President of the European Commission
Conference at the University of Latvia
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you for inviting me to speak to you today. It's a pleasure to be with you in such beautiful and historic surroundings.
2008 is, of course, an important year for Latvia. It marks 90 years of independence, and 20 years since the start of the third national revival - which ended so spectacularly three years later with the 'Singing Revolution' and the overthrow of Communist oppression.
What is important to Latvia is important to Europe. But I hope the reverse is also true. Because this is an important year for Europe as well. It is the year of working for ratification of the Lisbon Reform Treaty - one of our top priorities over the next 12 months.
Getting to this point has been a long journey. But thanks to the leadership of the German Presidency, and the effectiveness of the Portuguese Presidency in steering negotiations to a conclusion, we now have the chance to turn the page on six years of discussions, hesitations and set-backs on institutional issues.
At the same time, we have the chance to open a whole new chapter in the extraordinary history of peaceful, European integration.
So why is there a Treaty of Lisbon?
Europe's great strength lies in our shared culture and values – values that unite us in all our diversity.
For example, I am Portuguese, but being European is my second nature. I am sure that Latvians feel the same way. The values we share have helped to spread peace, prosperity and democracy to every corner of Europe.
But if we want those values to endure in the globalising world of the 21st century, we need to equip Europe with the tools it needs not just to survive globalisation, but actually to shape it, according to our own, common, European values.
The Lisbon Treaty will help us to do this.
It will help by bringing more efficiency, more democracy and more cohesion to the European Union. By this I mean it will reinforce the Union's capacity to act, it will strengthen its democratic nature, and it will make the EU a more cohesive actor in world affairs.
It will reinforce the Union's capacity to act by upgrading institutions designed for a Europe of 6, to make them fit for purpose in a Europe of 27 or more. After all, we are unlikely to meet successfully the new challenges of this century – like climate change, terrorism and migration - using the tools of the last century.
The Treaty also gives a major boost to the democratic nature of the EU.
National parliaments will see their rights increased considerably. This will reinforce accountability and give more muscle to the principle of subsidiarity, which ensures action is only taken at European level when it cannot be taken at a lower level.
In the European elections of 2009, you will again choose your representatives in the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty makes sure that the power and the role of the European Parliament is also strengthened.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights will gain legal force, strengthening the protection of Europe's citizens and reinforcing the principles and values which define us as a unique community of law.
This deepening of democracy will enrich the Union's political life and European politics in general. I see the EU developing more and more as an arena for European-wide political and ideological debate.
Success, though, depends on the ability to listen and to communicate. And that is crucial for engaging our citizens, and generating imaginative new thinking that will keep Europe at the forefront of world affairs.
Engaging with the world is also crucial. We have achieved so much over the last 50 years. But the challenge for the next 50 years will be using the lessons we have learned, and the capabilities we have built up, to promote our values and interests externally, and tackle the global challenges which have no respect for national borders.
United, we are much stronger and better placed to work with our partners around the world to create a just world order, to tackle climate change and global poverty, to fight terrorism and organised crime, and to succeed in a more competitive economic environment.
The treaty will help enormously here, not least by giving the EU a legal personality. This will allow it to sign up to international organisations and conventions.
Another key innovation is the creation of a High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission to represent the EU abroad. He or she will draw together resources that are scattered across several institutions, ensuring greater coherence and effectiveness in Europe's foreign policy.
The EU is already the biggest trade bloc, the greatest donor of development aid and a world leader in fighting climate change. The Treaty of Lisbon will give an even greater boost to the EU's voice in diplomatic, security, defence, trade and development issues, and help secure our goal of a strong and open Europe in a stable, open world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have tried to explain why the Lisbon Treaty is so important for all of us. But for me personally, it has a very special, symbolic significance as well.
It is the first treaty of a Europe that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. For the first time, countries that were once divided by a totalitarian regime, are now united in support of a common treaty that they negotiated together.
The great Latvian philosopher Zenta Mauriņa has written that values are not found in isolation. The enlarged and reformed European Union that emerges from this treaty will give us all a new economic, political and strategic dimension. And this dimension will make each and every Member State stronger.