Check against delivery
President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to speak here today at the Commission’s annual conference.
This conference comes at a time when we are faced with a number of important issues on the European agenda. Much is at stake. It is a time when we must reflect on the future of the EU. Where do we want to go? How do we get there?
There are decisions to be made that will affect us all for the foreseeable future. We must tackle the thorny questions of the future of the Constitutional Treaty, further enlargement and, not least, how we can get the people of Europe to feel that the EU is their project and not only a matter of interest to distant politicians and European bureaucrats.
As the principal driving force behind European integration for half a century, the Commission plays a crucial role. It defends the basic principles of the European Community and is the guardian of our common European interests when national interests otherwise divide member states.
Denmark certainly owes a lot to the European Commission – particularly as a small member state. The Commission: · engineered the Internal Market, from which we all benefit hugely today, · enforces the Union’s competition policy with great efficiency and integrity, · handles our common European trade policy with the rest of the world · has initiated a great deal of European legislation, benefiting citizens throughout Europe – not least in the areas of environment and consumer protection.
In a Union of 25 – soon 27 – the Commission will play a vital role. It must be not only the driving force but also the cohesive force. We need a strong Commission to act as an honest broker and to enforce and defend the acquis and the basic principles of the Community. So the role of the Commission will be more important than ever before.
And I am confident that the Commission will continue to carry out its functions excellently under the leadership of president Barroso. In fact, after reading the recent Commission communication “Delivering results for Europe” I knew that my confidence was well-placed. To a great extent it could just as well have been drafted in Copenhagen. I am in full agreement with the Commissions’ approach. The European Union must focus its attention on delivering results for its citizens.
As I see it, Europe faces two main challenges. 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 the people of Europe support the development of European cooperation and feel that the EU is of benefit to them as individuals? The two challenges are inextricably bound together. An EU that delivers results in relation to the challenges presented to us by globalisation is a precondition for popular support.
During the last few decades, the EU has been greatly preoccupied with its own development. Five new treaties in less than 20 years. And from 12 to 25 – soon to be 27 – Member States in the same period of time. A success by any criteria.
But, in looking for the way forward for Europe, we seem to have lost our way. At least if we are to judge by the feeling of alienation felt by many of our citizens. As far as they are concerned, the EU is characterized by institutions, procedures and articles. They fail to see what all this has to do with them. Our preoccupation with new treaties and stronger institutions appears to some to have become and end in itself.
We know that is not the case. 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 a means to that end.
But how do we get this across to our citizens?
Perhaps we should shift our focus. Rather than grand political projects we must aim to achieve specific results that meet their concerns.
I believe that the EU is faced with three major tasks.
Firstly, we need to enable Europe to promote growth and employment - and thus social security. One main task would be to further develop the internal market in such areas such as services, energy, and research and development. We must combat economic nationalism and protectionism. We must ease the administrative burdens of enterprises – old and new. And we must increase our investments in education, research and development.
The second task is to ensure the safety and security of our citizens, vis-à-vis transnational problems. Combating terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration, ensuring food safety, protecting the environment and facing up to the problem of climate change. The Union can, and must, do more to prove its worth to its citizens in all of these areas.
The third main task is to strengthen the ability of the EU to pursue the interests of Europeans on the international stage. More decisions must be made by a majority vote in common foreign and security policies. The Commission has any number of foreign policy tools – we just need to utilise them. Coordination between Mr Solana and the Commission must become more effective. As must be the use of the Commission delegations throughout the World. I should like to see us move towards a common foreign service capable of providing the EU with common face – a European face.
Some critics find that focusing on specifics is neither visionary nor ambitious. They seem to prefer grand institutional schemes to the specifics of consumer policy, research and development or consular cooperation. But I disagree.
I would argue, in fact, that focusing on specifics is not at all new. It is precisely the practical, common sense approach taken by Jean Monnet more than half a century ago. His vision was that of a Europe of peace and prosperity – an interdependent Europe with common institutions. His method was practical and specific. It was about cooperation in areas of common interest. And it is this approach that is going to bring European cooperation forward, with the support of its citizens, in the years to come.
So I am delighted to note that there seems to be an emerging consensus in Europe that we must turn our attention to delivering results to the benefit of our citizens. Yes, there is quite a bit of work to be done. But much of it can be done on the basis of the existing treaty. There is really no excuse not to meet these challenges head on. Which is what the Commission does in its recent communication. And what my government has also attempted to do in its recent work programme entitled “Achieving Europe”, a “Europe of Results”.
The results of the Danish debate during the pause for reflection confirm that solving specific problems tops our citizens’ agenda.
As for the main challenges to which the EU should give priority, the Danes believe them to be: · environmental problems, · terrorism, and · research and development.
Within the EU, the Danes are particularly concerned about: · complicated working and decision-making procedures, · insufficient financial control of community funds, and · lack of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
These priorities are, in fact, reflected in Danish EU policy and I know that they rank high on the agenda of the Commission and most member states. We have already achieved significant break-throughs in these areas. But there is clearly more to be done.
Another issue of great interest to citizens is that of further enlargement. They appear to have a very balanced view on relationships with the neighbouring countries of the EU and the further enlargement process.
So far, 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 with new 10 Member States was nothing less than historic. I feel pride in the active part played by Denmark in this success.
There is no doubt that the enlargement process should continue. It is important for our neighbouring countries in Europe to have a European perspective. And, naturally, we must deliver on the promises we have made.
Having said that, however, it is also obvious that there are limits as to how swiftly and how far the EU can be enlarged if the cooperation within the EU is to maintain its ability to provide solutions to those challenges facing Europe.
Naturally, the question of the external borders of the EU is becoming more urgent. I do not believe that it is possible, once and for all, to draw a line across Europe and say, “that’s it!”
However, we will have to give far more serious consideration to the ability of the EU to include new members. In terms of the Union’s decision-making powers, its common policies, and the support of its citizens.
We will therefore have 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.
I envisage that we, over time, will be moving towards a true pan-European economic area. An area of free trade and economic cooperation between the EU and its neighbouring countries.
A pan-European economic area would also require a strengthening of its neighbourhood policy. We must ensure that the neighbouring countries: · may, to a some extent, gain access to the Internal Market. · may participate in a number of EU programmes, for example exchange programmes for students, research programmes. · may receive considerable economic support for reforms – for example for the fight against corruption, border controls and reforms of their legal systems.
As we gradually approach a pan-European economic area, we will also have to consider whether these countries should be given the opportunity to come closer to the EU decision-making process in some delimited areas.
I hope that, together with the Commission, we will we able to work on these ideas in the not-too-distant future.
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Talking about the not-too-distant future, I can hardly omit to say at least a few words about the Constitutional Treaty, the very reason for the present pause for reflection.
The fate of the Constitutional Treaty remains in the balance. My bid is that we will not see any clarification of the situation for the time being. In fact, I expect that at the Summit in June this period for reflection will be prolonged.
Personally, I find the present situation very unfortunate. The Constitutional Treaty is very good - from a Danish point of view. It contains specific progress in relation to the challenges and tasks facing the EU. I would, therefore, have been delighted to see the Treaty ratified.
However, we must respect the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands. The fact is that as long as France and the Netherlands cannot approve the Treaty, it will remain on the shelf.
It would be premature to say how this situation could be clarified and what this could lead to. The ball is in these two countries ́ court.
But, regardless of how this particular problem is resolved, the basic challenges facing the EU remain the same. The enlarged EU must be able to function effectively and attend to the interests of the people of Europe. Which is why many of the proposals of the Constitutional Treaty are so obviously right.
The discussion about the fate of the Constitutional Treaty will not just go away. At some point, we will need clarification.
But lack of clarification with regard to the Treaty should not keep us from focusing on what European cooperation is all about: real political issues and close and committing cooperation that delivers results for the benefit of our fellow Europeans.
And I am sure that you all believe the same.
Thank you for your attention.