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Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Institutional
relations and communication strategy
European Parliament plenary session
The next European Council will be an important test for the European Union, for its ability to deal with difficult challenges and to look ahead with ambition.
Of course the main issue for discussion will be the Treaty settlement. But the conclusions will touch on several other issues, and rightly so.
It is important to show that the Union is willing to deliver the right policies for its citizens: directly, and by creating an effective and democratic Europe. They are all part of the same effort to get closer to citizens and to serve the common interest.
Let me pick out three key issues.
That means recognising that a better coordination is needed to face up to the ever increasing flows of migrants at our borders and in our seas, but also to reap the benefits of migration for the labour market and for society at large. At the same time, illegal migration and trafficking in human beings are on the rise and require our immediate attention.
The European Council will be invited to agree to apply the comprehensive approach to migration to the EU's Eastern and South-Eastern neighbours. The European Council should also pay attention to the need to further reinforce the management of our external borders. The Rapid Border Intervention teams should become active very soon.
These are some of the key policy issues to be covered by the European Council. But as we all know, the key issue will be to move forward towards a Treaty settlement. I need not repeat here the urgency of this matter or its significance for Europe's future: our discussion on the Brok-Baron Crespo report yesterday left no doubts about what it at stake.
I believe we can be cautiously optimistic about the results. The German Presidency has made huge efforts in the past months to build a new consensus among the Member States. The Berlin Declaration reminded us of what we are trying to achieve together, how much we have in common and how Europe has and will make a difference for the peoples of Europe.
Since then, the Presidency has been listening to the position of the Parliament, the Commission and every Member State. All have showed their willingness to find a solution to move Europe forward.
For the Commission, the starting point for a new Treaty settlement is clear: to serve Europe's citizens. This discussion is not a theoretical institutional debate. The institutions are there to respond to the needs of citizens, to realise policy goals, to deliver results. But they need the right way of working, and the right standards of democracy, transparency and accountability. We cannot implement our agreed policies with one hand tied behind our backs. We need the capacity to act in a changed environment, in the Europe of a globalised world.
So what does this mean for the European Council? It means of course that we need a fair and balanced solution able to command a true consensus. A second failure might have dramatic consequences for European construction.
But it also means keeping a high level of ambition. A lowest common denominator solution might bring short-term harmony, but it would store up problems for the future. Simply introducing minor changes in the treaty of Nice will not be sufficient.
The Commission welcomes the efforts to find a solution. And the first place to look for solutions is the Constitutional Treaty.
On the substance, the major part of that work remains valid. The innovations introduced by the Constitutional Treaty are still pertinent. And they need to be translated into reality, not questioned.
The community method must be protected, including the Commission's right of initiative. The single pillar structure and the single legal personality would concretely enhance the Union's capacity to act in a global world. The enhanced role of Parliament and the increase advances in qualified majority voting should be preserved.
The Constitutional Treaty is also bringing a very good solution on to implicate more the national parliaments and one that strikes the right balance between the role of the National Parliaments and the role of the European Parliament.
Similarly, we will defend the legal binding force of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which forms an integral part of the package which was agreed by the Convention and the IGC.
Of course, we acknowledge that some changes must be made and we respect all those who have expressed their view. We will not run away from a serious discussion about the form of the text, or the EU's symbols, or other areas that have all been mentioned for discussion. And as far as the form of a new text is concerned, we will do our utmost to try to ensure that any new text will be readable and accessible.
Our position in the negotiation will be ambitious and firm.
But let me also add a point which is intimately linked with our debate on the Treaty settlement. We don't just need a deal among the institutions and the Member States. We equally need a new narrative, a new way to explain to citizens what is at stake. We need to explain why the enlarged Union needs a new treaty that provides more democracy, more coherence, and a Union strong enough to meet the expectations of the citizens.
Europeans citizens welcome the commitment of the EU to tackle today's key policy challenges – climate change, migration, energy. It is what they expect. But we have not yet succeeded in persuading them to make the connection between effectiveness in these areas and an appropriate Treaty settlement. All too often, people still feel that the debate on the Treaties and the Constitution are the preserve of a Brussels clique. We need to show that what is at issue is having the right tools to serve agreed objectives.
We need to maintain our focus on debating the ways to achieve these objectives. The Parliament and the Commission have together made a major contribution through the Plan D strategy. If the reflection period is over, that does not mean that we should scale down our efforts to engage civil society and citizens in a debate on the future of Europe. It will be of critical importance around the European Council, in an IGC, and in a ratification phase to show that a settlement is of real direct benefit to Europeans.
I was happy to hear that most Member States are clearly in line with the Presidency approach for a short IGC with a clear and precise mandate to negotiate a limited list of issues. As for the Commission, we will be vigorously pursuing our role as the voice of the common European interest.
The road to a treaty settlement has not always been easy. But we are now back on track. If we can hold our nerve and stay focused on the needs of an effective and democratic Europe, the result will give us an EU which can face the challenges of the 21st century with confidence.