Ireland's View of a new Europe: Speech by Minister Roche, Prague: Part 2
THE NEW EUROPE : KEY CHALLANGES
In December 2001, the European Council issued a declaration, setting the agenda for a process of change, renewal and reform within the Union.
It identified a number of challenges, three of which are key:
• How should an enlarging Union organise itself to ensure continuing effectiveness?
• What should Europe's role be in an increasingly globalised world ?, And
• How can the European Union be brought closer to its citizens?
The Council convened the ‘European Convention' and tasked it with finding answers to these questions and with bringing forward recommendations for a new Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. .
The European Convention has been meeting since February last year. It has brought together representatives of the governments of the Member States and of the Applicant Countries; representatives of their National Parliaments; representatives of the European Parliament; and representatives of the European Commission. It has 102 Members a similar number of Alternates, a thirteen member Praesidium, and is chaired by former French President, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
The Convention has broken its work into three phases:
• listening – when we began to feel our way through the issues;
• analysis – when we broke into Working Groups to look in detail at some of the questions we face; and
• drafting - a process which we have just begun. We are currently in the final drafting phase.
We expect to have our task complete by June next in order to forward a new draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union to the meeting of the European Council in Thessalonika.
The draft Treaty will then be forwarded to an Inter-Governmental Conference where it will be considered by the Governments and decisions will ultimately fall to be taken.
It is already clear that there are many things on which we are broadly agreed.
The Convention will recommend that the complexity of the existing Treaties be replaced by a single, simplified, readable text. This is easier to propose than to deliver. In drafting text, there is always a tension between the need to achieve clarity or simplicity of language and legal certainty.
We will also recommend that the number and nature of the legal instruments we use to carry out our tasks be reduced and simplified to make the Union's legislative and other processes more easily understood. Currently the European Union has 15 different legal instruments at its disposal. The Convention is working to reduce this to five.
In response to one of the most important questions set to us by the European Council at Laeken, we are also examining how the distribution of competence between Member States and the Union can be made clearer to our citizens.
It is safe to say that the new Treaty will make it clear that principle of conferral - where any competence not explicitly conferred on the Union remains with the Member States – will remain a fundamental and basic tenet.
The Convention will also attempt to create more clarity by breaking competences into categories – those where the Union acts exclusively, those where legislative competence is shared between the Union and the Member States, and those where the Union acts only to support the efforts of Member States.
In this area, achieving clarity without giving rise to further confusion is a challenge. It is crucially important that we do not imply that the Union has greater competence, than is actually the case. Equally, we must guard against giving the impression that it does less. Achieving the proper balance will be the key.
While seeking to make the work of the Union as efficient, effective and accountable as possible, we are not envisaging any major transfer of power, or creation of any new area of activity for the Union.
Neither are we seeking to return any of the Union's tasks to the Member States.
Rather, there is a broad view at the Convention that the current distribution between the Union and the Member States is about right.
While we will probably see further progress in some areas this progress will represent an intensification of our existing efforts rather than any radical new departure.
There are, naturally, some difficult areas that we have yet to begin to address in detail. Some of these will probably not be resolved until the very end stages of our work. How we approach institutional questions, for example, will be an important measure of our success.
Institutional issues are a key area. The Institutions of the Community are quite unique. In the Council of Ministers, Member States are represented and advance their views. The Council is the main lawmaker. The European Parliament represents the electorates across the Union, provides the democratic oversight and increasingly shares in the lawmaking process. The Commission represents the common interest of the Union as a whole, is guardian of the treaties, initiates policy and is the main executive organ .
This unique institutional mix has worked well and has grown with the Union as it has expanded over the years.
It is clear that growth in the Union's membership from 15 to 25 Member States - the most significant and testing expansion in its history – allied to an the increasingly complex and demanding Union workload will challenge this structure.
There is a need to see where sensible reform can ensure that the institutions can continue to be efficient and effective.
If they are to command the respect of the people, the Union's institutions must be seen to deliver.
The Irish Government has made clear its willingness to be constructive and non-dogmatic on institutional questions. We recognise that there is a shared Union interest in ensuring that the institutions work well. We have an open mind as to how this can be achieved, however, there are some core principles that we would need to see preserved – equality between Member States and balance between the institutions. We share these views with many of the current and future Members, in particular the small & medium size members.
Because of the importance of the institutional structure we are investing considerable time and effort with a range of other current and future members in establishing the principles and premises which should inform the future institutional infrastructure of the Union. In recent months a considerable amount of time has been invested in the task of tying down a set of principles to which the largest number of members can ‘sign up'. We believe that time and effort invested in this area will pay dividends.
In many ways the task facing the Convention is a daunting one. Some cynics have suggested that even before the current difficulties the odds are stacked against success. I take a more optimistic view. Looking at the enormous amount of work we have done and the progress we have made, I remain profoundly optimistic that we will succeed.
In doing so, the Convention and the IGC that will follow will create a Constitutional Treaty for the new European Union that will endure.
This next enlargement will erase the unnatural boundaries that have scarred our continent since the end of World War II, rebalancing the EU, from a group of predominantly western European states to a family of democracies stretching right across the continent. This enlargement is every bit as ambitious as the initial founding of the European Coal and Steel Community half a century ago. It is in fact an essential part of the completion of the great dream that lies at the heart of the Union. It is a privilege to be playing a part in bringing this about, and I particularly look forward to May 2004 when we will together reach our goal.
How do I summarise Ireland's view of the new Europe? Our desire is to build a better Europe, a more peaceful and a more prosperous place, a place where democratic principles are espoused and applied, where the rule of law and a respect for fundamental rights is the common norm, a true union of States & Peoples. It is not our aim, or our wish, to strive for some sort of superpower status for the Union. That status is not and should never be part of Europe's ambition.”