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Romano Prodi

President of the European Commission

2000 - 2005 : Shaping the New Europe

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 15 February 2000

Madame President,

Honourable Members of Parliament:

The start of my Commission's term of office comes at an auspicious time : the dawn of the third millennium. It is the ideal time to look at the challenges and opportunities ahead of us and at what European integration has achieved so far.

The first thing that strikes us is a paradox. On the one hand, European integration has given us a half-century of peace and prosperity unprecendented in the history of our continent. With the launch of the euro, we now have a completely united Single Market, enabling the EU to emerge as a world economic power capable of meeting the challenges of globalisation.

On the other hand, Europe's citizens are disenchanted and anxious. They have lost faith in the European institutions. They are losing patience with our slow rate of progress in tackling unemployment. The prospect of enlargement divides public opinion between hope and fear - hope for stability and progress, fear of a Europe without identity or frontiers.

Today's scepticism and anxiety cannot be overcome by harking back to yesterday's successes: ordinary Europeans have to be convinced that Europe's policymakers and decision-makers are capable of decisive and effective action Tthat they can modernize Europe and steer it towards a bright future.

This task is becoming all the greater and all the more urgent now that enlargement is under way. Enlargement is essential if we are to spread peace, stability and shared values throughout the continent. But depending on how we and the candidate countries implement the enlargement process, it can weaken or strengthen Europe's capacity for prosperity and progress.

Above all, we must reassure public opinion in our Member States that enlargement is not just an awkward necessity : it is a unique historical opportunity which is in our joint political and economic interest.

There are two key questions confronting us : what does Europe need now, and what does the European Union need in order to serve Europe?

First, Europe needs vigorous and sustained growth to defeat unemployment and social exclusion, and to give the EU greater weight in our own region of the world and globally.

Second, Europe needs security. External security must be achieved by reducing unrest and tension on our borders. Internal security must be achieved by combating crime, including organised crime. Crime needs to be tackled at its source which often lies in institutional disorder, poor education, social injustice and the soullessness of inner cities and suburbs. Security should also mean a safe environment and safe consumer products, in particular safe food.

Third, Europe needs a sense of meaning and purpose. We Europeans are the heirs of a civilisation deeply rooted in religious and civic values. Our civilisation today is being enriched by its openness to other cultures. What we need now is a humanistic perspective. Daily and systematically, our economic and social system must recognize the primacy of human dignity. It must ensure that all our citizens have genuine access to liberty, inter-personal communication, culture and spiritual life.

Fourth, Europe needs to project its model of society into the wider world. We are not simply here to defend our own interests : we have a unique historic experience to offer. The experience of liberating people from poverty, war, oppression and intolerance. We have forged a model of development and continental integration based on the principles of democracy, freedom and solidarity and it is a model that works. A model of a consensual pooling of sovereignity in which every one of us accepts to belong to a minority.

It is not imperialism to want to spread these principles and to share our model of society with the peoples of Southern and Eastern Europe who aspire to peace, justice and freedom. Indeed, Europe must go further.

We must aim to become a global civil power at the service of sustainable global development. After all, only by ensuring sustainable global development can Europe guarantee its own strategic security.

So much for what Europe needs. But what does the European Union need in order to serve Europe?

It needs :

  • to focus on its real priorities in view of enlargement, asking itself what really needs to be done at EU level and what should be done by the Member States or civil society. This requires a strong consensus of opinion.

  • the right policy mix to ensure stability for the euro and to sustain growth. The basis for this growth has to be a dynamic Single Market, greater competitiveness and real efforts to boost research and innovation,

  • to take further effective action to protect Europe's environment, to harmonise our social protection systems and to co-ordinate our tax systems. Taxation policy must strengthen EMU, spread the tax burden more fairly between capital and labour and thus help reduce compulsory taxation.

  • to create a European area of justice and security. To defend our security and freedom, the EU needs strong, efficient and accountable institutions. It needs a decision making process based on the triangle of a Council that reflects national sensitivities and the legitimacy of power pooled by sovereign states, a Parliament which provides democratic legitimacy on a European level, and a fully accountable Commission that inspires and manages, acting always in the European interest.

Mastering globalisation will mean devising a new form of global governance to manage the global economy. At European level, it will mean closer European integration.

This is now entering a decisive new phase. Until now, European integration has been a largely economic process establishing the single market, introducing the single currency. From now on it will be an increasingly political process. This is not a matter of choice it is a necessity: Europe's political integration must advance hand in hand with its geographical enlargement. The new frontiers of this integration are Justice and Home Affairs, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, defence co-operation and the crucial question of fundamental political values. These issues go to the heart of national sovereignty and require an even greater level of political consensus than those which dominated the 1980s and 1990s.

The Commission has translated this political dimension into four major commitments, which we unveiled last week in our strategic objectives for 2000-2005:

  • Promoting new forms of European governance,

  • Stabilizing our continent and boosting Europe's voice in the world

  • Towards a new economic and social agenda, and

  • A better quality of life for all.

Under the first of these headings - promoting new forms of European governance - we have announced a White Paper. It will do two things. First, it will ask fundamental questions about what policies we need in a European Union of up to 30 members, and how such policies can best be delivered. Second, it will ask what institutions we need for the 21st century and propose a new division of labour between the Commission, the other institutions, the Member States and civil society. A new, more democratic form of partnership between the different levels of governance in Europe.

Why do we believe action along these lines is necessary? Let me explain.

First, the matter of policy review.

The European Union has developed, over the years, in a sort of geological succession of layers: first the customs union, then the internal market, most recently the single currency. Policies were developed in parallel, as they became necessary and as each geological layer was established.

Until now, there has been no overall "master plan" under which policies were designed and co-ordinated. Our attempts to "mainstream" certain policies, such as environment policy on equal opportunities, into all other policy areas have not been entirely successful.

But the European Union is heading, in the medium to long term, for a major enlargement which will oblige us to radically re-think many of our existing policies and how they are delivered. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Do the citizens see and understand what we are doing? In other words, do European taxpayers know and understand where their money is going and why?

  • Are we doing things simply and efficiently enough? In other words, have we got rid of unnecessary paperwork?

  • Have we got our priorities right? Or are they the result of accidents of history?

Indeed, all our policies need to be fundamentally reassessed in view of our priorities. Inappropriate policies must either be radically re-invented or else scrapped.

To take a concrete example: competition policy. The present enforcement system was designed in the early years of the common market, in 1962, to ensure the Community-wide application of the competition principles and rules laid down in the Treaty. A strongly centralized system was adopted, which reserved exclusively to the Commission the power to adopt certain decisions.

Now the situation has changed. Cross-border economic activity has increased substantially because of the single market and the single currency. Anti-competitive behaviour cannot be properly controlled, or even monitored, solely at European level. All Member States have put in place antitrust authorities and competition culture is widespread.

This is why the Commission is proposing to decentralize its exclusive powers to national competition authorities and Courts. This will allow the Commission to better fulfil its core tasks in the competition field - developing and interpreting the rules and dealing with those competition cases that have a real Community impact.

In other words, the Commission will better fulfil its role as guardian of the Treaty without necessarily performing all executive tasks.

We shall therefore soon embark on an in-depth policy review, not auditing our policies for the umpteenth time but fundamentally questioning their impact and their political relevance.

This policy review will be completed in time for the next revision of the financial perspectives in 2006. At that stage we shall decide what policies really need Community funding and what is to be the balance of spending between internal and external policy and the balance between different internal policies.

Secondly, we need to ask ourselves what should be done at European level and what should be done by the Member States, the Regions or civil society. Far from advocating a centralizing role for "Brussels", I believe the time has come for some radical decentralization. It is time to realize that Europe is not just run by European institutions but by national, regional and local authorities too and by civil society.

Our citizens are not happy with the way things are done at European level. It is not just the Commission's recent performance they criticize: they feel remote from all European institutions, and are sceptical that we can deliver the kind of society they want. They are rightly calling for a much greater say in shaping the New Europe.

The challenge is therefore not simply to reform the Commission important though that is. It is not simply to make all the institutions work more effectively though that too is essential. The challenge is to radically rethink the way we do Europe. To re-shape Europe. To devise a completely new form of governance for the world of tomorrow.

Let me be clear here. The enlarged Europe will certainly need strong institutions. But they must be democratically legitimate institutions that operate in a transparent and accountable way and enjoy the full confidence of the citizens. People want a much more participatory, "hands-on" democracy. They will not support the European project unless they are fully involved in setting goals, making policy and evaluating progress. And they are right.

I believe we have to stop thinking in terms of hierarchical layers of competence separated by the subsidiarity principle and start thinking, instead, of a networking arrangement, with all levels of governance shaping, proposing, implementing and monitoring policy together.

Of course, we cannot discuss governance or participative democracy without tackling our capacity to ensure that women who make up half the population - are adequately represented in the debate and the decision making. We have to ensure that all European policies take full account of the gender dimension. Europe has been in the vanguard of progressive policy-making and legislation in so far as women's employment rights are concerned. We need now to look much more widely at this question in political terms.

We shall start work immediately on the White Paper, and I would expect it to be ready some time in the Spring of 2001. It will obviously develop in parallel with the IGC and our institutional reforms, since part of its focus is precisely the question of what institutions we need in the 21st century.

I am open-minded about the answer to that question. No institution not even the one of which I happen to be President should regard its present form or even its long-term existence as sacrosanct. I want a no-holds-barred debate on this question with all the players involved not least this House and representatives of European civil society. The purpose of the White Paper is to stimulate that debate, and it will contain substantive, focused proposals for action.

Honourable Members, action speaks louder than words. Effective action by European institutions is the greatest source of their legitimacy. The greatest threat to popular support for Europe is to continue multiplying unfulfilled promises. It is not Euroscepticism we should be worrying about: it is public apathy, based on the perception that we talk too much and do too little.

I am committed to closing the gap between rhetoric and reality in Europe. People want a Europe that can deliver the goods. This Commission is committed to deliver.

This Commission will therefore do two things: we will push ahead with making a success of our internal reforms, and we will review our priorities and focus on our core business.

In-depth reform of the Commission is essential, given the complexity of the challenges we have to face. It will mean a complete rethinking of our working methods.

We have to improve management skills, to ensure sound use of public money, to modernise our administration. Past experiences reveal how necessary this is.

But there is much more than that. We have to create the conditions for a shift from a procedure-oriented organisation to a policy-oriented one. This is what is really at stake in the reform process.

The Commission must become a political driving force to shape the new Europe. And it has to concentrate on this task, moving away from the more traditional tasks it has performed until now.

Our staff are our main asset in achieving this goal. It is only through the passion, the intelligence and the independence of our staff that we will be able to succeed. We want our staff to feel fully responsible and fully involved in the challenging but credible project of shaping a new Europe.

I shall be asking each Commissioner, in his or her area of competence, to review priorities over the next few months, in order to enable the Commission to deliver on our core business commitments in the years to come. Our aim is to shed low-priority activities and thus free up resources. Having decided exactly what the Commission's core priorities are we shall redeploy staff to those tasks.

This will be our response to one of the key criticisms made by the Committee of Independent Experts - the mismatch between resources and tasks. We will demonstrate that we can help them match by shedding activities. Until we have done so, we know this House will not accept any increases in the number of Commission staff.

However, to fully match activities and human resources, we shall undoubtedly indeed have to recruit new staff and I shall not hesitate to come back to this House with a detailed list of our requirements and of the activities we should otherwise be forced to discontinue.

My overriding aim is to ensure that the European Commission concentrates on its real job and does it efficiently and well: unless we are given the resources needed, we shall therefore refuse to take on any further non-core tasks.

Nothing illustrates this need for efficiency better than the need for effective management of external aid. The EU is the most generous donor of development assistance in the world, but we have an appalling record when it comes to timely and effective delivery. Staff shortages and top-heavy internal systems are part of the problem. The reforms I have been discussing will help to overcome these problems. But excessive regulations imposed by the Council are also at fault. These need also to be addressed.

It is a daily tragedy that we are unable to deliver our development aid more swiftly and effectively. We have good people on the ground in dangerous places, and they must be backed up by efficient administrative systems. Otherwise we are failing to make the best use of our resources, and the international image of the Union is undermined. In the name of the people of Europe, in the name of humanity, we simply have to become more efficient. Delivering aid when it is needed means saving lives.

The Commission is determined to make a difference. Fundamental structural reform is not an option, but a necessity. We need to improve our aid strategies and budget allocations to ensure that they reflect the needs of the beneficiaries and our own priorities. This must remain a core task of the Commission administration. At the same time, we need radically to overhaul the way we use external resources for the management and implementation of projects. This Parliament has made constructive suggestions for replacing technical assistance offices with new bodies that are more transparent and accountable. Our thinking is very much along the same lines for improving delivery of external aid.

Our success in this area is vital to our whole reform strategy. External aid will therefore be a prominent theme of the White Paper we present in a few weeks' time.

The Balkans situation is an acid test of our ability to deliver the effective action on which our credibility depends. Here, if anywhere, the gap between rhetoric and reality has to disappear.

The peoples of South-Eastern Europe cannot be expected to forget the recent past, but they do not have to continue to live in it. There are hopeful signs that things are at last changing for the better.

The people of Croatia have confounded the pessimists by showing that democratic change is possible. We will back the new government to the hilt as it embarks on the reform agenda it has promised to the Croatian people just as we will back reformers across the region, implementing the Dayton accords in Bosnia and Herzegovina, supporting the democratically elected government in Montenegro, embarking on Stabilisation and Association negotiations with FYROM and working towards that objective in Albania.

In Kososvo, meanwhile, we shall continue to give our full support the reconstruction effort.

We are playing a leading role in support of the Stability Pact, and working closely with other key players including the United States and the World Bank.

We are pressing ahead with the Stabilisation and Association process the roadmap to Europe.

And we are giving ourselves the tools to do the job.

  • We have just opened the new European Reconstruction Agency for Kosovo.

  • We are drawing up a new regulation to streamline and simplify all our assistance to the region, which we will present to you in the coming weeks.

  • Above all, we are working hard to speed up the delivery of our assistance on the ground by developing fast-track procedures and more effective ways of doing business.

  • We have just announced the creation of a Balkans Task Force in the External Relations DG dedicated to driving our policy forward.

But I want us to do more. I want us to :

  • find ways to liberalise trade within the region, and with the European Union and accession states.

  • help build the infrastructure links the pan-European networks and corridors needed to for effective communications across the region, and to help clear the Danube as rapidly as possible.

  • step up our efforts to entrench in these countries a civil society founded on pluralist institutions, the rule of law, and a free media.

  • increase our effort to help the diffferent states and regions to work together in the economic and political fields. Our commitment in the Balkans is to bring stable peace and strong economic growth, not just to bring a temporary halt to centuries-old conflicts.

While it is right that the Union protect its own citizens against the spread of organised crime, we must also help the Balkan countries fight this growing menace not least by helping them to train modern, professional police forces.

Our efforts throughout South-Eastern Europe will be long and costly, but we will not shrink from our responsibilities. The Union owes it to the peoples and states of that region our fellow Europeans - to stay the course. In return, we ask that they help us by committing themselves wholeheartedly to reform.

The situation in South-Eastern Europe - and, in a different context, Chechnya - shows how important it is to stabilize our continent and to secure peace, democracy and respect for human rights throughout Europe. That is why it is essential to make a success of enlargement and to develop a coherent policy of co-operation with our neighbours.

But democracy and respect for human rights must also be preserved with great vigilance within the existing EU. One of the things we shall be doing this year to guarantee this is to contribute to drawing up our Charter of Fundamental Rights. This has become all the more necessary given the new situation in Austria.

Let me remind you of what I said in this House earlier this month regarding the Commission's political role in the Austrian situation. When a Member State is in difficulty so is the whole Union. A supranational institution should not isolate an EU Member State but keep it firmly in the fold. This is what the Commission will do.

We shall keep a close watch on the situation in Austria. The EU's survival depends on its adherence to its fundamental principles of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights. These principles reflect the commitment of all Member States to the sanctity of the individual, whatever his or her beliefs, status or origin.

These principles also form an integral part of the rule of law, and I want to assure you again that the Commission will be unswerving in its determination to apply the rule of law. We will not tolerate even the slightest infringement of the rights of individuals or of any minority.

That is why, on 7 February, I sent a message to Chancellor Schussel of Austria, congratulating him on his appointment as I do to every new Head of Government of a Member State. My message is couched in the customary language for such occasions. But the central and most important section addresses Chancellor Schussel, in no uncertain terms.

"I am sure", I wrote in my letter to the Chancellor, "that, as set out in your declaration "Responsibility for Austria A Future in the Heart of Europe", you will demonstrate the same commitment as shown by your predecessors to the construction of Europe and the defence of the common European values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law".

I would remind this House that the Commission, last November, put forward a proposal for an anti-racism Directive. I want to challenge the Council to act swiftly in adopting this proposal, and I urge this House to deliver its opinion quickly so that the negotiations can get moving.

So, Honourable members, let me recap for you the other things this Commission is committed to doing in the next five years. We have set them out very clearly in our strategy paper.

  • We will vigorously conduct the enlargement negotiations and help develop effective co-operation with our immediate neighbours such as Russia and the Mediterranean countries.

  • Then there is the wider world. One of the political priorities for Europe's foreign policy in the years ahead will be a major new effort to help the whole of Africa achieve political stability and sustainable development. This is the only way, in the long run, to deal with the twin scourges of war and famine which have for too long afflicted the peoples of that continent.

  • We will also work to ensure, in spite of the setback of Seattle, the relaunching of a comprehensive Millennium Round. The forces of globalisation should be harnessed to the needs of the world and sustainable global development secured. For a new Round to succeed, both Europe and the United States must show greater sensitivity to the needs of the least developed countries.

  • We will push for the development of a new economic and social agenda designed to increase competitiveness and create jobs. The Lisbon Summit in March will mark a major turning point in this endeavour. Full employment must be restored as a major policy objective.

  • We will help make Europe a better and safer place to live by taking action on the environment, and by implementing the Tampere agenda and the measures set out in the Food Safety White Paper. I wish in particular to draw your attention to the Danube emergency. This is a dramatic example of the need for European action on environmental disasters and, in particular, for a "civil protection" emergency structure at European level. This is urgently needed.

  • Finally, we will play a leading role in the debate over how an enlarged Europe should be governed so as to reconcile diversity and decentralisation with the need for strong institutions and co-ordinated action. Hence our White Paper on European Governance.

These are not vague aspirations: they are measurable goals we have set for ourselves. To succeed, we shall need the active co-operation of all the institutions but we shall do all we can to persuade and cajole. I am willing to be judged on those areas where it is in the Commission's power to act. For the rest, it will be the Union as a whole which must be judged.

How will we know, in four or five years' time, whether the European public is satisfied that the European Union has delivered the goods? How is the EU as a whole to benchmark its success? I propose a very simple benchmark: a higher turnout in the 2004 European Parliamentary elections.

In the meantime I appeal to Europe's citizens to break the apathy barrier and take a close interest in our progress. Watch us. Find out what we are doing. Consult the register of my correspondence. Then tell us what you think. We are committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Honourable Members, we are living at a time of unprecedented opportunity. The economic outlook is good. and the unique combination of sustained growth, the information society revolution and the expanding European market offers us the "virtuous circle" we need.

If we act boldly and decisively together, we can shape the new Europe our citizens want and that we owe to future generations.

A just, humane, inclusive Europe.

An exciting, energetic, enterprising Europe.

Everyone's Europe.

Let us work together to make this decade a decade of outstanding achievement and success.

A decade history will remember as the decade of Europe.

Thank you.

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