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Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Institutional
affairs and communication strategy
European Parliament Plenary
Dear Mr Leinen,
Only a few months ago, not many observers were fully convinced that the European Council could successfully re-launch the Treaty review process. Opinion across Europe was fragile and there were wide divergences of views.
But thanks to the admirable determination of Chancellor Merkel and the German Presidency, and through a real collective effort by Member States and our Institutions, the European Council last month reached agreement on a clear and stringent mandate for a new IGC. It is important that we recognise this success.
Yesterday, the Commission adopted its opinion on the IGC. Today, you are discussing the European Parliament's opinion. This process will allow the Portuguese Presidency to launch the Intergovernmental Conference later this month.
But it is not only on timing that our Institutions walk side-by-side. We also do so, more importantly, on the substance. The Commission shares the globally positive assessment of the IGC mandate, which the report of Mr Leinen provides.
The mandate contains many positive elements, which are to be welcomed. Of course, like any compromise text, it is also a carefully crafted balance between different interests, between ambition and political realism. This means that some of the changes agreed in the 2004 IGC were not retained. It is also the reason why a number of derogations were granted to individual Member States.
Let me set out four reasons why the Commission believes this mandate will allow us, in the IGC, to provide the EU with the sound institutional and political basis which we need to meet the expectations of our citizens and the challenges of our societies.
Firstly, the mandate will lay ground for modern and more accountable Institutions for the enlarged Union.
We warmly welcome the provisions which will refresh and reinforce the European Union's democratic legitimacy. A stronger and wider role for the European Parliament, transparency of Council deliberations, more co-decision, more decision taken by qualified majority, a clearer division of competences. National Parliaments will have greater opportunity to be involved in the work of the EU, while the role of the European Institutions will be fully respected. And we are very pleased to see that the innovations of the Constitutions on democratic participation, including the citizen's initiative, have been safeguarded.
Secondly; the Union will have a Charter of Fundamental rights to protect the citizens. Not just a declaratory text, but one which will have legal force. Citizens will be able to claim before the Courts the rights enshrined in the Charter. The Charter will be binding for the European institutions, and also for Member States when thy implement EU law, even if this will not apply to all of them.
Thirdly, the Union will be able to speak with one single voice on the global scene and to better protect the European interest. If we really want to tackle globalisation, and address common concerns on sustainable development, climate change, competitiveness, human rights in the world, the Union should use to the fullest its great potential to act collectively.
My fourth remark concerns the policy areas. The mandate develops the Union's capacity to deliver swifter and more consistent decisions in the area of Freedom, Security and Justice. Furthermore, it reinforces the legal basis to deal with the challenges of energy policy and climate change.
How to assess these changes? In our view, the overall balance is positive. The disappearance of some elements, including some of a symbolic nature, as well as the changes that reduced the readability of the text, were necessary parts of a package agreement which could be subscribed to by all Member States. Without an effort to compromise, from all those involved, a success would not have been possible.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
The European train is back on the tracks. But we are not yet at the end of the journey and the citizens must be onboard.
The mandate is not yet the final product. To steer this new consensus to a successful IGC conclusion will require intensive efforts; from the Portuguese Presidency, from the Member States and from our Institutions. We particularly welcome the decision of the European Council to strengthen the involvement of the European Parliament in the IGC. But even our collective negotiating efforts, on their own, will not be enough.
We all - Commission, Member States and Parliament – should draw some lessons from the previous ratification process and from the listening phase of Plan D. 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. This would be even more important in view of the changes that have reduced the readability of the Treaty text.
In the coming months the Commission will present some ideas on how a debate around the reform Treaty could be organised during the ratification period. We want to work closely with the European Parliament, all the Member States and the other institutions.
Together, we should use this window of opportunity. Together, we should engage in this new process without any delay and with all our energy.