Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen, Your excellencies,
I am honoured to speak before such a distinguished audience of speakers of parliaments. I would - like Mr. Mejdahl - like to welcome you all to Copenhagen. I hope that you will have some fruitful discussions on the future of the EU and on interparliamentary cooperation. And I hope that you will enjoy your stay in Copenhagen.
This conference takes place at a time where the question of the role of national parliaments in the EU is more in focus than ever before. For many years Denmark has been a firm proponent of a strengthened role for national parliaments. And we will continue to support greater involvement of national parliaments.
I am therefore satisfied that we were able to agree to take a step in that direction at the European summit two weeks ago. The European Council decided to increase the openness of the EU legislative process and to strengthen the role of national parliaments. From now on all Council deliberations under the co-decision procedure shall be public. And national parliaments will now be consulted on all new proposals for legislation. They will play a role with regard to the control of subsidiarity, which is in some respects similar to what was foreseen in the Constitutional Treaty.
It is important that the voice of national parliaments is added to those of the European institutions. The involvement of national parliaments lends an important source of legitimacy to EU-decision making. It is a source of control by elected representatives of national electorates. And it is an important source of inspiration to the work done on the European scene.
In addition, the inter-parliamentary cooperation between national parliaments and with the European Parliament is essential when it comes to developing a real European public discourse on European politics. A discourse, which does not only take place within and among the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg. But a discourse, which transcends the boarders of Europe and connects to our citizens throughout the continent.
One of the EU’s main challenges today is exactly that - to reconnect the European project to the citizens. I believe that you – the national parliaments - have a very important part to play in that respect.
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I would like to focus my remarks today on three issues, which were all at the centre of discussions at the European Council’s session in Brussels two weeks ago:
- Firstly, the main challenges facing the European Union - “A Europe of Results”.
- Secondly, the question of the Constitutional Treaty and the way ahead.
- And thirdly, the question of the Union’s further enlargement.
All three issues are closely interlinked. And they all link up with the question of how to reconnect our citizens with the European project.
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1. The main challenges facing Europe – (“A Europe of results”)
Let me begin with a few remarks on the main challenges facing Europe.
Europe faces two major challenges in the years ahead. One is how Europe is to tackle globalisation in the broadest sense. The other is what I would call “the people challenge”. How do we ensure that citizens will support the development of the European cooperation and will feel that the EU is also of benefit for them?
The two challenges are inextricably connected. An EU that delivers results in relation to the challenges that globalisation presents us with is a precondition of popular support.
It is my firm belief that lack of clarification with regard to the Constitutional Treaty should not keep us from focusing on what European cooperation is all about: real political issues and close and committing cooperation.
We need to show our citizens that the EU is first and foremost about creating results – about finding solutions to problems, which citizens recognize as relevant and important. The purpose of European cooperation is to improve the livelihood and welfare of our citizens and to ensure the peace and stability of our continent. New treaties, stronger institutions, and better decision-making processes are means to that end. Means to creating results for our citizens.
Our citizens see the sense of common institutions and common policies if they deliver results. This is what is going to bring European cooperation forward with the support of its citizens in the years to come. This is what is going to bring back confidence and enthusiasm in the European project. And that is in fact a precondition for getting out of the present institutional limbo.
There are three major tasks for the EU in the years ahead, where the EU simply needs to deliver:
Firstly, we need to enable Europe to promote growth and employment - and thereby social security – in the future. A main task is to develop the internal market further – in areas such as services, energy, and research and development. We must combat economic nationalism and protectionism. We must ease the administrative burdens of enterprises. And we must increase our investments in education, research and development.
The second main task is to ensure the safety and security of citizens vis-à-vis transnational problems. Combatting terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration, ensuring food safety, protecting the environment and facing up to the problem of climate change.
The Union can do more to prove its worth to the citizens in all these areas. This is also why my government would support the use of the passarelle in article 42 of the present treaty to strengthen the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
The third main task is to strengthen the ability of the EU to pursue the interests of Europeans on the international stage. First and foremost, we need more decisions by majority vote in the common foreign and security policy. And we can do that within the framework of the current treaty.
I am happy that a consensus seems to have emerged in Europe that we must turn our attention to delivering results to the benefit of our citizens. This is what the Commission called for in its recent communication. This is what my government called for in our recent work programme entitled “Europe of Results”. And this is what Heads of State and Governments agreed to do at our recent summit in Brusssels.
This is simply essential if we want our citizens on board. And that again is necessary if we want to make progress institutionally and with regard to enlargement.
2. The Constitutional Treaty Some would say that the focus on specific policies and results is just an excuse for not dealing with the Constitutional Treaty. I disagree. On the contrary I believe that if the EU is able to deliver results it will receive the public support it deserves.
I think that the procedural decisions taken at the summit with regard to the further handling of the Constitutional Treaty were wise. The road ahead will not be easy. But I am very confident that the German presidency and the subsequent presidencies will be able to find workable solutions, which will allow us all to move on at the latest in 2008.
As you know my government and a large majority in Parliament stand firmly behind the Constitutional Treaty. It remains a very good treaty. And I still hope that it will one day come into force. It contains the right elements to move the enlarged EU forward.
But however much we would all still like to see the Constitutional Treaty ratified in its present form the fact remains · that all Member States need to ratify for the treaty to enter into force – some by popular referenda. · that two Member States have already lost their referenda. And they have so far not shown any signs of wanting to present the same treaty text to their electorates for a second try.
As the Prime Minister of a country with a tradition of referenda I can tell you that it is politically very difficult for a government to present its electorate with exactly the same treaty text for a second try. Let alone for a government to adopt by parliamentary vote a treaty, which has already been rejected by a considerable majority of the people.
After the Danish no-vote to the Maastricht treaty in 1992 we managed to find an individual solution for Denmark, which allowed the treaty to enter into force. The result was our opt-outs as you know. I am not sure that a similar solution can be found for France and the Netherlands.
On the other hand a majority of Member States have already ratified the Treaty - and it is of course very difficult for them to give up on it.
It is still premature to say what a clarification of the situation may lead to and what will become of the Constitutional Treaty. Many ideas have been floated. For the moment none of these would be acceptable to all. But irrespective of how the reflection pause ends, the challenges facing the EU remain the same. The enlarged EU must be able to function effectively and attend to the interests of Europeans.
The Constitutional Treaty offers many answers to these challenges, which we cannot afford to leave behind us. We will have to take them with us wherever we go from here.
3. Further enlargement
This brings me to the question of further enlargement.
The enlargements of the EU have been a resounding success. Democracy, economic progress, and stability have spread all over Europe to the benefit of both old and new member states.
The most recent enlargement of the new 10 Member States was nothing less than historic.
There is no doubt that the enlargement process should continue. It is important that our neighbouring countries in Europe have a European perspective. And naturally we must deliver on the promises we have made.
However, that said, it is also obvious that there are limits to how swiftly and how far the EU can be enlarged if the EU cooperation is to maintain its ability to provide solutions to the challenges facing Europe. Lets not try to ignore that.
And in our populations there are clearly worries as to the pace with which the Union is enlarging. We should not be afraid of discussing issues, which preoccupy our citizens.
That does not mean that we should stop enlargement. I do not believe that it is possible, once and for all, to draw a line across Europe.
But we have to give serious consideration to the capacity of the EU to include new members at a high pace – institutionally, financially and with regard to the backing of the Union’s citizens.
We should not establish new criteria or set new standards. But we must ensure that candidate countries are in fact ready to fulfil all existing requirements and that the Union is able to absorb new members.
We also need to make a much greater effort to develop an attractive neighbourhood policy. A policy that offers instruments for reform to countries that may not be considered for membership of the EU in the immediate term, while not excluding it in the longer term.
I envisage that we, over time, will be moving towards an actual pan-European economic area. An area of free trade and economic cooperation between the EU and the EU's neighbouring countries.
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Ladies and gentlemen, In conclusion, I do not agree with the pessimists who like to portray EU as paralysed and crisis stricken. I believe that we should not let ourselves be too distressed by the present state of the European Union.
Yes, we do need to find a solution to the issue of the Constitutional Treaty at some point in the near future. We do need a new treaty, which can help bring the enlarged EU forward. But we have seen over the past months that the European Union can deliver results on important issues such as the financial perspectives, the services directive, and REACH chemicals directive. Let’s not loose the perspective.
And yes, we do have great challenges ahead of us. We need to learn how to best tackle globalisation. And we need to reconnect the European project with our citizens. These are formidable challenges - but not at all impossible. The European Council took an important step in that direction when it decided to turn its attention to creating specific results rather than focussing its energies on the unresolved institutional issues.
You, the representatives of national parliaments also have an important role to play when it comes to reconnecting our citizens with the European project. Just as you bring your national agendas to the European level you can help bring the European agenda to the national level.
At the end of the day these are kind of measures, which will generate the trust and support of our citizens for future European projects – be it the ratification of a new treaty or further enlargements.