Brussels, 5th December 2001
Speech by Mrs Nicole FONTAINE, President of the European Parliament, |
at the 12th meeting of the President of the European Parliament with the Presidents of the Parliaments of the countries participating in the enlargement process
Ladies and gentlemen,
This meeting, the twelfth in the series we have been holding since 1995 as part of the process of enlarging the European Union, opens against a backdrop of contrasting feelings: on the one hand, gratifying progress has been made in the process of building a united Europe, on the other, alas, there are global concerns in the face of which we must reinforce our cohesion and concert our efforts.
In less than three weeks, on the morning of 1 January, twelve EU Member States will take the final step in a peaceful revolution of historic proportions: the introduction of the single currency. Thereafter, all transactions will take place in euros, which will thus definitively and on the same day become part of the everyday life of more than 300 million Europeans.
During the transitional period we are, of course, anticipating some inevitable practical and psychological problems, which the governments are seeking to reduce to a minimum, not forgetting the very understandable nostalgia that will be felt by some people as they witness the disappearance of national currencies which have been proudly and affectionately used for centuries. But, taken overall, the public seems well prepared for the difficult changeover. The euro has become part of our mindset even before it has appeared in our pockets.
The single currency has already had positive effects, thanks inter alia to the stability pact concluded by all the euro zone states:
- inflation, the nightmare of the early nineties, has been brought under permanent control;
- unilateral devaluations between European currencies, which distorted competition and changed the structure of whole areas of the economy, are no longer possible;
- all the states have imposed strict discipline on themselves in order to reduce their budget deficits and limit borrowing, which was nothing more than a temporary solution which postponed the burden for future generations;
- Europe can cope better with external economic crises;
- and even if there is still some way to go, the euro is destined to become an international currency of the same stature as the dollar and the yen.
- Finally, the euro will give real substance to the concept of European citizenship, and strengthen our sense of a common destiny, helping us to face future challenges.
Finally, I would add that, as you know, the United Kingdom government is increasingly keen for the UK to join the euro zone, as is British industry, and they are making every effort to turn around public opinion, which certain sections of the British media have long been doing their best to prejudice against it. This prospect cannot fail to encourage all the candidate countries to make their own preparations for the single currency.
Ratification of the Nice Treaty
The Nice Treaty is currently in the process of ratification. The no-vote in Ireland is certainly a problem but I am convinced, having seen the evidence for myself in Dublin, that it will be a temporary one and that the Irish government and the other EU countries will do everything in their power to ensure that the enlargement process is not held up.
As you know, the European Parliament, while expressing objective criticisms of the Nice Treaty, took the view by a very large majority that ratification was necessary in order to avoid giving a signal which could have created a disastrous impression in those states that have been waiting for more than ten years to join the Union.
We know that as a result of this long wait a certain fatigue and impatience are setting in and producing effects to which we must give our full attention.
We must act quickly if we wish to avoid setbacks when the time for enlargement comes. The ultimate goal is a geopolitical one. The aim is to reunite the whole of the European continent in one large community whose peoples, by their own wish, will share the same fundamental values, and to set the final seal on peace, democracy and solidarity among all the states and all the peoples of Europe. What the founding fathers of the European Economic Community achieved with six states in the wake of the defeat of Nazi Socialism, we are now prompted by contemporary developments in the world to achieve in our turn, and for the same reasons, for the whole of the continent of Europe, which was liberated from the Cold War more than ten years ago.
Thanks to the Nice Treaty, the candidate countries will from the moment of ratification have a reserved place in the three major institutions: the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. No more institutional obstacles will stand in the way of their membership.
As to the timetable, it does of course depend on the degree of preparedness of each country, but it is emerging more and more clearly: the Commission recently expressed the view that at least ten of the candidate countries would be able to join in 2003-2004, and thus to participate in the European elections in June 2004, as called for on numerous occasions by the European Parliament.
In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, which, it would seem, are not yet far enough along the road, it is my wholehearted wish that there should be no unnecessary differentiation, and my hope that these two countries, in accordance with the decisions taken in Helsinki, will be able to close the gap, if gap there be. With the help of greater Community support and thanks to their own efforts, the fundamental political challenge which I have just mentioned will not have to be relegated, as some people would wish, to the background, leaving room only for the shortsighted economic interests of the Union. Which of us today regrets the concerted efforts which allowed Greece, Ireland and Portugal to join, or the massive aid given by the European Union in order to bring eastern Germany up to the same level as the west?
Finally, it is my ardent hope that yesterday's meeting between President Clerides and Mr Denktash will have achieved further progress in the search for a political solution to the problem. In any event, enlargement of the Union is inconceivable without the membership of Cyprus.
I would also like to welcome the constitutional changes that have taken place in Turkey and to express my hope for further reform in the very near future.
The 2004 reform
As everyone knows, the intergovernmental conference to prepare for the Nice Treaty was initially given too narrow a remit. This remit may have met the institutional needs of enlargement, but it did not fulfil citizens' broader and more qualitative expectations of Europe.
But the Nice Treaty opened the door to a more open and ambitious debate.
And that is fortunate, because the task we must address with practical, innovative proposals is the task of redefining the very model of the European project. Europe must be qualitatively recast with a view to enlargement, but it must not be destroyed. The questions are well known to us all: what geographical and cultural frontiers will define the open, extended, but still coherent, Europe we want? What mode of operating and governing Europe will be appropriate for a unified continent with a population of more than half a billion citizens? What goal will we assign to this future Europe, which will come into being very soon?
This is the context in which, in the next few weeks, preparations will begin for the great reform scheduled for 2004.
Many of us have called for the debate not to be restricted to narrow intergovernmental circles, which leads to dead ends.
We have asked for these preparations to take place within a Convention bringing together the three repositories of democratic legitimacy: the governments and the Commission, the national parliaments and the European Parliament. Of course, the candidate countries will be involved as closely as possible in this Convention. This forum will, therefore, be modelled on the Convention which successfully drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights promulgated in Nice.
The principle has already been adopted. The European Council meeting in Laeken on 14 December will agree the details of its remit, which we hope will be a very open-ended one.
Constructing a coherent Europe
To reconcile enlargement with continuing cohesion based on solidarity will be an enormous challenge. Of course, the distribution of competencies between the levels of Europe, the Member States and regional and local government must be reviewed. Of course, the importance and the role of the national parliaments in the Community decision-making process must be enhanced. But it is still essential that the federative institutions remain strong.
The impact of 11 September
On 11 September the unthinkable happened. The international community, which seemed since the end of the Cold War to be slumbering, realised in the space of a few hours that the fragility of democracies was not an abstract idea. The absolute evil of terrorism is all the more appalling because it presents itself in the guise of Justice working in the service of the oppressed. And we learned, suddenly and shockingly, that Europe too was affected by its networks and its threats.
But this collective test, which brought us face to face with our own contradictions, has already allowed us to make enormous progress both on the global and the European level.
First, at the global level:
- the international coalition which formed around the United States in the wake of 11 September has not fallen apart;
- the religion-based clash of civilisations which some people tried to provoke did not come to pass. Intense diplomatic activity, in which the European Union took part, enabled the weakened links with the Arab-Muslim world to be re-established, sometimes in the form of harsh confrontations on vexed issues ... This dialogue must not peter out; it must be intensified and deepened;
- the United States, which continues to be a decisive player in the Middle East, has abandoned ambiguity and is now showing more clearly its wish to reach a speedy conclusion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which more than any other crystallises the collective frustrations which are the seedbed of terrorism and which have assumed a most serious dimension in recent weeks;
- Russia has strengthened its ties with the West and begun negotiations with the Chechen government; China has entered into dialogue with the United States.
- Finally, the world has realised that the gap between the rich and the poor countries is not only intolerable in human terms, but also represents a major risk to the peace and security of the world.
At the European level:
The events of 11 September have brought about a qualitative leap in the construction of Europe.
All our states have come to the realisation that the establishment of a genuine common area of freedom, justice and security must be speeded up, because it is the only possible way of putting up a united and effective front against this new scourge, which knows no frontiers and exploits the compartmentalisation of our national legal systems.
- over and above the reinforcement of police and judicial cooperation which has already begun, the European Council will shortly adopt the content and operational details of the European arrest warrant, which up until just a few months ago existed only in the realm of Utopian fantasies;
- the bank accounts of those organisations that fund terrorism have been frozen and the adoption of the money-laundering directive has been accelerated;
- the health ministers of the Fifteen have met in order to put in place common instruments for preventing and fighting bioterrorism, which I called for on behalf of the European Parliament at the Ghent European Council;
- the defence ministers are trying to speed up the establishment of a 60,000-strong European Rapid Reaction Force which should be operational in 2003, although the preparations are currently behindhand;
- the interior ministers are tackling the difficult matter of setting up a common police force capable of intervening to manage crises, which should also come into being in embryonic form in 2003.
Fellow Presidents, fellow Members of the European Parliament, on 15 January the European Parliament will elect its next President. So my term of office will come to an end at mid-term, as planned. And by tradition and precedent it is not renewable.
I have carried out the task with determination and passion. This determination and passion have come from an awareness that the European Parliament represents some 380 million citizens - soon to be many more - to which it must be accountable. From an awareness also of the very high expectations, which I hear expressed all around me, of a strong, influential Europe based on principles of solidarity.
My final words are words of thanks for the very high quality of the relations between us throughout my presidency, whether here, in Strasbourg or in the various countries I have visited. I am sure we shall have many opportunities to maintain and strengthen these ties of cooperation, solidarity and, most importantly of all, deep friendship.