"Challenges facing the EU until 2010"
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"Challenges facing the EU until 2010"
the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner
EPP-ED Study Days
Vienna, 24 March 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
"Europe should not be treated like a monument, but like a project, it should not be treated like a possession but like a construction site". This is how Gérard Defois, the Archbishop of Lille, defined our continent at a recent colloquium on Europe. This definition also reflects very aptly the underlying idea of the EPP-ED Group Study Days here in Vienna, which focus on the major pivotal challenges facing our continent.
I know that in yesterday's discussions you already dealt with issues the European economy is facing. It is essential to address these issues, since they directly affect people's lives. The economy is the engine that drives and determines our standard of living and its development is therefore the primary yardstick applied by the citizens to measure the performance of Europe.
But economic success alone is not everything. Successful economic development requires a solid groundwork if it is to be sustainable and long-lasting. And it is this foundation based on goals and values which has to be taken into account when defining political targets.
For more than half a century the parties which have joined to form the EPP have secured their place in the history books of Europe, because they contributed substantially to launching the process of European integration and to making the European Union what it is now: the most successful peace project ever - the most telling evidence of which is the forthcoming enlargement by ten new Member States.
But with this enlargement the works on the construction site called Europe will still be far from complete. This fact is also illustrated by the agenda of today's meeting, which clearly focuses on the future.
In my address I want to start by discussing the first item on this morning's agenda: the negotiations on the European constitution, which are hopefully getting going again now, and then continue with issues relating to the new neighbourhood of the European Union, which will be on your agenda in the afternoon.
The second - highly topical - item on this morning's agenda, namely internal security and the fight against illegal immigration and terrorism, will be addressed by the Minister of the Interior, Ernst Strasser, in his introductory report. And I think that Mr. Strasser will certainly also share with you his recent proposals, which met with much interest against the background of the sad events in Spain.
Let me start with the debate on the European constitution:
Recent developments have given a new momentum to this discussion, which came to a standstill before Christmas for a whole series of reasons. Now it is back on the topical agenda again and in a much friendlier light. However, the number of open questions will still be too large to expect substantial progress already at this European Council meeting, starting tomorrow. But many signs indicate that a fresh impetus is discernible for tackling the resolution of the remaining open issues - and this is a highly welcome development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the last few weeks and months the advantages of the draft constitution, which was first elaborated by the convention and then further developed by the intergovernmental conference, have been stressed in numerous speeches and articles - not least also by many of you who contributed very substantially to it. But these advantages are so important after all that one cannot emphasise them strongly enough.
From my point of view, the occasional prophecies of doom claiming that Europe could do perfectly well without a new constitution are not only a misinterpretation of the situation: I also find it hard to imagine that this wealth of positive ideas which were elaborated in months of intensive work could simply disappear in some desk drawer.
Or could you imagine that all of a sudden nothing were to come of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union after all?
Could you even imagine that the provisions on the responsibilities within the Union were not to be reviewed and thus the division of competences between the EU and its Member States would not be defined in more detail and that there would not be a clearer regulation of how the Union could, for instance, ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is observed?
Could you imagine that we might miss the opportunity to weed out today's proliferation of existing procedures and legal instruments, to simplify them and make them more democratic and transparent?
Could you imagine that in spite of all the efforts we still have to drag along with the irksome make-shift solution of the three pillars?
Could you imagine that the Union will not be given a legal personality after all, which would mean that in the future too, it will not be as effective and efficient as we would like it to be in our own interest?
Could you image that we would have to continue to manage without a proper legislative process in which the European Parliament is fully involved, as is necessary for a functioning, democratic community?
Could you imagine having to explain to the national parliaments that they will not be involved in the European legislative process after all?
Moreover, the draft constitution also contains a number of provisions aimed at strengthening the Union's capability to act in various policy areas, like, for instance, internal security, which will be addressed a bit later on, and also the area I know best, foreign and security policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Quite frankly, I have to admit that I have already got so used to the idea that the office of a European Minister for Foreign Affairs will be created that I really find it hard to imagine that we should have to do without - and I believe we should no longer even accept that we might have to do without.
Together with Federal Chancellor Schüssel I will do as much as I can to make sure that the unfinished work on this draft constitution is concluded to enable the enlarged Union to use its potential to the full. After all, these negotiations are the first common project undertaken by the enlarged Union. If only for that reason alone, we should bring it to a successful conclusion.
The notion that Europe could live without a new constitution might at first glance appear to be the line of least resistance, but in the medium-term this approach would mean leading the European Union into a dead-end street - or at least along an unnecessarily slow "crawler lane".
It is true that Europe does not need the new constitution to be able to carry out the enlargement on the first of May - this step has, thank heavens, long been settled and fixed - but it will need this new constitution in order to blossom out further and make full use of its potential from then on.
As is the case with all things under the sun, this constitution might not fulfil the wishes of each and every one of us, but it definitely represents an important step in the right direction and in any case constitutes progress as compared to the current legal framework.
Most of all it is a more appropriate basis for keeping the Union together, for preventing any centrifugal tendencies right from the outset and for putting an end to the rather unfortunate debate of the last few months on a core Europe.
Let me say a few words about the issue of the distribution of powers between the Member States, which has been in the headlines for quite some time now. What is important in this context is to strike the right balance between the individual institutions' efficiency and ability to act effectively on the one hand and their representative character on the other.
It is certainly no secret to this audience that Austria attaches the utmost importance to a representative Commission, and we will continue to advocate this position strongly and clearly. The Commission is the core element of the construction devised by the Union's founding fathers. The community approach stands and falls with the role played by the Commission. This is why it is so important that it enjoys the confidence of all Member States and that the latter can develop a "we-feeling" with respect to the Commission. For this reason we are convinced that every Member State should have the right to be represented with a member in the Commission.
The notion of a European "we-feeling" is also linked to the issue of the weighting of votes. A considerable amount of number-crunching exercises and models have already been put on the table. Out of this wide range of variants we now have to select those which are best suited to creating a basis of mutual trust between the Member States and to ensuring that each will be able to bring its weight to bear without misusing it.
Today I only want to say this much: Austria is taking a relatively flexible approach since we know that this issue is in good hands with the Irish Presidency. We are confident that Ireland will successfully lead the Union along the last few metres to the finish-line.
This leads me to the second part of my address, namely the enlarged Union and its new neighbours.
We welcome the accession of the new Member States, which will become reality on the first of May 2004, with sincere joy. During the last few years we have all invested so much time, energy and resources into making this historic enterprise a reality - and it is indeed a pleasure to achieve a goal for which one has worked so long and hard.
But we must by no means rest on our laurels. The actual integration of the ten new Member States into the institutions and policies of the EU will only begin after their accession, and making the engine of a Union of twenty-five run as smoothly as it did before will undoubtedly represent quite a challenge.
Accession negotiations are also underway with two further countries, Bulgaria and Romania, and should be concluded by the end of this year. If so, they can join the European Union in January 2007, as was envisaged by the Brussels European Council in December 2003. And in my view, the recent progress reports on the two countries make appear this goal in fact realistic.
Austria will continue to contribute actively and constructively to the negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania so that the targets defined in the road map can be fulfilled. But there are still some difficult items left on the agenda. For us, the quality of the accession process takes precedence over its speed. What is important in this context is to achieve well-balanced solutions at the negotiating table and then make sure by further monitoring, i.e. by assisting the new Member States in the integration process, that the desired targets are actually met. This point of view is, by the way, also shared by the Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen.
Those neighbours which are both geographically and historically closest to Austria are summarily defined in EU speak as the "Western Balkans": Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia. Under the Stabilisation and Association Process the EU has been maintaining very intensive relations with these countries since back in 1999. Since the European Council in Feira on 19 and 20 June 2000 they may also call themselves "potential candidates for EU membership". As the country which has made the most substantial progress of all states in the Western Balkans, Croatia was the first to submit its application for EU membership in February 2003. Macedonia followed suit on 22 March this year.
From the Austrian point of view it would be very welcome if Croatia could be admitted to the EU as soon as possible - and this not only because of the very close historic and economic ties between Austria and Croatia.
A swift conclusion of the EU accession procedure with Croatia would not only have positive repercussions on the approximation of the other states in the Western Balkans to EU standards, but also contribute to stabilisation and economic development. I therefore hope that the European Commission will soon submit its avis on Croatia's application for membership and that the European Council will decide to take up accession negotiations - if possible already this June - and grant Croatia the status of accession candidate.
Let me use this opportunity to remind you of the important role played by the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which, headed by Special Coordinator Dr. Erhard Busek, contributes decisively to promoting regional cooperation between the countries in the region and to assisting them in establishing closer ties with the European Union.
But the enlargement of the European Union goes hand in hand with yet another challenge - which brings me to the next sub-topic of my address - the challenge of re-defining our relationship with a considerable number of states: our new neighbours in the East of Europe and on the southern and eastern borders of the Mediterranean whom we cannot grant a perspective for EU membership. Thus it is also clear that we must manage without the accession perspective as an instrument for shaping our relations to these countries.
It is, however, clear that erecting new walls at the external borders of the enlarged EU and not caring about what happens beyond is certainly not the way to go.
Such an attitude would not be in the least conducive because of the manifold problems directly affecting Europe for the solution of which we need the cooperation of our new neighbours. Let me give you just three examples from areas important to Europe. Firstly, it is only by increasing the level of cooperation with our neighbours that we can in future - maybe - succeed in preventing such terrible terror attacks as those of 11 March in Madrid. Secondly, the entering into force of the Kyoto Protocol depends on whether the EU as the pioneer of global environmental protection can convince Russia to ratify it. And thirdly, the question of whether we will be able to mitigate the enormous migratory pressure, which means that almost every day hundreds of people are literally left stranded on our borders, is also an issue in which the EU cannot achieve much all by itself.
The goal of the European neighbourhood policy is to try to achieve a new quality of sustainable cooperation with our neighbours which is based on shared values and which should enable us to tackle the common challenges of the 21st century in the long run. This first of all requires a coherent approach. But if we also keep in mind that the concept of European neighbourhood policy covers countries as different as Morocco and the Ukraine, it becomes very clear that the second principle to be applied is differentiation.
This is the background against which the concept of European neighbourhood policy will be given concrete shape in the form of action plans for individual countries, the drafts of which will probably be submitted by the European Commission this May.
The objective is therefore not to re-invent the existing framework on which these relations are based, such as Association Agreements, Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, the Barcelona Process or the "Northern Dimension", for instance.
The idea is rather to pool these elements and complement them by action plans in order to arrive at a coherent policy approach, i.e. the European Neighbourhood Policy. From 2007 on a separate financial instrument will also be available, which as a complement to the existing instruments of external assistance created for these regions - TACIS and MEDA - will be earmarked specifically for regional cooperation.
In the spirit of a joint ownership approach these action plans will define highly concrete goals to be achieved in the short and medium term. As an example of such goals I would like to quote some items from a paper which was jointly elaborated last autumn by Austria and Hungary as a suggestion for the EU's action plan for the Ukraine. These proposals include, for instance, achieving the status of a market economy, accession to the WTO and - as a longer-term perspective - the establishment of a free-trade zone between the EU and the Ukraine. And we are very pleased to see that it is exactly these elements which were included in the working paper on the action plan for the Ukraine, which was submitted recently by the European Commission.
European neighbourhood policy is moreover based on the two principles of benchmarking and conditionality, meaning that the better a partner country succeeds in implementing the jointly agreed goals and targets, the sooner it will be able to enjoy incentives. But what kind of incentives? I have already mentioned that they do not include the perspective of EU membership since the accession procedure according to Article 49 TEU must be separated from European neighbourhood policy.
The conclusions of the EU Council meeting held in summer 2003, however, address some issues which in my view are not only attractive for our partners but also open up an ambitious perspective. They include on the one hand political offers - in the narrower sense - like, for instance, enhanced political dialogue and cooperation in matters relating to common threats to security, conflict prevention and crisis management; and, on the other hand, the reduction of trade barriers and the further opening of the markets according to the WTO principles as well as progressive integration into the Union's Internal Market on the basis of approximation of laws. I believe that this is an offer which will indeed enable substantial progress.
This policy approach can help us to find the appropriate, correct and proper answer to the frequently asked question about the borders of Europe. Europe certainly does not end at the current or at the future external borders of the EU. Likewise, Europe surely does not end where different cultures and religions touch. Only where there is heterogeneity will there be dialogue, and it is precisely cultural diversity of which Europe is so justly proud.
In the final analysis it is therefore more important to do all we can to FREE the borders that actually exist today FROM THE NOTION OF SEPARATION than to define exactly where the BORDERS of Europe run.
The fact of the matter is that the EU will need to cooperate with its neighbours in the East and also those on the southern shores of the Mediterranean in order to be able to successfully tackle the challenges of the 21st century - including, among other things, new threats to security, environmental protection and migration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope that by outlining these thoughts and considerations I have given you an overview of our idea of the future of the European Union - both as regards its institutional structure and its potential further growth as well as its cooperation with its neighbours. I know that the parties which have joined to form the EPP will also mould this future decisively by giving it their characteristic hallmark - and it is precisely this which makes me so confident that this future will be a successful one. The wish I therefore have is that our parties' efforts for and their commitment to Europe will be duly rewarded with the voter's confidence at the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. In this spirit let me wish you that your - our - Study Days will progress successfully and fruitfully and let me wish us all that European integration keeps moving forward - and much success for June!