This is a difficult time for Europe. As growth stays low, uncertainty is everywhere. Our people, particularly younger people, face horrific unemployment.
Lots of people in the EU are asking tough questions. Will those prospects get better? How can we make Europe more dynamic and prosperous? How can we stay in the race with fierce global competition? How can we offer a better future for everyone?
They are asking those questions profoundly and earnestly. But for me the answer is pretty easy; I don't need to look much further than this room. We need to innovate our way out of the crisis. And for that, we need entrepreneurs: risk-takers, willing to break out on their own, try something new.
And you have a powerful tool to help you: digital technology, and the internet. A tool to help you plan, design and develop your ideas; make them real; then share them, spread them, sell them.
If you succeed, the rewards are rich. Not just for you: but for our whole continent. Start-ups create serious jobs, and the innovations you create can deliver a more energised economy, and a stronger society.
There's three main ways we can support you. The three R's.
First, rules. You need the legal and policy framework that lets you explore, experiment and profit from innovation. Whether it's making copyright fit for the digital age - or providing easy ways to pay online – the framework of laws and practices matters. And particularly if those rules can give you European economies of scale, so you can easily spread your business idea to 500 million people.
Second, you need resources. The EU has significant research and innovation funding available – and I think that should be even more accessible to smaller businesses, even more focused on innovation, even better at getting products to market.
But the funding will often be private: things like venture capital and crowd-funding. I know those are very important, but sometimes they don't work as well here in Europe as in the US. And I think there's a lot we could do to change that. An EU-wide approach to venture capital could ensure more critical mass, and a better chance of success. And we can make crowd-funding more visible, and more accessible: so people are more aware of not just the funding itself, but also the vibrant start-up culture it supports.
And third, you need recognition. You need people to recognise and support the life of an entrepreneur—friends and family, professors and politicians. Because maybe they don't understand what you do, or why it matters. They may think it's not a proper job – or that the only valid career is one that's totally secure and straightforward. Well, over in America, they have the American Dream, and they know that entrepreneurs are essential to their economy. So let's have a European dream, too. The kind of culture that validates and nurtures the life of an innovator. Success united in diversity.
The fact is, from Skype to Spotify to Angry Birds, there are many European success stories. Sometimes we're too shy to talk about them: let's not be! Let's promote European Entrepreneurs, celebrate them, and provide inspiration for the next generation.
Back in January, the Commission launched an action plan – showing our commitment to supporting entrepreneurs, including on the web. It followed a series of consultations to try to figure out where the EU could make a difference. I've already mentioned venture capital and crowd-funding: but there's lots of other ideas in there too.
For example, I'd like to see a Web Entrepreneurs "Leaders Club" – featuring a few high profile role models. The guys who've made it, who can boost the profile of start-ups, and share tips and experiences.
I'd like to see a new partnership, "Start-up Europe", linking up innovators established and new, companies large and small, mentors, accelerators and the media. So that whatever resources you need - whether it's technology, expertise, services, logistics, or profile - you can find it more easily.
And I'd like to see a European network of accelerators. Helping all those different programmes to network and share their success stories.
Plus, we'll continue to support awards that recognise the best start-up talent: like the "Europioneers Web Entrepreneurs" Award in Amsterdam in April; and the "Tech All Stars" competition in London in June.
And I want to take that further: in 2013 I'll be going on tour, the “Start-up Europe” tour, around and across Europe. A tour to spread the message that Europe needs entrepreneurs - and needs a culture and environment to support them.
Of course, we can't do the hard work. The ideas, inspirations, innovations won't come from the European Commission – they come from you. But we can help make success a little easier to reach. What I am pledging to you today is that I can be your voice; the voice of web entrepreneurs in Brussels.
And all together this can make a difference. It's the difference between a tech start-up actually happening, or staying an unrealised dream. It's the difference between that start-up growing, or being killed off early by caution and red tape. The difference between the brightest talents keeping their base here in Europe, or jumping ship to the US.
I want those bright new ideas not just to start in Europe, but to stay in Europe. I want to help you do that. And I want to hear your ideas: what are we doing well, what could we do better, and how can we help you achieve your full potential?