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Member of the European Commission
Meeting in Irish Parliament's Joint Committee on European
Senators and Deputies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Being part of a national parliament is something I truly miss. I have fond memories of the often tough and challenging debates, of the constraints in trying to find the balance between work to be done inside the House and the work that needs to be done outside in staying connected to constituents and citizens. For this is the unique and unparalleled value of national parliaments – that the citizen is the primary focus of your endeavours.
As senators and deputies you have a crucial role to play in developing discussion on European issues. The EU is often seen as a remote and distant entity. Indeed in some instances it is viewed with hostility, or even worse, with indifference. But both you and we have the responsibility to show how the Union is relevant to its citizens and that we share the common goal of working for the good of our citizens. Besides, Ireland represents a particular success story within the Union. As a member of the EU, Ireland was able to overhaul its economy and consequently better its citizens' standard of living in a relatively very short time.
We face many challenges which can be better tackled if common action is taken on a European-wide level. This is, after all, the added value of the EU. But in order to succeed in facing up to these challenges, we must ensure that Europe really counts for its citizens, both perception-wise and, most importantly, in that it delivers tangible results. And this can more effectively be achieved if we, in the European institutions, work hand in hand with the National Parliaments. President Barroso has therefore made it a priority of this Commission to enhance co-operation with National Parliaments.
The current debate on the way forward on the European Constitution is by no means easy. Without institutions, Europe stalls. Without a renewed institutional setup, Europe's institutions cannot credibly face up to the multiple challenges ahead. Institutions and treaties do not exist just for the sake of being there – they are key components of a mechanism. It is simple logic: institutions have to be equipped to cater for and deliver added value to actions of a social, economic and environmental nature, both within a Union that today already consists of 27 Member States and more, and in order to enhance Europe's effectiveness on the world stage.
Therefore, the Commission's position as regards the Berlin Declaration that is to be adopted on 25th March at the informal European Council is clear. The Declaration has to be meaningful in stating that we have to equip Europe to face the challenges of globalisation through open and competitive economies to generate growth and jobs. We have to ensure political solidarity through strengthened economic and social cohesion. We need increased accountability, with transparency and access to information as rights for citizens and obligations for Europe's institutions. Especially with the fight against climate change, sustainability is a defining issue for Europe's future. We also need to guarantee the security of European citizens. And in order to achieve the Union's goals on the global stage, we have to promote Europe's values and interests in the world.
What is also clear is that we cannot achieve these objectives alone. We need the dynamic engagement of the institutions and of the national parliaments that are closest to Europe's citizens.
In recognition of the important role that national parliaments play in the European project, the Commission has taken the logical step to further engage with you at an early stage of the decision-making process. As from 1st September of last year, the Commission started transmitting new proposals and consultation documents to national parliaments inviting them to send their comments on our proposals. Although still in its initial stages, this is a positive process that serves to deepen the ties between citizens and the European project.
The Commission is conscious of the need to bring Europe closer to its citizens. I am myself further committed to achieving better stakeholder involvement in my own area of responsibility because I believe that stakeholders themselves are best suited to assist us in moving issues forward. By opening a two way channel of communication, by building trust, we can achieve a better understanding of each others' objectives, although from time to time we may differ on the means to get there. Broad consultation was one of my major priorities when I was appointed Commissioner. It is a culture of doing things to which I attach great importance.
Within the fisheries sector, I believe that this involvement has started to pay off. Fishers are more aware of the need to look at the longer-term picture – picture that portrays a gradual approach which allows for sustainability in social, economic and environmental terms. This engagement with the sector – together with an enhanced understanding that we are fostering between fishermen and scientists, through the Regional Advisory Councils and by other means – will yield more ownership of decisions and, consequently, better results. At the same time, however, we must be clear that while we can discuss with and engage those who respect the rules, we have the obligation to ensure that those who flaunt such rules do not exploit an uneven playing field to the detriment of the majority of honest fishermen.
Hence one of this year's priorities will be the adoption of a proposal on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fisheries, both within and outside of the EU. Another issue that we hope to address is the system of discarding dead fish back into the sea. I have said time and again that I find this practice wasteful, unsustainable, and morally untenable. We will be attempting to address this complex issue in the coming months.
Broad consultation is also the password for the other area of my portfolio – maritime affairs. In adopting the Green Paper on a future maritime policy of the Union in June of last year, the Commission launched an unprecedented one-year consultation period on a whole host of questions, such as:
• How do we retain Europe's leadership in sustainable maritime development?
• How can we maximise the quality of life in coastal regions?
• Which tools should we provide in order to manage our relations with the oceans?
• What should we do to reclaim Europe's maritime heritage and reaffirm Europe's maritime identity?
• And, finally, of particular interest to parliamentarians, how should we best organise our governance of Maritime Affairs, whether it be at a regional, national, European or internal level?
I am pleased to note that European stakeholders have embraced this consultation. Throughout Member States, public and private organisations have organised events to discuss the issues raised in the Green Paper. Awareness of Europe's maritime dimension is growing.
As regards Ireland, I am pleased to acknowledge your involvement in the further development of a European maritime policy. In this context, it was very appropriate that Ireland hosted the conference leading to the Galway Declaration, with its emphasis on collective work in the marine scientific community. The Declaration rightly places particular focus on the role of the oceans in the broader climate and the carbon cycle. Above all, it spells out the contribution that maritime industries can make to the Lisbon Agenda - and puts equal emphasis on economic achievement and environmental sustainability.
As I look back over the past fifty years in Europe and its relations with the oceans and human activity on and in the oceans, I am pleased to look at the Green Paper as a sea change. Europe needs to look differently at the oceans. The oceans and all the activities based on and in them are a complete system – where the effects of activities and / or regulations in one sector invariably impact on most, if not all, other sectors of the maritime cluster. We are in the process of building this new joined-up approach to our relations with the oceans. I strongly believe that this is an area where Europe can make a difference, and a very positive one at that.
Chairmen, Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to wind up by referring to an event that, in many ways, ties in to all that I have referred to during my address. Later this year, the Dáil will be holding a special debate on Europe to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Today, I take this opportunity to launch, together with the Joint Committee on European Affairs, a consultation process on 'Europe at 50' by means of which the members of the public can feed their views and ideas on the European Project.
I am pretty certain that the views and ideas will reflect the fact that it has not been an easy 50-year run. But it has been overall positive. It has provided Europeans with peace and stability, with peace and prosperity. These are not platitudes, but reality.
And the beauty of it all, is that we, all together, can make it even better.