Minister Roche: Address to EPSU Conference on the Convention on the Future of Europe- 1
“When the Nice Treaty was signed, it was agreed that there was a need for a more fundamental debate on the future direction of the European Union. In December 2001, it was decided to establish the Convention on the future of Europe. The Convention began its work in February 2002.
The Convention has been asked to answer three basic questions: how the European Union can be brought closer to its citizens, how it can become more effective and efficient, and how the Union can play a more positive role in a wider world.
"The Convention is expected to continue its operations until June 2003 when a final report is due. This is an ambitious date given the task facing the Convention. Some would say that the date is too ambitious given the importance and the size of the task at hand.
The final report of the Convention will be the basis for the work of the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference. The Intergovernmental Conference will have the ultimate responsibility of deciding the final shape and content of the New Treaty.
The Convention is unusual in terms of its operation. All plenary sessions of the Convention are held in public. All documentation to the Convention is circulated on the internet (wwww.forumoneurope.ie). This represents a new and more open way of preparing the European Union for change. It suggests, also, that the union has learned, to at least some degree, that it is critically important to keep citizens of the union more fully informed about it's activities, than was previously the case.
We in Ireland, perhaps more than any other Member States, are intensely conscious of the necessity that the citizens, not just of Ireland but of the whole of Europe should be engaged fully in the process of developing the Treaty which will effectively be the framework of the future of Europe. An attempt to move the community forward in directions which are not in sympathy with the views of the general body of citizens, would be a fundamental error. Such a move runs the danger of widening the gulf between the citizen and the Union.
The European Union and its predecessors have democracy as a foundation stone. It is important that those involved in the Convention, in the subsequent IGC and those who prepare the final Treaty are intensely conscious of the gulf that has grown between the European Union and its citizens. If the citizens of the Union have any reason to take the view that the Community is not conscious of their concerns, or is moving in a direction that is dictated by only political or administrative elites, fundamental damage could be done.
A major challenge for public administration at every level, local, regional, and national and in the case of the EU Community wide is to build bridges between the citizens and the administration. The work of the Convention offers a unique opportunity to do precisely this in so far as the European Union is concerned.
You will be familiar with the work of the Convention to date. President Giscard d'Estaing has recently produced a preliminary outline containing his main ideas as to what the Treaty should cover. The draft was subject to a preliminary debate at the last plenary session at the Convention in Brussels. While a great deal of work remains to be done to put flesh on what is very much a skeleton at this stage the concept of the new treaty, a document aimed at clarifying and simplifying how the Union works, what its responsibilities are and most importantly of all a Treaty aimed at bringing the Union closer to its citizens, is broadly positive.
In addition to the work on a preliminary draft of the Treaty we, at this stage, have had the opportunity to consider the draft proposals put forward by the Working Groups.
Again these documents although they represent the final thinking of the individual Working Groups, are still very much works in progress.
It is worth considering briefly the areas covered by each of the ten groups and the proposals, which have come forward, at this stage from the majority of the Working Groups.
The first of the working groups, the Subsidiarity Working Group reported on 23rd September last. This working group has been asked to establish the methodology for ensuring compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. The group proposed giving national Parliaments the right to send an early warning to the Commission that a proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. Where more than a third of the member state Parliaments indicate concerns the Commission will be obliged to re-consider its proposals. The report suggested that the national Parliaments should also have the right of the appeal to the European Court of Justice if they feel that their concerns have not been addressed during the legislative process. The group also proposed that the Commission's annual legislative programme be debated at the National Parliament in addition to being debated in the European Parliament.
These are all positive forward-looking proposals.
The second working group, the working group on Fundamental Rights and accession to the European Charter of Human Rights reported on the 22nd of October. The report of this group sets out three possible approaches in dealing with this fundamental issue
o insertion of the texts the chapter articles at the beginning of the new Treaty in a title or chapter to the Treaty,
o insertion of an appropriate reference to the Charter in one article of the Treaty attaching the charter itself as a separate legal text for example the form of protocol or
o according "indirect reference" to the Charter, in order to make the Charter legally binding without giving it constitutional status.
All members of the working group either strongly support or are open to giving favourable consideration to the insertion in the Treaty of a clause enabling the European Union to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. Decision on the concrete framework for accession will be left to the Council acting by unanimity.
A third working group on Legal Personality reported out on the 1st of October. This working group was given the rather technical task of considering "What would be the Consequences of explicit recognition of the European Unions Legal personality and of a merger of the personality of the Unions Legal personality with that of the European Community?
The group's report unanimously favoured conferred explicit personality on the Union with a broad consensus in favour of a single legal personality effectively merging the Union and the Communities.
This rather technical proposal is aimed at paving the way for a new single Treaty replacing the existing Treaties, an important step in making the basic Community law more accessible and more legible.
The fourth working group, National Parliaments, also issued its report on the 22nd of October. This working group examined the general question as to how national parliaments can be brought closer in to the "architecture" of the European Union. The group concluded
Ø that National Parliaments should have the principal role in policing the doctrine of Subsidiarity,
Ø that the role of the National Parliament should be formally recognised in the new Treaty,
Ø the importance of effective scrutiny of EU affairs at national level and
Ø made the very interesting proposition that there should be a common EU week in each national Parliament where all legislatures of the European Union would debate European issues simultaneously.
The fifth group dealt with the very technical issue of Complementary Competences. This group issued its report on the 4th of November and it concluded
Ø that the concept of complementary competences should be retitled " supporting measures"
Ø Supporting Measures should be defined as applying to policy areas where member states had not transferred competence to the Union allowing the Union to supplement national policies
Ø recommended that Employment, Education and Vocational training, Culture, Industry, Research and Development, Public Health and Trans European networks should be considered areas for supporting measures.
The fourth and perhaps the most contentious working group to date dealt with the issue of Economic Governance. The report of this group issued on the 21st of October. The broad question examined by this group was whether the introduction of the single currency implies a more thorough going economic and financial co-operation. The group was asked what form such co-operation might take. Very little consensus emerged. The group felt that the Union's Social and Economic objectives should be included in a new Treaty but there was really very little agreement on which objectives should be highlighted. It was agreed that competence for economic policy in the euro zone should remain with the Community while responsibility for economic policy would remain with the member states.
Members were divided on the question of decision-making procedures on taxation. A significant minority of those contributing to this group favoured retaining unanimity on all decisions relating to taxation.
Ireland is very strongly of this view. On the stability and growth pact, the majority of the group wished to amend what was regarded as "excessive deficit procedures" to allow the Commission for issue a first warning to member states.
The remaining working groups External Action, Defence, Simplification, and Justice Freedom & Security have to conclude their work before Christmas.
It would be unwise to anticipate the reports produced in any of these groups. However, one group is a particular interest to myself that - the report of the Working Group on Simplification of the Instruments & Procedures.
This particular group has had its remit defined in what I believe is a relatively narrow way. It has been asked to consider how the number of legislative instruments currently available to the community could be reduced. The group was also asked to look at how procedures generally could be simplified. It is also been asked to consider the appropriate naming in order to make the legal process more directly accessible and clearer to the average citizen.
The Group concluded its deliberations on the 28th of November. The report will issue shortly and will be discussed at the next plenary session of the Convention. The group has kept very close to its remit and has suggested a reduction in the number of legal instruments and it has also suggested new names for the legal instruments.
It is my belief that the group could have gone considerably further, had its remit permitted it to do so. Unfortunately, however, because the Simplification group was focused purely on the simplification of legal instruments and procedures, the group did not have the opportunity to range wider and even though, in the final day of the Working Group's deliberations there was a proposition that a broader approach should be adapted the view could simply be noted be not acted on.
As already mentioned the approach adopted on the Convention on the future of Europe is remarkable in a number of ways.
Firstly, The Convention is a much more open than the approach adopted in the production of other Treaties.Top