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Vice-President of the European Commission
European Economic and Social Committee Conference "IGC 2007: organised civil
society has its say on the Future of Europe
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Winston Churchill once said that "democracy is the worst form of government – apart from all the other forms that have been tried"!
For many days, I have been following the situation in Burma. It was so fragile and so full of hope. Now I am extremely concerned. I want to say firmly that we stand with the people of Burma. We firmly condemn the use of the force by the Burmese authorities and that we ask the military government to immediately stop their violence against peaceful demonstrators. The international community follows very closely what happen in Burma and will not let the citizens of this country alone.
In Europe, it is important that we do not take democracy as for granted. Democracy has to be fought for and we need to safeguard our societies from extremism and fanaticism.
My task today is to talk about the new revision of the Treaties and the future of Europe.
The 2005 referenda in France and the Netherlands showed that we weren't all agreed. We needed to pause and discuss. That's what the "period of reflection" was all about. That's what the Commission's "Plan D for democracy, dialogue and debate" was all about. Then, thanks to the common determination of all the Member States and the European Institutions, the June European Council agreed on a stringent and clear mandate for a new IGC, which is currently taking place.
With a Reform Treaty based on the IGC mandate the Union will be much better equipped to answer the strategic challenges facing Europe today and respond to many concerns of our citizens.
Let me quote just one fundamental result. Citizens should know that their rights will be better protected thanks to the new reforms. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will become legally binding, Citizens will be able to claim before the Courts the rights enshrined in the Charter Of course we would have preferred not to have any opt-outs in this area as well as in others.
Currently, legal advisors are working very hard to solve a number of technical questions and as soon as their work will be completed, the ball will be back in the Foreign Affairs ministers' courtyard. We are looking forward to reaching a final agreement at the October European Council.
In this vein, the Commission is working with the other delegations, to seek appropriate solutions on the outstanding issues, such as the UK requests related to Justice and Home Affairs. I believe all parties should show good will and determination to conclude.
I am also convinced that two principles should guide our work in this final stage:
1. First, the Reform Treaty is bringing some key reforms in the area of Justice and Police cooperation, and this respond to a fundamental request for "more Europe" in this area, which comes directly from the citizens. Last minutes talks should not endanger Europe's efficiency and accountability in this area.
2. Second, you know that one of the decisions taken in June concerned the way the new Treaty will be formulated. The return to the traditional technique of amending existing Treaties is not the most user friendly approach, far from this. And again my message is: the IGC should avoid making the text unnecessarily complicate.
I also would like to tell you how I see our next steps in the process of the Treaty revision. First, since the Reform Treaty will be full of cross-references to the present Treaties, it will not be easy to read and understand. Therefore I would like to see a "consolidated" text to be made available as soon as possible after the conclusion of the IGC.
Second, I would like to see many informed debates surrounding the Reform Treaty and during the ratification process. Member States are of course solely responsible for the choice of the ratification procedure and it seems that most of them will opt for parliamentary procedures. I would like to see a simultaneous debate in many national parliaments and in the media all across the EU next spring.
Years ago, a European politician – possibly Walter Hallstein? – said:
"Europe is like a bicycle: it must keep moving forward or it will fall over".
Europe should be like that: a journey we make together. We have to agree where we want to go and how to get there. The revision if the Treaties is an important part of what we have to do to modernise the EU and to make it more open and democratic. Others important appointments are also in the pipeline. As you know, the Commission recently adopted the Consultation paper on the EU budget's review.
In a world which is changing so deeply and so quickly, there is a strong need to decide how the EU budget should be shaped; to better serve the delivery on policy priorities. This debate is about matching the funds with the political priorities, is about accountability of the budget, and how to address the challenges of the future in a Europe of 27 and even more Member States.
In a spirit of full openness, the Commission opted for a large scale debate. The results of this consultation will prepare the ground for the review of the EU budget and the Commission proposals would be presented only end 2008/beginning 2009. We will also soon be carrying out a review of the single market and a health check on the Common Agricultural Policy. The Commission can consult on specific issues, but it cannot single-handedly conduct a Europe-wide public discussion on our common future.
We want a real no-holds-barred public debate on all these matters. No pre-conditions, no taboos: we are taking a fresh look at everything and we want to hear innovative ideas and conflicting views. We expect many interested parties not only at European, but also at national, regional and local level to contribute with their opinion. I hope that you will also contribute to this debate. We want a real consultation and a broad debate, before the political decision is taken.
This leads me to another issue. An idea was recently floated that Europe's future course should be charted by a group of "wise men". I am sure many women had the same reactions I had. Wise men? What about the wise women ? And since this group is expected to work out solutions for the future of Europe, should we not involve young people ? Wisdom - when it comes to our common future - resides with the people and their directly elected representatives. And with civil society.
We need to listen to as many voices as possible if the purpose is to come up with new and fresh ideas about our common future. This is why your voice is important: about the new treaty, the policy challenges for the EU and democratic solutions that we should implement in the Union. Europe is a journey we make together. We have to consult one another and agree where we're going and how to get there. European democracy and European communication policy are not about "getting the people on board". It's about putting them in the driving seat.
For that, we need to join forces – and pool resources – with the other EU institutions, the member state governments – and, last but not least, civil society. We have to communicate Europe in partnership.
That's the subject of a new paper we will publish in October. It follows up last year's White paper on a European Communication Policy. It will contain practical proposals for empowering citizens. Through better access to information, debate and dialogue. For the sake of democracy.
Clearly, civil society has a major role to play here. We would like to help civil society develop a whole network of websites which promote contact between European citizens.
The Commission will support websites that focus on European affairs and that stimulate debate on EU policy issues. We will help civil society in other ways too. We intend to give NGOs better access to Commission departments, and we will appoint a specific member of staff in each department to act as the civil society contact person.
Ladies and gentlemen,