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Margot Wallström

Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Institutional relations and Communication strategy

The Constitutional Treaty: The Way Forward

Notre Europe debate on "Plan B: how to rescue the European Constitution"
Brussels, 18 october 2006

First of all, let me thank Andrew Duff, Notre Europe and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe for this invitation and what promises to be a lively and interesting discussion.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate Andrew for his pamphlet. This paper clearly constitutes a useful and deep thought contribution to the debate on the institutional reform.

I would like to start my intervention by making five general remarks.

1. Institutional reform is needed. The issues and the problems addressed by the Constitutional Treaty have not gone away. We need to revise our decision-making procedures to make them more democratic, more transparent and more efficient. In many institutional areas, improvements are not achievable unless the changes that the Constitutional Treaty would have brought into the current system would enter into force. We need to move forward. And we also need to clearly demonstrate to citizens why we need to move forward.

2. I think all of us who are committed Europeans and who strongly believe in the European project have a fascinating task: re-launching the European project; being creative, innovative and forward looking; finding fresh and new ideas, which would gather consensus. We will do so with open minds, with our intellectual honesty and without being afraid of leaving the traditional paths, as Andrew is doing.

3. After the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, it would be more and more difficult to argue that the Union can continue to enlarge further without having achieved an institutional settlement. I am one of the strongest supporters of the EU enlargement and I do believe that enlargement is the biggest contribution that the Union can provide in terms of bringing stability, democracy and peace to the European continent. However, policy makers ought to be realistic. The decision-making process is already heavy with 25 and soon 27 Member States. It would increasingly difficult to include new Member States without having put out house in order and having achieved a comprehensive institutional settlement.

4. Since the last European Council, there is a consensus emerging on the need to continue with the reform process. I am glad that the European Council in June has set up a precise time schedule and has given a clear mandate, in particular to the incoming Presidency. I am convinced that all the Institutions have to contribute to this process. I know that Parliament will certainly wish to do so. And I wish to ensure you that the Commission will also play its role in this process.

5. But we must be clear. The Union cannot afford a second failure. Therefore, we need to dedicate our efforts and use our energies to make this process successful. We also have to prove that we have listened. We also have to achieve concrete results in a not so distant future and possible around the European elections of 2009.

We face a difficult situation. Despite the high number of ratification already achieved, the Constitutional Treaty can not enter into force in the current situation.

We also know that the French and the Dutch leaders have made clear that the same text cannot be submitted to a second attempt of ratification. In this respect, I believe that the future Governments and leaders of the Netherlands and France will have to explain how they see the way forward, on the basis of the interpretation of the “No” of their citizens.

But I am also convinced that we should have a broader perspective. How could we forget that fifteen Member States have already ratified? They probably would not like to depart very much from the existing text. This is a political challenge.

Nor would the Commission like to depart too much from the Constitutional treaty, to whose principles, aims and values we continue to be committed. The ideal solution should no be too far from the current Constitution.

Therefore I believe that, among the many different options which are theoretically possible, the departure point can be only one: keeping the core of the Constitutional Treaty unmodified on sensitive and delicate issue such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the new rules on majority voting, the President of the Union, injecting more co-decision, in the system, the citizen's initiative, and many more. This should also cover the Charter of Fundamental rights, which shall continue - as it is the case in the Constitution, to have legally binding force.

Let me know comment more in details on some issues raised by Andrew, without being of course exhaustive, since his pamphlet is so rich of ideas and pertinent analyses.

When I read your pamphlet, I recognized a few ideas you have already put forward in the past, few ideas that you have has considerably developed in the last few months.

Andrew makes several proposals on the structure of the Constitutional Treaty. Introducing a hierarchy between the different Parts of the text, and in particular making Part III relating to policies subsidiary to Part I, is one of them.

This Part III should, according to Andrew, be subject to a simplified revision procedure, which would clearly make it easier to adjust European policies to new political, economic and scientific developments. Let me recall that more flexible revision procedures of the policies within a strictly defined framework were promoted by the Commission during the Convention.

If we consider that a large part of the debate in some of the Member States actually focused on the policies – and in particular on those policies that have not undergone any changes since the Treaty of Rome was signed 50 years ago – one can see that this idea might eventually become increasingly attractive.

Andrew also promotes a revision of Part III, with a focus on 5 topics as priorities for modification: economic governance, social model, climate change, enlargement, EU financing scheme.

Andrew's proposals are extremely ambitious and some of them are very attractive, such as the proposals on climate change and climate security. These are one of the biggest challenges we have to face and which need a European, not to say international or global, answer. As a former Commissioner for Environment, I have much understanding for Andrew's proposals to better integrate this challenge into European policies.

At the same time, one should not underestimate the difficulties we would face if we were to start revising Part III. One single example: we are all convinced that we need to reform the way we finance the Union but at the same time we are all aware that this reform will require intense and difficult negotiations. Therefore we have to bring into our reflection an important aim: the timeframe.

If we are looking for a solution that should be operational in a realistic timeframe, my impression is that we could only concentrate on a limited number of proposals for changes on the substance.

Andrew also refers to core groups of Member States: one based on the eurozone and another one related to a European social Union. I know that in Andrew's mind, these "avant garde" would remain open to all Member States and would be just a means to further integrate, within the Constitutional institutional framework, with those which want to move ahead.

I would however make a note of caution, as it could be perceived as division rather than inclusion. Such a short time after the last enlargement, it is crucial to consolidate first. I am looking for solution which is inclusive.

My two last remarks concern the democratic dimension of the modification process.

First, should a decision be taken to renegotiate the Constitution, it seems obvious to me that such a renegotiation can not completely ignore the actors that have been involved in the preparation of the Constitutional Treaty. Can we afford to exclude the civil society from this process? How would we engage the citizens in this process? We have a strong interest to be inclusive in the decision making phase, and to ensure that any new text benefits of the largest possible support by the European citizens. Ratification procedures are equally important. While the responsibility of ratification lies with the Member States, I am convinced that Member States could decide to coordinate more closely the ratification procedure. And I am attracted by the idea of a popular consultation, organised the same day in all Member States.

If we would be able to find a way to hear the voices of the European citizens on a future text, we would create the conditions for a real democratic debate at European level, rather that restricting the debate at a national level. This would also contribute to the emergence of the European Public Sphere, which I strongly advocate.

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