Minister Roche's Statement to Europe Asia Forum: Reuniting Europe: The Prospects and Challenges of Enlargement (Part II)
Draft Constitutional Treaty
The exciting new chapter in the Union's history which is about to open requires a new institutional and constitutional settlement that can permit Europe to grow and prosper in the future as it has in the past. For more than a year the recently concluded European Convention discussed how best to design the framework for a Union that is both widening and deepening. The members of the Convention also had to bear in mind the need for a Treaty that would help the public better understand their Union and how it works. The Convention has sent forward a paper – a draft Treaty – to the forthcoming Inter Governmental Conference that I believe represents an excellent basis for starting its work.
To allow the Union better connect with its citizens, the Convention has radically simplified its basic texts, making them more accessible and enabling a more participative and democratic approach. In the Convention we made the vital principles which must underpin the Union's work – subsidiarity, proportionality and conferral - more explicit.
The Convention calls for the legislative work of the Union, including in the Council, to be conducted in public and for wider dissemination of documentation. In this regard, if I may say so, the Convention has shown the way forward. All of our papers, all of our debates, were accessible to the public, including through the internet.
It recommended the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in a way which makes those rights citizens are entitled to enjoy in their dealings with the Union's institutions more visible, and which ensures that the Charter's meaning and scope of application is clear. It also demands that in the EU of the future the institutions operate to the highest standards of good governance and accountability.
The Convention strives also to bring greater clarity to the distribution of competence between the Union and the Member States. While there was an inevitable tension to the work in this area - a wish to make things clear, but also a desire to leave scope for flexibility and future growth – we have, I believe made it easier for citizens to understand who does what and at what level.
The nature of the Union also demands a careful set of checks and balances within and between its institutions. The so-called ‘community method' reflects a need both to protect and advance the interests of the Union as a whole, while recognising and respecting the interests and equality of its Member States. At the Convention we sought to renew and strengthen each of the three key institutions - the Council, the Commission and the Parliament – without fundamentally altering the balances between them. While there are a few details that remain to be resolved, I believe that we succeeded.
While it will be for the Inter Governmental Conference to resolve some questions of detail, overall the institutional package presented by the Convention got the principles – equality, balance, effectiveness - and the structures right.
The other key challenge was to find a way to make the Union's activities in the world more coherent and effective. The Union, based, as it is, on fundamental principles of peace, democracy and respect for human rights not only has the capacity to be a force for good in the world, it has an obligation to be so. The problems facing the world – poverty, disease, environmental degradation, new threats to security – cannot be tackled by any one country acting on its own. Neither is it within the gift of a large block, such as the European Union, to go it alone. We need a holistic approach and we need to see the global community acting in concert.
I look forward to the debate on these issues of vital concern to the Union continuing in the Inter Governmental Conference. Through discussion and dialogue, and with the right approach and will, I believe that we can and will provide the Union with the fundamental underpinnings it needs to continue to grow and thrive, and to offer a better life to its peoples, in the decades ahead.
Throughout this process of renewal and change it is a challenge to us all to ensure that the wide support for the European Union is deepened to reflect the huge benefits which it continues to generate. We must do more than preach to the converted. At a time of change it is entirely understandable that many people of goodwill become nervous and unsure. Doubts are often strongest where knowledge and understanding are weakest. This only underlines the need for more and better information about the EU and how it affects the citizens of Europe. Of course this is not always a straightforward task. Often the complexity of outcomes is unavoidable – the result of a carefully negotiated balance between competing interests. It is our task, however, to explain Europe to our people – and to do so in straightforward terms.
All of this focus on managing the practicalities and politics of a bigger European Union does not mean that we are losing focus on the need for continuous engagement with third countries and with other regions. Indeed, an important part of our recent work has been to improve the structures and the EU's capacities to develop external relations. Asia is the Union's third-largest trading partner and the recipient of large flows of outward investment from the EU. The Union recognises the need to strengthen its political and economic presence across the region and to strike the right balance between the numerous elements that make up our relationship. The Union also recognises the great diversity of the Asia region.
The Asia Europe Meeting or ASEM - established in 1996 as an informal forum for dialogue and cooperation between Europe and Asia – provides an excellent opportunity for regular meetings between the EU and ten Asian partners where a wide range of matters including political, social, cultural issues are discussed.
The primary object of ASEM is to build greater mutual understanding and cooperation across the three pillars on which the process is based - political, economic and social, and educational and cultural. The broad nature of the substance covered makes ASEM a most useful platform for inter-regional cooperation. Based as it is on dialogue and cooperation, ASEM provides a unique and important forum where Asia and Europe, acting together, can address fundamental issues and make contributions to finding solutions to relevant topics on the international agenda.
An ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting took place in Bali last July when comprehensive discussions took place across a wide range of issues of common interest, including the post-war situation in Iraq, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and the SARS crisis. In broader discussions on the new international situation, the ASEM Ministers together reaffirmed their commitment to the multilateral approach in international relations, and the necessity to strictly abide by the principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. In this regard, the Ministers underlined the central and vital role of the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security, and the strengthening of international cooperation.
Ireland is totally committed to the ASEM process and will host the sixth meeting of ASEM Foreign Ministers in April next year during our EU Presidency. We will work with our EU and Asian partners to ensure that this meeting is a success, with Ministers working in a focussed and concerted manner to discuss issues of common concern on the international agenda in an open and productive way. At this meeting, my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will chair discussions on the future of ASEM, most notably the enlargement of the process, in advance of the ASEM Summit of Heads of State and Government, which will take place in Hanoi in the autumn of 2004.
From a national point of view, I am pleased to say that Ireland has never been as engaged with Asia as it is today. Our diplomatic and economic presence in the region has strengthened considerably since the Government launched Ireland's Asia-Pacific Strategy just five years ago. The most important outcome of the strategy has been the co-ordination of public policy on Asia, and the sustained effort to broaden and deepen our knowledge of Asia and engagement with the region's political and business leaders.
We have also increased Ireland's representation on the ground across Asia, a development which together with the growing interest of Irish companies and institutions in the region, has resulted in the signing of a range of memorandums of understanding or joint statements with a number of countries in Asia covering a multitude of areas including education, science and technology, e-commerce, double-taxation, air transport and cultural co-operation. We are excited about the opportunities which the framework offered by these formal agreements will provide in terms of practical co-operation.
A further example of our national engagement with Asia was the Euro-China Forum which I addressed just two weeks ago in Dublin. This important forum - organised jointly by University College Dublin and the China Europe International Business School - provided an opportunity for European and Chinese academics and business people to deepen their understanding of the opportunities and challenges presented by developments such as the accession of China to the WTO and the enlargement of the European Union. From the Irish Government's point of view, the Forum reinforced the importance of engaging with China, particularly at a time of such rapid development.
I hope very much that what I have said today helps to illuminate what European Union enlargement means, and the prospects and challenges it offers. I trust that deliberations here during the two days of the Forum's work will enhance the level of exchange and partnership between our two regions and our many countries. When the Forum has concluded its business I hope we will leave here with a strong sense that the European Union is taking a giant step forward, and leaving far behind the deep divisions and suffering of the past. In this respect it is appropriate to recall the words of Bruno Kreisky, a former Chancellor of Austria, who was himself a real victim of the divisions and suffering that swept Europe in the middle of the last century. He rightly insisted that “there will be no Europe until we realise that it is everywhere, to the east and to the west, as well as in the centre.” His dream – shared by so many over many centuries and dashed so often – is now becoming a reality. It is one from which I believe the people of both our regions can learn, and from which we can all benefit.