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Romano Prodi

President of the European Commission

Planning our work until the end of the term and the Convention

Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament

Strasbourg, 13 May 2002

Honourable Members,

The expiry of this parliamentary term and of the Commission's mandate is in sight.

In these years we have worked hard and we have worked well, thanks in particular to the close spirit of cooperation that has developed between our two institutions.

But we still have much to do together in the year before us:

  • The draft legislation already before Parliament and the Council needs carrying through;

  • We must table a number of new draft proposals we undertook to present and, last but not least,

  • In the next few months the Convention will complete its work and Europe's new Constitution will take shape.

  • Today I wish to discuss these points with you, beginning with the planning of legislative work.

The Commission's Legislative and Work Programme for 2003 is the first stage in the structured dialogue between the Commission, the Council and Parliament. It sets its sights high and is full of detailed proposals.

As can be expected at the end of any parliamentary term, there is a danger of overloading the system.

We are fully aware of this danger and have already taken steps to deal with it. The Commission's aim is not a lot of legislation, but good legislation.

At the end of April, the Commission asked its departments to undertake a detailed review of the Programme and to step up adoption of the key proposals.

The aim is more realistic planning that takes account of the Commission's capacity to table proposals and the other institutions' capacity to process them, starting with Parliament.

Our objective is to ensure legislation already presented is adopted by the end of the term. Parliament, the Council and the Commission must all work to achieve this.

As for the new proposals, whether or not subject to co-decision, the Commission intends to make good its commitments in its Legislative and Work Programme after carefully considering the political importance and urgency of each individual proposal. The timetable will also need to be reviewed so all the proposals have a reasonable chance of being adopted in time.

For example, unless exceptional circumstances or emergencies arise, new proposals subject to co-decision will be sent to Parliament in orderly fashion by mid-November at the latest. But the key factor is to keep a close eye on the three priorities in the Annual Policy Strategy: the enlarged European Union, stability and security, and a sustainable, caring economy.

In the course of the organised dialogue under way, the Commission will take the greatest account of Parliament's practical suggestions regarding the Work Programme for 2004 with a view to a seamless transition from this parliamentary term to the next and having due regard to the impact of enlargement.

As you see, we are doing all we can to ensure the legislative process continues smoothly up to April next year. The Commission is also aware of the need to keep things turning over properly -- that is, after the expiry of this parliamentary term and of the Commission's mandate.

The Commission relies on the close cooperation of Parliament and the Council to ensure the legislative process runs smoothly and efficiently until the end of the term.

Next July, Vice-President De Palacio will present an interim assessment of the Legislative Programme to the Conference of Committee Chairmen in accordance with the new Article 57 of the Rules of Procedure and together we will see how things stand.

I will now move on to the second point: the Convention on the future of Europe.

The Commission and Parliament were behind the Convention from the start and its full success is therefore in our joint interest.

It is vital for Europe's first real Constitution to be the result of an open and democratic debate. That is why we cannot delegate the task of settling the sensitive issues still pending to the Intergovernmental Conference.

The debate within the Convention and in the wider public now has built up its own momentum: we must not miss the chance of getting a definitive text by June.

The Convention has made good progress on some issues, such as:

  • the maintenance of the "acquis" as regards the Union's competences, which will be exercised more strictly thanks to the mechanism for monitoring subsidiarity;

  • the strengthening of the Union's instruments for action in the fields of immigration, asylum, cooperation in judicial and police matters and economic governance;

  • the extension of qualified-majority voting and the co-decision procedure;

  • the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Constitution (but without creating any new competences for the Union);

  • a stronger role for the national Parliaments, particularly through the monitoring of subsidiarity for the approval of European laws.

  • There has been significant progress in the field of external relations too. I do not want to anticipate the debate at the Convention's plenary session in a few days' time, but it seems clear the Union will have a real Foreign Minister with a double hat within the Council and the Commission.

For me there are two fundamental issues here that need clarifying further.

    If the system is to be properly effective, the Union's Foreign Minister must take his or her decisions in agreement with the President of the Commission.  This means there will be some interaction between Community and intergovernmental aspects in foreign policy too. Let us not forget that the President of the Commission also sits on the European Council.

    Secondly, the administration serving the new Minister must be organised in a clear and simple fashion with a clear chain of command up to the Minister. In order to avoid conflicts and overlapping with the other administrations dealing with the Union's external action, it must form an integral part of the Commission's departments.

As regards the institutions, our proposals have a clear aim: to define more clearly who does what in the European Union. In other words, who is accountable politically and institutionally for action undertaken.

This calls for a clear breakdown in competences between the institutions.

The new structure must be simple and more efficient and must ensure clear political accountability.

As far as the legislature is concerned, this calls for:

  • responsibility shared by Parliament and the Council;

  • general application of the co-decision procedure;

  • general application of qualified-majority voting, involving the double simple-majority formula -- that is, a majority of the States and a majority of the population.

As regards the judiciary, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice must be extended. It should also cover those aspects of our Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs that have a direct impact on citizens' fundamental rights.

Lastly, there is still too much confusion and too many contradictions as regards the executive.

The Union must have a single executive -- the Commission -- to:

  • execute legislation,

  • be responsible for administrative acts and

  • ensure compliance with Community law.

In the fulfilment of its duties, the Commission should work with the Council configurations in three specific areas:

  • the External Relations Council for foreign policy,

  • the Ecofin Council for economic policies, and

  • the Justice and Home Affairs Council for justice matters.

Of course, this calls for a very clear definition of their roles.

But the most sensitive point is the Presidency of the European Council and the other Council configurations. The College has discussed this at length and has looked at the options put forward to date, namely:

  • maintaining the current six-monthly rotation system,

  • team presidencies, and

  • electing Presidents for the various configurations from among their peers.

The Commission has no preconceived opinion: what matters is for the Council to function properly without creating a second executive, which would end up by becoming an intergovernmental replica of the Commission. An institutional solution of this sort would generate constant conflicts and unnecessary red tape.

This is the biggest danger.

It has been suggested that the Commission could be entrusted with the presidency of the "executive" Councils -- that is, all Councils except the legislative Council, which would thus become a genuine second chamber of Parliament.

The Commission maintains its opposition to this idea.

For the sake of a sound balance between the institutions, it is better not to confuse what the President of the Council does -- that is, work for compromise -- with the actual proposing and executing of Council decisions.

But the idea has its supporters and I would like to know what you think of it.

In general, these proposals seek to give greater continuity to the work of the Council.

If administrative continuity is the aim, then it is sufficient to improve things from the organisational viewpoint. To do that, the Secretary-General could play a stronger role and could perhaps be put in charge of the Presidency of the Council working groups, or possibly the Permanent Representatives Committee.

But if continuity means political representativeness, then we need to move onto the political level.

That means answering two questions:

  • Who would the President of the Council be accountable to?

  • And what would his or her duties be?

If we want to avoid duplication and overlapping with the roles played by existing bodies, the only solution would be an honorary President to act as a chairman. An institutional crisis will otherwise become inevitable.

We do not reject any alternative out of hand. But we are convinced that the "myth" of a permanent Presidency is not in itself a proof of its usefulness.

Lastly, I want to underline an important subject that has not been paid the attention it deserves until now: the provisions on the Union's policies.

The Convention has mainly dealt with External Relations, Justice and Home Affairs, and to a lesser extent, with economic and social policies.

As regards all other policies, the attitude so far has been to stick to the current provisions of the EC Treaty with the necessary adjustments in line with the changes made to the first part of the Constitution.

But let us beware: this chance will not come again and we must not let it go by. The Convention must look at all policies and bring them up to date.

We know it will be difficult to do this by 20 June. That is why I have suggested a special procedure to allow the other policies to be considered closely too, or at least to bring them up to date.

This could be done in the interval between the Thessaloniki Summit and the beginning of the Intergovernmental Conference.

We do not believe EU citizens should be presented with a text which is brand new in part while the rest is over 40 years old and possibly no longer in line with political reality today.

I do not want to labour this point, but I would like to remind you that all the Treaty provisions were updated in the Penelope project and the result is there for all to see.

This brings me to the end of my presentation. There are many important issues on the table and I am very keen to hear what you have to say.

Thank you.

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