Brussels, 13 December 2001 - In the run-up to the Laeken European Council, the Austrian Foreign Minster, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said today that the candidate countries should be involved in the debate on the future of Europe as closely as possible and right from the outset on, to enable them to develop a certain "stakeholder feeling" with respect to the outcome of the debate. "As soon as they have signed the accession treaty these countries will be granted an observer status with the right to voice their ideas and participate in votes. Moreover, the convention will be in constant touch with a network of representatives of the relevant interested members of civil society, who will also be given the opportunity to voice their positions".
The Foreign Minister emphasised today that the Laeken European Council will also focus on finding the "appropriate president" for this convention, stating that this person will have to assume a key role and live up to high demands. Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner then stressed that "we need a strong personality with a high level of competence and a great deal of negotiating experience, who at the same time has to be above the suspicion of representing any national interests".
The Foreign Minister said that she attaches much importance to the issue of the mandate for this convention. "Because, on the one hand, the convention will have to review the entire complex of issues without any restrictions and, on the other hand, we wish to provide some orientation to guarantee that it applies a certain amount of realism in performing its duties. The Belgian Presidency has submitted some draft proposals in which, I think, they have found quite a balanced solution for this problem. What is essential to us is that the debate on the reforms takes into consideration the feeling of unease which many people are feeling today with respect to European policy, and that Europe is developed in such a way that the people are able to identify with it. This will not only require dealing with institutional issues but also with the contents of some policies which might need some rethinking. We have, however, already made clear that issues such as transport policy and cross-border environmental policy will also be on our agenda", said the Foreign Minister.
As regards the problem of achieving a balance between democracy and efficiency, the Foreign Minister stated that to her mind the following measures could help in reconciling these two issues:
- Strengthening the Commission''s democratic legitimacy
- Making Council meetings public whenever the latter meets as legislative body
- Involving the national parliaments more closely in the decision-making process
- Better co-operation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments (mixed commissions and institutionlalisation of the existing co-operation)
- Reviewing and streamlining the numbers and types of proceedings and legal acts
- Granting the individual citizen direct access to the European Court of Justice if he/she is generally affected by an act of Community law
- Strengthening the Ombusman system (by setting up branch offices in the Member States)
- Harmonisation of the three pillars
- Strengthening the Committee of the Regions
- Resolving the language issue
- AGranting the European Parliament full budetary sovereignity.
In this connection Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner stated that in her view a better and clearer delimitation of powers was of particular importance. "It has to be clear who holds responsibility for what in Europe, in which areas the Community has exclusive competence, in which areas the competences are mixed and in which areas the Union may only supplement or support the Member States'' activities. We should also take advantage of this occasion to settle the question of certain specific competences of the Union, such as more "European influence" for example in the fields of CFSP, external security, environmental issues; less Community influence with regard to certain internal market regulations, for instance by softening specific regulations. In some areas we could even think about a ban on harmonisation. The level of regulation should also be reviewed. Not only regulations relating to competences should be revised but also those on the types of procedure - currently, for instance, there are 30 different types of procedures and legal rules".
The Foreign Minister holds the view that the level of acceptance with which the Union is met by its citizens can ultimately only be increased by shaping sound policies. "Institutional issues are of second-rate importance to the citizens. What is called for is clarity as to the areas in which we need more Europe and those in which we should grant more leeway to the Member States. I think that we should strive for a strengthening of our Common Foreign Policy and a coherent representation of the EURO towards third countries, and, where necessary, we should strive to find common answers to the challenges to our internal security. But for international environmental and traffic problems we can only find solutions at a European level. I do not think that bringing agricultural and structural policies back under national responsibility would make much sense, however, I do think it would be sensible to ask ourselves how the level of national leeway and responsibility for these policies can be enhanced - also with a view to increasing efficiency", Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner pointed out.
As regards the Union''s decision-making capacity the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs advocates making the Council deliberations public whenever the latter meets in its capacity of legislative body. "At the same time I deem it to be an absolute necessity - especially with a view to enlargement - to increase the efficiency of the Council''s operations: in other words, focusing on essential issues, better preparation of the meetings, effective tackling of the issues at stake and finally the language issue. I do, however, oppose the idea of creating a separate Council of Ministers for European Affairs", Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner concluded.