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Margot Wallström

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

Address to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Constitutional reform process

Constitutional Affairs Committee meeting
Brussels, 26 June 2007

Dear Chairman,

Honourable Members,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since the agreement at the European Council was reached, many comments have been expressed and the Constitutional affairs committee discussed yesterday afternoon the mandate for the IGC. Opinions sometimes diverge, including within your own Committee, and the political debate at EU level and in the Member States has just started.

Let me set out how the Commission assesses the outcome of the European Council. In doing so, I believe that three elements have to be taken into account, the content of the mandate, the political context, and the perspectives that have bee opened up.

Let's first look at the content.

In many respect the mandate constitutes a major improvement on the current Treaties. This is true for the decision taken on the external action, the delivery on key policy areas, the Charter on Fundamental Rights and the modernisation of the Institutions.

First, the mandate reinforces the external action. The agreement secures that Europe will speak with a single voice, with one person having a global view and representation of foreign and security policy.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs will also be the Vice-President of the Commission and will chair the general Affairs Council. Furthermore, Europe will act as one when we sign international agreements: the single legal personality for the Union will become a reality.

Second, the agreement ensures delivery of results for citizens. The Union will be able to meet political challenges of the future. New possibilities are opened up to bring forward action in areas like energy, including energy security, climate change, civil protection and public health. And a major breakthrough is achieved as regards common action on terrorism, asylum, migration and human trafficking.

Third, the Union will have a Charter of Fundamental rights to protect the citizens and one which will have legal force. Citizens will be able to claim before the Courts the rights enshrined in the Charter.

Fourth, we are building more modern and accountable Institutions for the enlarged Union. More efficient, democratic and stable institutions will be in place. Transparency of Council proceedings, more co-decision, more decision taken by qualified majority rather than by unanimity, a clearer division of competences. And I am very pleased to see that the innovations of the Constitutional Treaty on democratic participation, including the citizen's initiative, have been safeguarded as well.

Let me now turn to the political context and the perspectives opened up by the agreement.

Undoubtedly this is a compromise, based on the current political context. A result achieved by unanimity after tough and complex negotiations. A deal, which would have been unthinkable several months ago.

As any compromise, there are points which we like and points we like less but we accept as part of the deal. Let me mention three issues.

We will end up with treaties that are less readable and accessible to the citizens. This is regrettable, as is the loss of other elements that would have brought more clarity, such as the new terminology for the legal acts.

For me, this means we will have to work even harder to reach out to citizens, to explain and to listen to them. In this respect, I am glad to see that the European Council has recognised the importance of communicating with citizens, providing full and comprehensive information on the EU and involving them in a permanent dialogue. A truly democratic debate is needed. In this context, I would like to announce that, by the end of this year, I would like to present some ideas on how a debate around the reform treaty could be organised during the ratification period. On this issue too, I would like to work hand in hand with Parliament and the other Institutions.

It is rather strange also to see in the text references to what the Treaty cannot do, phrases probably inspired by a perceived need to counter Eurosceptic criticism. As we know, the Union is built on the principle of conferral of competences and it will act only in areas where it has been given the competence to intervene. Therefore I am not sure about the added value of some of the new formulas.

Of course, as many of you, I regret opt-outs of a Charter of Fundamental Rights, which confirms our duties towards our citizens. But I accept that this was unavoidable, to ensure that the legally binding nature of the Charter was not abandoned and the content of the Charter not diluted.

Coming back to the overall result, a compromise was needed for the European Council to deliver an agreed mandate. A more ambitious approach, but not supported by a renewed consensus, would not solve the current deadlock. We needed an outcome that would create the conditions to give national ratification a high chance to succeed.

The Commission is happy to see that the IGC will have a clear and exhaustive mandate. A tight deadline is fixed and that it is clearly indicated that the new Treaty has to be in place before the 2009 European elections. And we welcome the fact that Parliament will continue to play a role during the IGC, indeed with a reinforced delegation.

I would like to pay a tribute to Angela Merkel for having successfully managed this process. She mobilised the political will from all Member States and firmly steered the process to a good conclusion.

The mandate is, however, not yet the final product. To steer this new consensus to a successful conclusion will require intensive efforts from the incoming Presidency, the Member States, the Commission and Parliament. From our side, we are ready to come forward with the Opinion by 10th July, so that, following Parliament's opinion, the IGC can start already in July.

Let me now refer to another subject, which, while different in nature is closely related to the competence of your Committee.

I am very pleased to announce to you that – if everything goes as foreseen – the Commission will tomorrow adopt a proposal to revise the existing Regulation on European political parties. This follow-up on the resolution that your Institution adopted in March 2006, on the basis of the report of this Committee – under the responsibility of your Chairman - and which was supported by a very large and cross-party majority.

Through this proposal, we will establish a framework for creating European Political foundations, and we will clarify the rules on campaigning by the European political parties at the European level.

I believe that this proposal can help to bridge the gap between politics at national and European level and stimulate the development of new ideas and policies. A large and strong debate on European politics is one in which many different voices take part and contribute towards. The development of the activities of political parties, together with the creation of European political foundations, is part and parcel of building a real European public sphere where different opinions can challenge each other and the citizens can better understand the challenges at stake and make informed choices.

Therefore, I hope that this proposal will be favourably received by this House and the Council as well.

Let me conclude by thanking you for your attention and by expressing my hope for continuing a fruitful and constructive cooperation

Thank you.

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