop. And the European Union yesterday – and we are certainly in concert with this – said the sanctions would continue and that they would consider additional sanctions if this aggression continues.

There are many places where we work with Russia on challenges around the world. Certainly Russia is an important partner in the Six-Party Talks and an important partner in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, but in Ukraine and on the issue of Ukraine, Russian support for the separatists and for the aggression which has taken place, for the attempt to annex Crimea, is something that should not be happening. The world community is responding to that in every way, as it must.

Thank you.

###

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 05, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  Hope you’re feeling as rested and recharged as many of us here at the White House.  I know that I am. 

Some of you are — although I don’t see too many tan faces in the audiences, just on the side.  So —

Q    Happy New Year.

MR. EARNEST:  Happy New Year to you, Goyal.  So I don’t have anything to start, Julie, so let’s go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Happy New Year.  Congress comes back tomorrow with Republicans in charge, and I’m wondering if the President has spoken to Mitch McConnell or the Republican leaders either while he was in Hawaii or since he’s been back, and if he has any plans to meet with them this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, I don’t know of any presidential calls that occurred while the President was in Hawaii.  I believe that both the President and the incoming Senate Majority Leader were spending some downtime with families over the holidays.  But I would anticipate that the President will have an opportunity to sit down with congressional leaders in the first couple of weeks that they’re back here.  I don’t have a specific date at this point, but I would anticipate that that’s something that will happen if not this week, then the week or two after that.

Q    He’s occasionally spoken to Republicans at their retreat; that’s in Pennsylvania this year.  Do you know if he has plans to travel to that?  Has he been invited?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not he’s been invited.  I am aware that those are their plans, but I don’t know yet whether or not the President will attend.

Q    Okay.  One of the first things that McConnell has said that he plans to bring up is the Keystone pipeline.  There’s going to be a hearing on it on Wednesday.  The House plans to vote relatively soon.  The President was pretty non-committal in his end-of-the-year press conference.  When he was asked about a veto, he said we’ll take that up in the new year.  We’re now in the new year, we know that this is coming up.  If Congress sends him a bill forcing him to move forward on the Keystone pipeline, will he veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m going to reserve judgment on a specific piece of legislation until we actually see what language is included in that specific piece of legislation.  I will say, as you noted, Julie, he did discuss this at his end-of-the-year news conference a couple of weeks ago, and he did note that the pipeline would have I think what he described as a nominal impact on gas prices in this country.  But he was concerned about the impact that it could have on carbon pollution and the contribution it could make to carbon pollution, the negative impact that that has on the public health of people all across the country, and the impact that that has on our ability to build communities across the country.  As we see weather disasters worsen, as we see in the form of wildfires or more severe hurricanes, that only adds to costs.  So the President does harbor those concerns.

The other concern, frankly, that we have is that this is a — that pipeline projects like this in the past had been resolved in a fairly straightforward administrative way; that there is a process that is conducted by the State Department to evaluate a project and determine whether or not it’s in the national interest of the United States.  That’s how previous pipelines like this have been considered, and we believe this one should be considered in that same way too.

The last thing I’ll say about this is there also is an outstanding ruling that we’re waiting on from a judge in the state of Nebraska to determine what the route of the pipeline would be if it’s built through the state of Nebraska, which means there’s actually not a finalized plan on the table yet for final sign-off.  So we don’t want to put the cart before the horse here, and that is why in the past we’ve taken a rather dim view of legislative attempts to circumvent this well-established process.

So all that said, I’m not prepared at this point to issue a veto threat related to that specific piece of legislation, but we will take a careful look at it with all those things in mind.

Q    Is it fair to say that the President would be urging Democrats to vote against the legislation approving the pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other.

Q    Okay.  And if I can just ask on one other topic, just on something that came up while the President was in Hawaii.  Representative Steve Scalise apologized for speaking to a white supremacist group 12 years ago.  Does the President believe that Scalise should stay in leadership?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, it is the responsibility of members of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders.  And I’m confident that in previous situations we’ve seen members of the conference actually make the case that who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are, what their values are, and what the priorities of the conference should be.  Now, we’ve also heard a lot from Republicans, particularly over the last few years, including the Chairman of the Republican Party, about how Republicans need to broaden their appeal to young people and to women, to gays and to minorities; that the success of their party will depend on their ability to broaden that outreach.

So it ultimately will be up to individual Republicans in Congress to decide whether or not elevating Mr. Scalise into leadership will effectively reinforce that strategy.

Q    So far, Republican leadership seems to be standing by Scalise.  Does the President feel that’s appropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he believes that it’s ultimately their decision to make.  But there is no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.  I mean, ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage.  So it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.
Jeff.

Q    Josh, the Afghan President said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States should consider reexamining its timetable for taking U.S. coalition troops out of Afghanistan.  Is that something that the White House has discussed with him?  And is it something that the U.S. would consider at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what the President has been really clear about is what our strategy in Afghanistan is; that after the end of the year, we are now in a situation where the combat mission in Afghanistan for U.S. military personnel has ended.  The Afghans are now solely responsible for the security of their country.

There is an enduring U.S. military presence and NATO coalition military presence in Afghanistan to carry out two other missions.  The first is a counterterrorism mission.  We continue to see remnants of al Qaeda that do have designs on destabilizing the region and U.S. interests.  We also continue to see a need for U.S. military personnel to play an important role in training and equipping Afghan security forces to continue to take the fight to those terrorist elements and to preserve the security situation in the country of Afghanistan.

There are a lot of hard-won gains that have been made in Afghanistan as a result of the bravery of U.S. military personnel and our coalition partners.  Much of that work — many of those accomplishments are due to the effective coordination between United States military and Afghan security forces, and we want to see that kind of coordination continue, even as Republicans take on — Republicans — even as Afghans take sole responsibility for their security situation.

Q    Freudian slip?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  We’re all sort of working out the cobwebs from the layoff. 

Q    What was your reaction then, or the White House’s reaction, to his comments in that interview?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, and I guess this is the other part of the answer that’s also important is the fact that we continue to have military personnel in Afghanistan to carry out these two missions.  The counterterrorism mission and the training mission, the training of Afghan security forces, is indicative of the ongoing commitment that the United States has to the government of Afghanistan; that we built a strong working relationship with the unified government there and the United States and countries around the world who have invested so much in Afghan security continue to be invested in the success, both political and economic, of the Afghan people.

And the United States is prepared to continue that partnership.  But as it relates to the strategy associated with our military footprint, we’ve been pretty clear about what that strategy is.  More importantly, the Commander-in-Chief has been clear about what that strategy is.

Q    On a separate topic, oil prices continue to fall with some resulting falls in the stock market today.  Is the White House concerned about this trend?  And are you watching it?  What is your reaction to it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is, I’m always very hesitant to draw any conclusions or offer any analysis about movements in the stock market.  I know that there are some who have observed — this is a little of a chicken-and-the-egg thing — that some of the fall in energy prices is a direct response to a weakening economy and a fall in the stock market.  So it may not be that one is causing the other; there could sort of be a reinforcing effect there.

What I will say more broadly is that we’ve talked before about why we believe that falling gas prices are, as a general matter, pretty good for the economy and it certainly is good for middle-class families that are being pinched.  And when they go to the pump and they see that the prices at the pump are up to a dollar cheaper than they were last year, that certainly means more money in the pocket of middle-class families.  That’s good for those middle-class families that the President believes are so critical to the success of our economy.

It also is a testament to the success that the U.S. has had over the last several years, in part because of the policies put forward by this administration, to increase production of domestic oil and gas.  It also is a testament to some of the policies this administration put in place five years ago to raise fuel-efficiency standards.

Q    But, Josh, I understand all these things that you want to list, but is the White House concerned about the economic implications of these falling oil prices?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that we’re always monitoring.  I believe we talked about this a little bit at the end of last year.  But we’re always monitoring the impact that any sort of policy area would have on the economy, so it’s certainly something that we’re watching.  I think that as a general matter, speaking broadly, the impact of falling energy prices has been good for the U.S. economy.

Michelle.

Q    Any response to these recent statements by North Korea?  And are you surprised by the nature of some of them — that they’re coming from a state, even though that state is North Korea?

MR. EARNEST:  They’re not particularly surprising.  We’ve seen comments from the North Koreans in the past.  As it relates to the subject that’s received so much attention in the last few weeks, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the administration spoke pretty clearly at the end of last week by putting in place a new economic sanctions regime against three North Korean entities and 10 individuals as part of our proportional response to that specific hacking incident.

Q    And the speculation that’s been out there from some analysts that it actually might have come from somewhere else besides North Korea, does the administration see no merit to some of those sort of statements out there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is an investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI.  They’ve obviously devoted significant resources to this.  They have their own area of expertise when it comes to these matters, and they have come to the conclusion, based on the evidence, that North Korea was responsible for this.  And I don’t see any reason to disagree with the conclusions that they’ve arrived at.  If you have questions about why they’ve arrived at that conclusion, you can direct it to them.

Q    And the President called this incident an act of “cyber vandalism.”  But we know that there is a review going on as to whether North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terror.  So does that mean that there’s a possibility the President is going to reconsider what he called this hack?  Or is that review of North Korea possibly being on the list based on purely other activities by North Korea? 

MR. EARNEST:  It does not mean that the President is reconsidering the way that he talks about this, but what is prudent is that our national security team is always reviewing the actions, particularly of nations like North Korea, to determine the proper policy response, and in some cases, whether or not that includes including them on the state sponsor of terrorism list.

Now, there are — I will say that there is a very specific technical definition for how states, or why individual countries, should be added to that list.  And so we will work very carefully to determine whether or not the actions that have been taken by North Korea meet that very specific technical definition.

Q    And I mean, the fact that North Korea is not on that list, Cuba is, both are under review — that doesn’t say a lot about that list and its weight.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think that it might actually say quite a bit about the weight of that list.  The fact that we take so seriously those nations that do sponsor acts of terrorism, that they are in a very small club.  But that is a list that you don’t want to be on, and it’s a list that we take very seriously as we formulate a foreign policy that protects the national security interest of the United States. 

And the fact that we make a very — take a very deliberative approach to determining whether or not a country should be added to the list or removed from the list I think is an indication of just how serious a matter a state sponsor of terrorism is.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Move around a little bit.  Justin.

Q    I want to go back to Mitch McConnell.  He, in an interview this morning — from the Washington Post, said that the single best thing that the Republican Congress can do is not mess up the playing field for 2016, the Republican presidential nominee.  So I’m kind of interested in the inverse of that question, which is, is that President Obama’s kind of number-one priority headed in for the last two years?  Or to what extent is preparing the Democratic Party for the 2016 elections and the leader that would presumably continue his vision a priority or something that’s on your guys’ agenda?  And conversely, to what extent are you guys trying to foil Mitch McConnell’s plan to sort of — he wanted the Republicans to seem less crazy, I guess —

MR. EARNEST:  Scary, I think is the —

Q    Scary, yes.

MR. EARNEST:  Typically, the beginning of the year is a time for optimism, where we set our sights high, where we really pursue our grandest ambitions, we make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves about how much we’re going to read more books or go to the gym more often.  And suggesting that they’re going to be less scary is not exactly the highest ceiling I can imagine for their legislative accomplishments this year, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless.

What I will say is that the President does have, in the vein of ambition, a lot that he wants to try to get done this year.  And over the course of this week even, you’ll hear the President talk quite a bit about steps that he can take to strengthen our economy, particularly to benefit middle-class families.  The President believes our economy is strongest when we’re growing from the middle out.  And I do think you can hear the President — expect to hear the President talking in detailed fashion about some of the executive actions that he can pursue and some of the legislative proposals that he’ll put forward that he believes deserve bipartisan support.

And this is something — this is a little different than what we’ve done in the past — this is an opportunity for him to talk about the State of the Union address as we get closer to the date where he’ll actually give the speech.  So a little bit more of a preview than we’ve seen in previous years. 

And I do think it is indicative of the kind of energy that the President is feeling, and, frankly, even optimism that the President is feeling; that we can build on the kind of momentum that we’re seeing in our economy right now to put in place policies that will be good for middle-class families and be good for the broader U.S. economy.

Are Democrats and Republicans going to agree on every aspect of the President’s strategy?  Probably not.  But are there some things where we feel like we can work together to get things done that will be consistent with the ambitions of both parties, and consistent with a strategy that will be in the best interests of the country and middle-class families in the country?  Yes, I think we can.  And whether it’s — I also noted in that same interview, Senator McConnell talked about finding new ways to invest in infrastructure.  He talked about policies we can put in place to open up markets for U.S. businesses.  And he talked about tax reform. 

So these are all areas where there does stand the potential for bipartisan agreement, and the President is certainly going to pursue them.  The President is also going to pursue some other things that Republicans may not like that he can do on his own.

Q    So I mean, I recognize I kind of teed you up there to talk about the next week, but I am actually interested in the sort of 2016 question, the extent to which this is starting to enter your guys’ kind of calculations.  Politically, obviously the President’s time in office is waning, but his legacy and — will be extended and especially influenced by his successor.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, as you may have heard from some of my colleagues after the last midterm election, that the way — the President sees it a little bit differently; that essentially, today marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of his presidency.  And as the President, an avid basketball fan, has observed, a lot of really important things happen in the fourth quarter.  And I think the President believes that’s true not just in an NBA basketball game, it’s also true of a presidency.  And he wants to make it true of his presidency.

And that I do think is why you will see the President pretty energized when he appears later this week, that he’s going to have a pretty ambitious list of priorities that he wants to achieve.  We’re going to look for opportunities to work with Republicans to make progress on those priorities.  And where Republicans don’t agree, you’re going to see the President take decisive action to make progress on his own where he can.

And that is, I recognize, not a significant departure from the strategy that we have employed in the last couple of years, but I do think that you’re going to see the President be even more energized and even more determined to make progress on behalf of middle-class families.  That’s, after all, the reason the President ran for this office in the first place.  And the President is going to spend a lot of time focused on that here in the fourth quarter of his presidency.

And I guess — so I guess the last part of that is — and all that is to say, that means that the presidential election in 2016 is quite a ways off still.  And the President believes that we should be focused on the kinds of policy priorities that are going to benefit middle-class families.  There will be plenty of time for politics.

Q    And then just on Steve Scalise, I know that you talked a little bit about it with Julie, but I’m wondering, did the President have a reaction to hearing that he had attended these rallies or the statement that you attributed to him?  Have you had a conversation with him about it?  Or does he think Steve Scalise should resign over this?  Are there those sorts of kind of feelings or sentiments coming from —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to him directly about this specific issue.  I can tell you that — but I do feel confident in relaying to you that the President does believe that ultimately it’s the responsibility of individual members of the House Republican conference to decide who they want to elect as their — as the leader of their conference.  And certainly, who those elected leaders are says a lot about who the conference is and what their priorities and values are.  And they’re going to have to answer for themselves whether or not elevating somebody who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” sort of reinforces the kind of message that the House Republican conference wants to project.

Cheryl.

Q    Yes, thanks.  Just on the legislative agenda, do you see the omnibus as sort of the model where you’re going to start seeing legislation that may have some things that you really don’t like but you’re going to sign it anyway because it’s probably the best compromise you’re going to get?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I would anticipate that anything — that the most substantial pieces of legislation that we hope to get done will necessarily be compromises.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces of legislation will include things that we strenuously oppose, it just may be that there are pieces of legislation that we feel like don’t go quite far enough but are certainly a positive step in the right direction.

But I think either of those scenarios fits what would be an acceptable definition of a compromise.  And I would anticipate that when we’re operating in an environment where we have Republicans in charge of the Congress and a Democrat in charge of the White House, that compromise is going to be the name of the game. 

And I certainly will hope, and the President certainly hopes, that Republicans are in — will pursue our work together in that spirit.

Olivier.

Q    Josh, the country’s largest police union today said the national hate crime statute should be expanded to include attacks on police officers.  Does the President agree?

MR. EARNEST:  I hadn’t seen that statement.  I think that’s something that we’ll have to consider.  Obviously, we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms any sort of violence against police officers.  And just a couple of weeks ago in New York we saw a brazen act of violence that really shook that community in New York.  And even here a couple weeks later, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House, including the President and First Lady, continue to be with the families of those two officers who were killed in that terrible attack.

So I think the question, though, is ultimately, what are the kinds of things that we can do to make it safer for police officers to do their important work.  And this will be among the things that will be considered by the taskforce that the President appointed at the end of last year.  They’re going to be holding their first public meeting next week.  They’ll hear from the representatives of law enforcement organizations.  Because the President does believe that building stronger bonds of trust between the community and the law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect that community is in the best interest, both of the police officers and the citizens of those communities. 

So trying to find that common ground and putting in place policies and looking for best practices where other communities have been able to identify that common ground is going to be part of the very important work of this taskforce and the President is looking forward to their findings.

Jon.

Q    Back to North Korea.  Given that there have been some doubts raised about — private-sector analysts looking at this and raising doubts about whether or not North Korea was actually responsible for the hack, is there some consideration to declassifying the evidence that shows that, in fact, North Korea has done this to give some confidence in the finding of the FBI on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were a couple of private-sector organizations that have endorsed the findings of the FBI.  So there are some people who have looked at the evidence and come down on a couple different sides of this.  Obviously what they’re dealing with here is something that’s pretty sensitive.  The evidence that they have reviewed and obtained by making it public does give a pretty strong indication to the North Koreans and, frankly, to other bad actors about the techniques that we use to investigate and to attribute these kinds of attacks. 

So it’s a tricky business here.  I wouldn’t rule out in the future that the FBI may be able to be more transparent about their findings.  But I’d refer you to them in terms of what they feel like they can comfortably release without undermining some of the strategies that they use, both to protect our infrastructure but also to investigate intrusions.

Q    And by using the phrase or the word cyber vandalism to describe this, is the President downplaying the significance of it?  Cyber vandalism, or the word “vandalism” sounds a lot less serious than the word terrorism, as some others have suggested.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it sounds less serious, but the President certainly believes — takes this incident, this attack, as something serious.  It had a serious financial impact on this American company.  It obviously had a serious impact on some of the values that we hold dear in this country about freedom of expression and freedom of speech. 

So it was not the President’s intent to downplay this at all.  I think the President was looking for a way that most accurately described exactly what had occurred.

Q    Okay.  Two other topics.  One, the news over the weekend that Boko Haram has taken over a Nigerian base on the border with Chad.  How much confidence does the White House have in the ability of the Nigerian government to deal with this threat?  How significant do you think the threat of Boko Haram is, and what’s the United States — is there any role for the United States to do anything about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple things about this, Jon.  The first is, there obviously is a counterterrorism cooperation relationship between the United States and a number of countries in Africa, including Nigeria.  And that kind of cooperation has been valuable in the past in trying to help central governments in Africa and other places in the world, frankly, combat some of these extremist elements in their countries. 

So that counterterrorism relationship is ongoing.  The clearest manifestation of that cooperation is the deployment of some military personnel that are on the ground in Nigeria to try to help recover those girls who were kidnapped from that school relatively early last year.  So that work is ongoing, but this is very difficult work and we’re going to continue to cooperate with the Nigerians as they try to do a better job of securing their country.

Q    But isn’t this an indication that that cooperation is not working at all?  I mean, first of all, the girls haven’t been rescued.  That’s on one side.  The other side, Boko Haram seems to be on the march.  I mean, they’ve actually overtaken a military base that was set up, in large part, to fight Boko Haram.  I mean, doesn’t this show that whatever cooperation we have with the Nigerians just isn’t working?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it shows that there is — that they face a very serious threat in Nigeria.  And the United States, it does have this relationship with Nigeria that we value, it’s a military-to-military relationship.  We also share some other intelligence assets that have been deployed to fight Boko Haram.  But this is certainly something that we’re concerned about.

Q    And just one last question on the Cuba deal.  Part of it was the Cuban government agreeing to release 53 political prisoners.  Do you have an update for us on how many of the 53 have been released?  Have they all been released, and who they are?

MR. EARNEST:  For a specific update — I’m going to have to take the question and we’ll get back to you — it’s my understanding that not all of them have been released at this point.  But as part of the agreement that was brokered that this prisoner release that the Cuban government decided to undertake on their own in the context of these discussions would take place in stages.

Q    so you’re confident they’re going to follow through on this?  I mean, there’s also been reports that the Cubans have arrested some additional political prisoners.

MR. EARNEST:  What I would say is, at this point, there is no reason to think that they are walking back any part of the agreement.  But we’ll see if we can get you some more details.

J.C.

Q    How concerned is this administration and how closely has this administration been and how closely has this administration been monitoring what is going on in Wall Street right now where the Dow has gone below 300, and the Euro has reached its lowest mark in nine years?  The concerns are the instability of the Greek government and new elections there; that Greece will, in fact, abandon the Euro.  What is the situation?  How does the White House look at this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, I can tell you that we’re always monitoring movements in the financial markets.  But in terms of sort of ascribing what may be driving those fluctuations in the market, I wouldn’t speculate on that.  But obviously this administration has been working very closely with our partners in Europe as they’ve worked to deal with some of the financial challenges that they faced over the last several years, both as it relates to some members of the EU, but also as it relates to the broader economic trends over in Europe.
You’ll recall that the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, spoke at this podium a couple of weeks ago, and he discussed some concerns about headwinds from Europe, that their weakening economy is certainly in the best interest of the U.S. economy.  But at the same time, the strength of the U.S. economy is due at least in part to some of the very important and difficult policy decisions that the President made early on in his presidency.
Mark.
Q    Gas taxes, Josh.  For the new year and of course the plunging oil prices and plunging price of the gallon has renewed the talk of raising gas taxes to help pay for infrastructure.  In the past, you guys have said that’s not on the table.  Is it on the table now?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s not something that we have proposed, and that’s been our policy.  We have put forward our own very specific proposal for how we believe we can make the investment that’s needed in infrastructure in this country.  That’s typically what the gas tax revenue is dedicated to, is investing in infrastructure.  And we have put forward our own specific plan for closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations, and using the revenue from closing those loopholes to investing in badly needed infrastructure upgrades.
There are some in Congress that have different ideas, including raising the gas tax.  That’s certainly something that we’ll take a look at it, but it’s not something that we have considered from here.
Q    Okay.  I ask because, among those proposals, Bob Corker and Chris Murphy have wanted to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years, I guess it is; you say there are others.  Two questions:  Are you, A, ruling a gas tax increase out?  And, B, is the President going to say something specific on infrastructure and gas taxes in the State of the Union speech?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything to preview at this point about — from the State of the Union on this specific topic.  But we may have more in advance of the speech, so stay tuned.
As it relates to specific proposals from Congress, we’ll certainly consider proposals that are put forward, particularly bipartisan proposals like that one that you mentioned.  But we’ve been really clear about what we think is the best way to get this done, and that is simply to close loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and well-connected corporations, and use that revenue to make badly needed investments in infrastructure that everybody benefits from.  I recognize that there are some other ideas out there, and we’ll consider those too, but we’ve been really clear about what we support.
Mara.
Q    Just to follow up on that — the gas tax is a kind of permanent, ongoing way to fund infrastructure.  What you’re talking about is a one-time-only closing of loopholes to get some money for infrastructure investments.  Do you think, as others have suggested, that the gas tax as a funding mechanism for infrastructure is broken and should be replaced by another mechanism?
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not saying that, although some have pointed out that the fact that we have — that our vehicles that are on the road are becoming more fuel efficient, which means they’re using less gas, which means that there’s likely to be less revenue from a gas tax.  But what we have said is that we believe there is a very specific way that we can close some loopholes that will generate revenue that will allow us to make some badly needed investments in infrastructure.
Q    But that’s not a permanent funding stream for infrastructure.  That’s just a one-time-only —
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it could be, because we’re talking about permanently closing the loopholes. 
Q    And that amount of money —
MR. EARNEST:  That would be a change in the tax policy.  It could be.
Q    I know.  But do you envision it as something that funds infrastructure over time?  I don’t really understand how that becomes a permanent infrastructure funding source.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re not suggesting that we abolish the gas tax, right?  But there is revenue that could be gleaned from reforming the tax code, and generating revenue that could be used to invest in infrastructure.  And so that’s what our strategy is. 
I recognize that there are other people that have other ideas, and we’ll certainly consider those ideas as they put them forward.
Major.
Q    Is there reluctance to talk about the gas tax because you believe gas prices trending downward are likely to reverse in the not-too-distant future and you don’t want to mess with anything in the price market or taxes for fuel?
MR. EARNEST:  I think the reluctance that you’re perceiving from me is that we believe, frankly, that we have a better idea for how to do this, which is that by closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations we can actually invest in the kind of infrastructure that will create jobs, stimulate economic growth and put in place modern infrastructure that we can all benefit from.  So we’re open to these other ideas that others have put forward, but we believe our idea is better.  But I’m not willing to —
Q    But no matter what the price of gas is?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, this is a position that we’ve had for some time, right?
Q    I know.  And there are a lot of energy economists who have said, well, look, this is a different — this is a time for a different conversation, because the prices are down and there is more room within what people used to budget, and the infrastructure needs of the country haven’t gotten any better, they’ve become more pronounced, if anything; and it’s time for a fresh look at this.  And I hear from you, you’re not inclined to give it a fresh look, and I’m just trying to figure out why.
MR. EARNEST:  I think what I’m trying to say is that we continue to remain open to giving it a look if somebody wants to put forward their own proposal.  Again, this sort of goes to Cheryl’s question, in some ways, about compromise.  We don’t believe that the best way to fund modernizing our infrastructure is to raise the gas tax, but some people do.  And we’re willing to consider those proposals.  We believe that the best way to do that is to close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected corporations.
Q    And interpreting your comments earlier that you may or may not have a meeting — the President may or may not have a meeting with congressional leaders on the Republican side this week, it sounds like he probably won’t, looking at the schedule.  Is it fair to say that that is a lesser priority than getting out on the road and sort of previewing the State of the Union and displaying the President’s energetic pursuit of his own agenda, and not treating the new congressional Republican majority as a secondary item, but not as important as his own rhetorical flourishes for this week?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we’re less focused on rhetorical flourishes and more interested in substantive policy ideas that will get our economy moving and benefit middle-class families.  That’s what we’re going to be focused on on the road, and that’s what we’re going to be focused on in our conversations with Democrats and Republicans who are in leadership positions in Congress. 
Look, the President met with congressional leaders a couple of times during the lame duck session, and I’m confident that he’ll do it again early this year.
Q    Right, but it’s just a different crew and a different power structure than during the lame duck.  I mean, I know this is many of the same participants, but they’re — 
MR. EARNEST:  Pretty much all of the same participants, isn’t it?
Q    Right, but they have different levels of power, and their proximity to them is completely different. 
MR. EARNEST:  But even in the context of those meetings that they had in the lame duck, they were talking about this — everybody knew what was going to happen after the first of year, right?  Everybody knew that the President wasn’t just meeting with the Senate Minority Leader, he was also meeting with the incoming Senate Majority Leader.
So I don’t think that that will substantively change the kinds of conversations that they’ll have early this year, which the President believes is important and he’ll do, but certainly there’s no reason we can’t do both, right?  What the President wants to do is he wants to make progress by debating and putting in place where possible substantive economic policy ideas that will benefit the middle class.  Some of those he can do on his own and he is going to do it.  Some of those he is going to require cooperation with Republicans in Congress to get it done and he is eager to do that, too.

Q    Right.  I know you don’t want to preview the State of the Union but the last time the President gave an address like that there was no war against ISIS.  There was no ongoing airstrike and a coalition to confront in two different countries.  Now there is.  So two questions.  To what degree will the President use the State of the Union to give the country an assessment of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done?  And how does the ongoing conflict influence the Defense budget that’s being put together and the ongoing discretionary cap limits that have one more year to go in a full budget cycle after this?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the State of the Union hasn’t been written yet, so I wouldn’t want to speculate —

Q    Yes, but Cody has been working on it, as you and I both know.

MR. EARNEST:  He is — he has been — but ultimately he’s not the author of it, even he has been working on it.

Q    No, I know, but it’s not like there’s a bunch of blank pieces of paper hanging around.

MR. EARNEST:  No, but it’s not as if the final words that are on the page are going to be the ones that will be read by the President of the United States on January 20th.

Q    But you know these things get blocked out.  What I’m just trying to figure out is how much does the President feel it’s necessary or worthwhile to assess what is a not-insignificant national —

MR. EARNEST:  You’re asking a very legitimate question.  I’m just trying to make it clear that those are — we’re still having those kinds of discussions about what actually is going to be included in there and to what extent it will be included.  But I am confident, as a general matter, that the President will use the opportunity of that national address to talk about the threat that we face from ISIL and what the United States continues to do by leading this broader international coalition of more than 60 countries to degrade and ultimately destroy them.  This is a multi-front strategy that includes airstrikes that were taken in support of troops on the ground; it involves combatting foreign fighters; it involves counter-finance, which you’ve heard David Cohen from the Treasury Department talk about from here.  It talks about important work that needs to be done on the humanitarian front.  And it continues — it also includes the efforts that we have undertaken, working closely with our allies, to counter ISIL’s message in the Muslim world.  So this is a multifaceted effort and I am confident that you’ll hear the President talk about this a little bit at least.

As it relates to the second question about the Defense Department budget, there obviously are — there is an impact on the Defense Department budget as a result of these ongoing efforts.  It’s one of the reasons that our priorities for the lame duck was getting some increased funding so we could ensure that we had the necessary resources to carry out this strategy.  And one of the other things that we talked about in the context of the omnibus was how disappointed we were that Congress didn’t act on the kinds of budgetary reforms that both the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon said were desperately needed.

And so I would anticipate that all of that — maybe not discussed in that much detail in the State of the Union, but it certainly will be a priority as we talk to Congress about the FY16 budget.

Q    And during the holiday break, several more detainees were repatriated from Guantanamo.  And the indication is that that’s going to be something that will be rather common in the next three or four months.  Would you be willing to say that this is something that this administration intends to accelerate in the early part of 2015 — to move as many detainees as are moveable out of Guantanamo in the early part of this year?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have, frankly, a lot of insight into what the short-term plans are in terms of who is — and sort of what sort of agreements are being contemplated and what troops are up for transfer in the short term.  I can tell you that it continues to be an important priority of this administration to ultimately transfer all of the detainees out of Guantanamo.

Q    But the President has conceded publicly that’s not possible.  That some of them are too dangerous, it can’t be tried.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, which is why we need Congress to take some action to remove some of the obstacles that are preventing the President from doing something that he believes is clearly in the national interest, which is closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Q    One last thing.  David Cameron said over the weekend that the President calls him “bro.”  Is that true?  And is there any other pet names he has for world leaders?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to paraphrase a local baseball player here in Washington, D.C., that’s a clown question, bro.  (Laughter.)  I’m just teasing.

Q    You don’t mean that.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  Mostly because I just wanted to use “bro” in my own response.  (Laughter.)  I am not able to give much more insight about the private communications between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom other than to —

Q    Having been revealed publicly, do you have any reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s assertion?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t because, as you know, they have a special relationship.  (Laughter.)

Peter.

Q    Given Mitch McConnell’s unusual admonition to the Republican majority that they should not be scary, I want to get a sense from you right now.  Does the President think the American people should be scared of a Republican governing majority?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s an interesting question.  (Laughter.)  I think the President has been pretty clear that there is a pretty stark difference of opinion about which policies are actually in the best interest of the country, about which — what kinds of policies are going to be in the best interest of middle-class families.  That is, after all, the President’s priority.  And I think by some of the policy choices we’ve seen some of the Republicans make, they don’t share that priority.  And that certainly is a strong difference of opinion. 

But, ultimately, I guess we’ll have to sort of see whether or not members of Congress choose to abide by the admonition of the new Senate Majority Leader.

One example I guess I can think of is the prospect of defaulting on the debt for the first time in our nation’s history is a scary prospect.  Hopefully it’s not going to come to that.  But we’ll have to see.

I guess I would say it this way.  The President does believe that there are some areas where we can cooperate.  So setting aside whether or not they’re scary or not, we do believe that there may be an opportunity for us to find some areas of common ground where Democrats and Republicans can come together to open up overseas markets for American businesses or to reform the tax code in a way that would actually make it more simple and more fair, and close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.  So there may be some things that we can do to cooperate and actually make some progress for the American people.

Q    We know mayor — back to law enforcement and New York City Police Department but police departments nationwide, some of which have indicated the rank and file, they feel betrayed by the President, by Attorney General Eric Holder.  Earlier you indicated that the President basically feels — certainly feels a sympathy for the loss experienced by the families in New York, but does the President feel a sympathy with those police — members of police departments right now who feel targeted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what the President believes is that it’s clearly in the best interests of people who are living in communities that have legitimate concerns and clearly in the best interests of law enforcement officers that have legitimate concerns to come together and try to strengthen the bond of trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And that is a pursuit that is important and would benefit communities all across the country.  And it certainly would stand to benefit law enforcement officers who do the heroic work every day of getting up and putting on a blue uniform, and putting their lives on the line to protect the community that they work in.

And that is a calling that the President believes is worthy of our honor and respect.  And if there are things that we can do to make it safer for them to do that important work while at the same time inspiring greater trust in the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect, that that’s a good thing, that that is a laudable goal and ultimately it will have the effect of fighting crime in communities all across the country.

Q    Mayor Bill de Blasio is going to speak in a matter of moments — when we leave this briefing, we’ll hear some of his remarks given the latest that’s been taking place up there.  Recently, Police Commissioner Bratton has called it very inappropriate that the officers turned their back to the mayor during the eulogy for officer Ramos.  Does the President agree with Bratton?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about it.  I do think that Commissioner Bratton did have I think an important view that he expressed on this.  He described — this is a letter that he sent to police precincts all across the city of New York.  And he said, “It was not all officers, and it was not disrespect directed at Detective Ramos.  But all the officers were painted by it, and it stole the valor, honor and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos’s life and service.  That was not the intent, I know.  But it was the result.” 

Q    So I guess, simply, even if — broadly speaking, does the White House think that action is inappropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I will say is that the part of Commissioner Bratton’s letter I think that resonates most strongly here at the White House is that those who are attending those funerals are there to pay their respect for the service and sacrifice of the two officers who were being laid to rest.  And certainly the President has — believes that their service and their sacrifice is worthy of celebration and respect, and should be afforded all of the outward symbols of honor that they’ve been given.  And I think that’s what the vast majority of the people who attended those funerals, including police officers who attended those funerals, actually gave.

Q    Digressing very briefly, we just learned a short time ago that two aspiring U.S. ski team members were killed in an avalanche in Austria.  That information is just coming to us, I don’t know whether you guys have been made aware or if the President was aware or had any thoughts, given that tragedy to U.S. aspiring Olympic athletes.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, I was not aware of that report.  Obviously, the President has on a number of occasions had the opportunity to welcome Olympic athletes to the White House, both as they’re preparing for competition and after they have competed.  And, obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who were apparently lost in this specific incident.

These are young men and women who make our country proud, and certainly they dedicate their lives to their pursuit and their calling and their passion, which is the performance in their sport.  And so I am not aware of this specific report but certainly if it’s true it is a tragedy.

Q    Josh, another update over the holidays would be these recommendations to reform the Secret Service.  And I wonder, has the President actually been given some sort of a report or a briefing?  And where is the White House specifically on this increased speculation that we might see the security fence outside raised?  That was one of the recommendations.  So where specifically is the President, White House staff on that?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question, Ed.  I don’t know whether or not the President has received this specific briefing but we’ll follow up with you on this.  And as you’ll recall, the President did have interest in reviewing this report.

Q    Right.  I just wanted to get it on the record.

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll follow up with you.

Q    Specifically working with Congress, following up on both Julie and Major on the meeting — not just the meeting itself, but why not meet with Republican leaders this week.  But you and others are giving this impression the President is ready to work with Republican leaders but no meeting this week probably.  Instead, he is going out on the road on his own and he did this interview with NPR over the holidays where he said, I’m ready to start vetoing a lot more stuff and there’s going to be a lot more executive action.  So aren’t you saying he’s going to work with Republicans, but his actions are actually speaking louder than those words?

MR. EARNEST:  Well Ed, I think the President’s action to invite Congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans to the White House just a couple of days after the midterm elections, and talk about where that common ground is, I do think that speaks to the President’s — the priority that the President places in working with Republicans to make progress for the American people.  But you’re also right that the fact that the President is going to start the new year by announcing some new executive actions and some new policy proposals that will benefit middle-class families indicates that he’s most focused on results.  He’s mostly focused on substantive policy ideas that will benefit middle-class families.

Q    But they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re already talking about, he’s moving forward on executive action.    He’s going out on the road to go directly to the American people — he’s free to do that but they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re saying he’s getting ready to do more executive action.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, he is.  And the President is determined to make progress where he can on his own.  As the President has said many times, particularly in the aftermath of the midterm elections, we can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others.  So, I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are going to be critical of policy proposals that the President pursues on his own to benefit middle-class families.  That may be an area where an honest disagreement exists. 

What we’re mostly focused on when we have conversations with Republicans, though, is figuring out, where is there common ground?  Where do we agree?  And the disagreements may be more plentiful, but that’s all the more reason we should spend a lot of time looking for that area of common ground and the President will do that.  He did that at the end of last year, he’ll do it as this year gets underway as well.

Q    Last thing.  Republicans talking again as they have many times before about trying to change the President health care law.  And I want to ask you specifically, not about that, but about this new book from Steven Brill, because this was not a quick drive-by.  He spent I believe 19 months interviewing a lot of people around here and from what I’ve seen of it so far, he points out the good of getting millions more people insurance, but both in the book and some of his early television interviews he’s indicating that he believes — this is after studying it very closely — it’s a raw deal for taxpayers; that a lot more people are getting insurance but the taxpayers are picking up that tab.  And that the health care costs are not coming down because of the law itself, despite what was promised.

MR. EARNEST:  Well let me say a couple things about that, Ed.  The first thing is it’s important for people to remember the Affordable Care Act substantially reduced the deficit, which is good for the economic health and the fiscal health of the country, and also good for taxpayers.  And we have seen that the growth in health care costs has been lower than at any other time in recorded history — in almost 50 years since they’ve been measuring that specific statistic.

We’ve also seen the average premium for employer-based health care coverage — these are individuals who are essentially not really affected by the Affordable Care Act and certainly aren’t getting health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act — they saw that their premiums only went up 3 percent, even though in previous years it had been going up by double digits every year.

So one of the goals, as Mr. Brill points out in this book, has been to limit the growth in health care costs and the numbers indicate that very early on, that there has been very important success associated with the Affordable Care Act in doing exactly that.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do in addition to expanding coverage and getting more people covered with health care; in addition to putting in place the kind of patient protections that the President has long advocated — everything from ensuring that men and women can get the kind of preventative health care maintenance, annual checkups and things;  that those can be covered free of charge; that you can’t be discriminated against because you have a preexisting condition.  We can put in place all of those things and we can actually limit the growth in health care costs, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act has done.

Q    And he also has this conclusion that from talking to the President own advisors, that people in the West Wing believe that the real chief of staff is Valerie Jarrett, and that when the author pressed the President himself in an interview, he just wouldn’t comment on that.  Why wouldn’t the President knock that down, why wouldn’t he say Valerie Jarrett is not my chief of staff?

MR. EARNEST:  I think because everybody already knows that.  And I think that Ms. Jarrett obviously plays a very important role here in the West Wing and in advising the President of the United States, but I think even she would tell you that she’s not the chief of staff and doesn’t want to be.

Alexis.

Q    Josh, can I follow up?  I have two quick questions.  One is a personnel question.  You had anticipated that the President’s Counselor, and maybe his senior advisor — I’m talking about Podesta and Pfeiffer — might leave in a few weeks.  Can you update us on whether they’re going to be departing the White House soon?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates on any personnel matters at this point.

Q    You can’t say whether John Podesta will indeed be leaving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can say — I mean, we said that when he started last year that he would essentially be serving through the end of the calendar year.  He’s going to stay on at the beginning of this year to help with the State of the Union.  I don’t have an exact date for his departure though.

Q    But maybe February?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any guidance on that, but we’ll keep you posted.

Q    Ok.  And you don’t want to say anything about Dan?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d say lots of things about Dan.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of any personnel announcements associated with Dan I’m not aware of any.

Q    The second question is, at the end of the year, the percentage of people who said that they approved of the job that the President was doing went up.  And lots of people have analyzed the polling numbers and why that is, and I was just wondering if the White House could share its own interpretation of why that percentage went up at the end of the year.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, like financial markets, it’s always a tricky, risky business to try to analyze what’s actually driving fluctuations in poll numbers.  I can tell you that — I think what I’d rather do is sort of convey to you why so many people in this building felt really optimistic heading into the holidays at the end of last year, and that is because we did feel like over the course of the last six weeks or so of last year that we had been able to make a lot of progress on a variety of important policy priorities that the President ha

Benefits of Historic Trade Achievements for Ontario in 2014

Under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), the government’s pro-export, pro-jobs plan, new markets around the world have been opened for Ontario exports. These historic trade achievements will benefit hard-working Canadians in Ontario and throughout Canada.

In just one year, the government has delivered on its GMAP commitment to eliminate tariffs and support Canadian companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and to boost exports, including through:

  • the conclusion of negotiations and release of the complete text of the historic Canada-European Union trade agreement. The agreement will eliminate tariffs on virtually all of Ontario’s exports. Ontario is one of the hubs of Canada’s manufacturing activities and is set to benefit greatly from this agreement. On the first day of the agreement’s coming into force, 99 percent of tariffs on manufactured products entering the EU will be duty-free.
  • the conclusion of Canada’s first free trade agreement in Asia with the landmark Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA), which will come into force on January 1, 2015. Ontario will see tremendous opportunities for export growth, given the complete elimination of South Korean duties on many Canadian products. For example, as of January 1, over 95 percent of South Korean tariffs on industrial products will be eliminated. This will lead to increased market access for key sectors of interest to Ontario, include aerospace, medical devices, clean technology, food manufacturing, information and communications technologies, life sciences, and metals and minerals.

Historic trade agreements require historic trade promotion, and under GMAP, the Harper government is supporting workers and businesses in Ontario and ensuring that SMEs have all the necessary tools to seize new opportunities and realize their full export potential.

Key elements of the trade promotion efforts include:

Go Global Export Workshops

Over the next several months, the Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, is holding workshops across Canada in collaboration with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and all the Government of Canada’s export support agencies. Under GMAP, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation have been aligning their activities, facilitating referrals, sharing market intelligence and information, and providing a whole-of-government approach to boost SME exports. In 2014, over 300 SMEs participated in Go Global workshops, including one in Mississauga, Ontario, in November.

Minister Fast will be hosting Go Global workshops in Kitchener-Waterloo on January 20 and in Richmond Hill on January 29, 2015.

Regional Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) Activities

In 2014, the TCS’s Ontario Regional Office assisted 732 SMEs, providing them with on-the-ground international business support, including 1,083 targeted services, and connecting them to new business opportunities.

Trade commissioners have been embedded with public and private sector partners across Canada, including in Ontario—with the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters – Ontario, the Canadian Services Coalition – Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Information Technology Association of Canada, the MaRS Discovery District and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce—so they may work closely with businesses to ensure the Government of Canada is responsive to their needs.

Export Development Canada (EDC)

EDC helped 2,041 Ontario companies finance or insure $19.42-billion worth of international sales and investments. For example, General Electric (GE) Canada and EDC worked together to identify and introduce innovative and globally minded Canadian companies into the supply chain of two GE Canada divisions in Peterborough; EDC provided financing for Toronto-based Merus Labs for its acquisition of an established pharmaceutical product in several European countries; and EDC led a $20-million commercial project finance facility for BioAmber to develop a biochemical production facility in Sarnia.

Overall, EDC’s new outlook calls for Ontario exports to increase by 7 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015.

Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC)

In 2013-14, CCC worked with over 65 companies in Ontario on export opportunities abroad, including Allen Vanguard Corp. of Ottawa, General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada of London, and Manitex Liftking of Vaughan.

Attracting Job-Creating Investments in Ontario

Significant investments were made in Ontario in 2014 that created jobs and opportunities for Canadians.

Through the Invest Canada – Community Initiatives program, the Government of Canada provided a total of $1.6 million to 22 Ontario communities or community organizations: Burlington Economic Development Corporation, Canada‘s Technology Triangle Inc., Chapleau Economic Development Corporation, City of Guelph, City of Hamilton, City of Niagara Falls, City of Welland, Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation, Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, Invest Ottawa, Invest Toronto, Kingston Economic Development Corporation, London Economic Development Corporation, Niagara Region, Quinte Economic Development Corporation, Regional Municipality of Durham, Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance, Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Regional Municipality of Halton, United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and Town of Whitby.

As part of GMAP, the government attracts investment to Canada, benefiting hard-working Canadians and their families. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) worked with provincial, territorial and municipal investment partners to facilitate 146 successful investment projects worth $3.65 billion and create over 5,500 new jobs within Canada. 

Opening Markets and Supporting Ontario Businesses Abroad

In 2014, Minister Fast led 13 trade missions to 20 countries. Trade missions connect Canadian businesses, especially SMEs, with new opportunities to boost their exports, which creates jobs, growth and prosperity across all regions of Canada, including Ontario. Minister Fast was joined by representatives of 78 Ontario companies on several of these missions—including Germany in March, where he was joined by 12 representatives; the United Kingdom in September, where he was joined by 11 representatives; and China in November, where he was joined by 28 representatives.

During his trade mission to India in October, Minister Fast was joined by eight Ontario companies: Best Theratronics, DataWind, Deloitte LLP, Environmental Waste International, IT Measures Ltd., LM Technologies Canada, Nrich Canada and Prudential Consulting. While in India, the Minister witnessed the signing of an agreement between Novadaq Technologies of Mississauga, Ontario, and Kirloskar Technologies of New Delhi to market innovation technologies in India.

During his trade mission to China in May, Minister Fast witnessed the signing of a contract potentially worth $10 million between EHC Global of Oshawa, Ontario, and the Shanghai Mitsubishi Elevator Corporation to develop innovative solutions for the Chinese elevator and escalator market.

Also during his trade mission to China in November, Minister Fast witnessed numerous signing agreements between various Chinese and Ontario companies, including:

  • one between Anemoi Technologies Inc. of Ontario and CSR Sifang to design and supply a high-speed train crash-testing facility;
  • one between Candu Energy of Ontario and the China National Nuclear Corporation to develop the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor and deliver CANDU new build projects in China and international markets;
  • one between Ontario-based Firan Technology Group Corporation and Shanghai Avionics Corporation concerning the design, development, manufacturing and product support of display system control panels for the Chinese C919 aircraft;
  • one between Ontario-based KELK and Wuhan Iron and Steel Group to supply state-of-the-art electronic measurement equipment for new builds or revamping of steel rolling projects;
  • one between Ontario-based LeMine Investment Group and Guizhou Fengguan Group for exporting canola oil;
  • two for Ontario-based Michael H.K. Wong Architects Inc. for design services for the headquarters building of the Fujian International Business Association and for the new Yangjiang Guo-Fu-Yi-Jia Health Care & Resort Centre in Guangdong; and
  • one between Ontario-based Plasco Energy Group and Shougang Group to bring Plasco’s waste-to-energy facilities to Beijing.

Innovative companies from Ontario can also count on the support of the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program. Seventy-six companies from Ontario have recently participated in CTA programs, including 41 in 2013-14 and 35 in 2014-15. These include dynamic companies like iNTERFACEWARE Inc., which took part in a CTA program in Philadelphia, and Voices.com, which which took part in a CTA program in San Francisco.

Minister Fast encouraged Ontario-based businesses to take advantage of the Enterprise Canada Network, provided in partnership with EDC and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, which provides online access to more than 30,000 business profiles and opportunities in the European market to help Canadian companies take full advantage of the historic Canada-EU trade agreement

Under GMAP, the Harper government committed to developing comprehensive strategies in key sectors. Strategies released this year that support Manitoba businesses include the International Education, the Extractive Sector and the Corporate Social Responsibility strategies, and an export-oriented Defence Procurement Strategy. 

Minister Fast invited businesses in Ontario to accompany him on his first trade mission of 2015. This trade mission to South Korea, which will take place from February 8 to 13, will enable businesses to take full advantage of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement and benefit from the on-the-ground support from the Government of Canada.

Quotes

“This year, 2014, has been the most successful year for international trade in Canadian history, benefiting hard-working Canadians in Ontario and in every region of the country. Under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan, we will continue our vigorous trade promotion efforts to boost our exports.

“In 2015, we will continue to focus on the real priorities of hard-working Canadians: creating new jobs and prosperity.”

– Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade

Associated Links

Quotes from Ontario Stakeholders

Trade Missions

“The trade mission to India was a fabulous experience overall. It was a great way to get the inside scoop on the feel and flavour of India by meeting the local entrepreneurs and elected officials who make the country work. The positive effects of this India mission for me included higher sales revenue opportunities, visibility and goodwill and a better perspective. An additional benefit was that the mission helped us develop close business relationships. This was a great way for the participants who were looking at doing business in India for the first time to initiate the process of breaking into a new market.”

– Dilip Ghose, Director/President, Global Business, LM Technologies Canada Inc.

“The trade mission provided a number of opportunities to connect with other Canadian companies operating within the region, as well as with key stakeholders and clients in Tanzania. We appreciate the support of the Canadian government to engage in this trade mission to Tanzania, as it highlights the current opportunities and ultimately benefits Canadian companies.”

– Peter James, Senior Consultant, CPCS Transcom Limited

“My company is very satisfied with the results of this trip, and all our strategic objectives have been met. We were impressed by all the work done by embassy personnel and commercial delegates and by ministers Bernier and Fast during this extremely well-organized event.”

– Marc Carrier, Account Director – Business Development, Rheinmetall Canada Inc.

“We are most appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this trade mission with Minister Fast. The whole-of-government support for defence export sales was an important factor in our recent contracts with Colombia and Peru. The ability to sign government-to-government contracts through the Canadian Commercial Corporation with a sovereign guarantee of performance provides a significant advantage to Canadian exporters.”

– Chris Brown, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada

“We have found the support of Canadian Trade Commissioner Service officers to be extremely valuable. The experience with the other participants during the trade mission helps to verify our common interest in this market. With the support of the officials, we met with a client yesterday truly interested in a solution for their situation. We are very grateful.”

– John MacDonald, President, IT Measures Ltd.

Canadian Technology Accelerator

“The Canadian Technology Accelerator experience helped refine and accelerate segment plan and pipeline development refinements, and help received during CTA participation has create an accelerated sales process and a more successful market strategy. The CTA was a useful facility in accelerating business/market planning, saving a substantial amount of time and effort and compressing plan-to-execution cycle.”

– Toni Skokovic, Vice President, Sales, iNTERFACEWARE Inc.

“The Canadian Technology Accelerator located in San Francisco’s RocketSpace provided Voices.com with the launching pad necessary for connecting with key stakeholders, for drawing new customers and engaging existing customers already in the San Francisco area, and for securing new partnerships with heavy hitters like Adobe—many who were part of RocketSpaces’ corporate development arm. Thanks to the CTA, a number of invaluable relationships were created for Voices.com. The growth experienced in the CTA has supported the expansion of our London, Ontario office.”

– David Ciccarelli, ‎Founder and CEO, Voices.com

Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

“The industry congratulates the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade on the government’s ongoing commitment to opening international markets and successfully negotiating CETA. The health of the Canadian economy depends on the ability to competitively export to markets around the world. CETA will deliver significant dividends for the Canadian economy over the years ahead.”

– Andrew Casey, President and CEO, BIOTECanada

“Ford Motor Company of Canada congratulates the Government of Canada on reaching a transformational free trade agreement with the European Union. Ford is a company built on free trade. Throughout our history, Ford has supported deals that provide an opportunity to increase effective two-way trade among all partners. Expanding trade opportunities is fundamental to Ford’s business plan, and the EU market represents a significant global market for our vehicles.”

– Dianne Craig, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company of Canada

“We applaud Canada and the EU for completing a modern, high-standard comprehensive economic and trade agreement that will provide enhanced opportunities for growth in both regions. We appreciate the hard work to find creative solutions that improve market access for Canadian-produced automobiles, while ensuring Canada continues to benefit from the integrated manufacturing sector that has developed in North America over the past 50 years.”

– Kevin Williams, former president and managing director, General Motors of Canada

“The EU is the largest buyer of Canadian soybeans, with more than a million tonnes exported to the region annually. We look forward to even greater trade with Europe with the implementation of CETA.”

– Barry Senft, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario

“Canada has some tightly controlled pricing regimes as [they] relate to drug products, and subsequently as time moves forward there should be no reason as to why drug prices would increase from the levels that we currently are at. This is good for Canada. It enables us to become more competitive with other countries around the world that currently have better intellectual property regimes.”

– Chris Halyk, President, Janssen Inc.

“We anticipate that this agreement, when it comes into force, will open new markets to Canadian exporters like NOVO Plastics throughout Europe and will generate significant commercial opportunities for all Canadian small to medium-sized businesses. NOVO Plastics will benefit from the elimination of EU tariffs on auto parts, which are as high as 4.5 percent. This will provide us with a competitive advantage in the EU market that few other countries have.”

– Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, NOVO Plastics Inc.

“Gaining preferential access to the world’s largest economy—with a GDP of almost $17 trillion and a market of 500 million consumers—will be good news for a trading nation like Canada. The value of the [financial] industry’s exported services has doubled in the past decade, and the sector now accounts for roughly half of Canada’s total stock of outward foreign direct investment. What’s more, exports by financial companies are growing faster than [those in] other sectors, and CETA could open new opportunities for our financial services providers.”

– Janet L. Ecker, President and CEO, Toronto Financial Services Alliance

“The European Union has become a key export market for us, with customers in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia who appreciate the high-quality and low-cost products we are able to provide. This agreement will make our products even more cost-competitive, which will expand our business, create new sources of prosperity for current and future employees and benefit Canadian manufacturers as a whole.”

– Ben Whitney, President, Armo Tool Limited

“Our exports to the European market are an important and growing aspect of our business. Creating an improved access to the European market with reduced tariffs and barriers would help us to continue to diversify our customer base and stabilize employment at ODG.”

– Michael Eckardt, CEO, Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG)

“We at Miovision are in full support of a Canada-EU trade agreement, and would consider freer trade with Europe to be a milestone achievement for the government procurement sector. At a minimum, the reduction of technical barriers to trade will allow companies like Miovision to reap far greater gains from existing deals with European customers. Ultimately, the faster Canada can gain preferential access to the European Union, the faster companies on both sides of the equation can grow and create jobs.”

– Kurtis McBride, Co-founder and CEO, Miovision Technologies

“In the eyes of our industry, CETA means increased demand here in Canada for construction. It means expanding companies. It means housing for the new workers. And it means people have the confidence to invest in their future and in construction. Hand in hand with seeking increased trade in the Asia-Pacific [region] and our existing free trade with the United States, freer trade with Europe will benefit Canadians and construction for decades to come.”

– Terrance Oakey, President, Merit Canada

“There is no doubt that a Canada-EU comprehensive economic trade agreement will be a huge win for the Waterloo region. As a regional economic development partnership, we seek to attract investment by showcasing the region as a place of great opportunity with an exceptionally talented and innovative labour force. That is exactly what this agreement will help us do, and is why Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. supports a successful CETA as a means to improving the Waterloo region’s competitive edge in the world.”

– John G. Jung, CEO, Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc.

“This is the classic way to create jobs, by lowering trade barriers. We are a trading nation. We are convinced that with better opportunities in Europe we can increase our production, therefore hire more people and, therefore, create jobs. That is how it is done.”

– Paul Van Meerbergen, Business Development Manager, Lamko Tool and Mold Inc.

“The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada strongly supports the government’s pro-trade agenda and successful completion of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the EU. A trade agreement would help Canada’s chemistry manufacturing industry secure new markets; stimulate economic growth, job creation and investments; and provide more opportunities to develop Canada’s natural resources—including energy—into value-added products for the benefit of the broader manufacturing sector.”

– Richard Paton, President and CEO, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada

“As a world-class supplier of medical and industrial high purity alcohol, a comprehensive economic trade agreement with the European Union will allow GreenField Ethanol to expand our operations into the lucrative EU market and take our products global. This agreement is about moving Canada forward and positioning Canadian companies to compete and succeed in the 21st-century global economy. Access to the European market through the reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade will open up new opportunities for my business and allow me to create well-paying jobs right here in Canada.”

– Kenneth Field, Chairman, GreenField

Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement

“This trade agreement is of tremendous importance to the food and beverage processing sector in Ontario and across Canada. For the agri-food sector the agreement commits to eliminating nearly 87 percent of tariffs on products from Canada to Korea. An open door to Korea will offer new opportunities for Ontario food and beverage processing companies not just in Korea, but all of Asia through a network of supply chains.”

– Steve Peters, Executive Director, Alliance of Ontario Food Processors

“The Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario is supportive of a Canada-Korea free trade agreement. South Korea is the second most important Asian market for Ontario wines, particularly our premium product, icewine. Such an agreement should increase the competitiveness of Ontario wines in Korea and ultimately lead to increased exports.”

– Patrick Gedge, President and CEO, Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario

“The signing of a free trade agreement between Canada and Korea is great news. We anticipate this agreement, when it comes into force, will open new markets to Canadian exporters like NOVO throughout the dynamic and fast-growing Asian market and will generate significant commercial opportunities for all Canadian small to medium sized businesses.”

– Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, NOVO Plastics Inc.

“Free and open trade with priority markets in Asia, most notably Korea and Japan, is vital to Canada’s national interest to be globally competitive, create jobs and increase prosperity. The successful conclusion of a trade agreement with Korea would also allow Canada to direct its full resources towards the swift completion of the economic partnership agreement with Japan.”

– Jerry Chenkin, Chairman, Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association of Canada

“With the imminent completion of these negotiations with South Korea, we expect that the Government of Canada will move expeditiously to finalize a Canada/Japan economic partnership agreement to level the playing field for all vehicle distributors in the Canadian market, which will create benefits for Canadian consumers.”

– David Adams, President, Global Automakers of Canada

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

December 19, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year. 

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people. 

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off. 

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come. 

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.   

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.
 
And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage. 

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.
 
So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list. 

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations. 

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement. 

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way. 
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair. 

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed. 

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important. 

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind. 

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.
 
And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people. 

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change. 

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not. 

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important. 

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.) 

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had. 

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress. 

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree. 

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done. 

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills. 

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.
 
All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.
 
Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world. 

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.
 
Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.
 
And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that. 

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision. 

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion. 

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions. 

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed. 

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped. 

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST