Meeting of the Europa-Union Deutschland in Burghausen on 29 April 2005
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Meeting of the Europa-Union Deutschland in Burghausen on 29 April 2005
Address Delivered By
Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Of the Republic of Austria
Burghausen, 29 April 2005
Dear Members of the Europa-Union,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Thank you for the invitation to Burghausen,
- I gladly accepted to come here and talk to you, because in my capacity as Foreign and European Minister I always attribute the utmost importance to making Europe more transparent and understandable to its citizens.
European organisations like the Europa-Union represent an invaluable contribution to making Europe more tangible and bringing it closer to its citizens. Such organisations convey Europe as it actually is to households and share the concept of Europe with families. Not only governments but also European integration require their assistance and depend on their activities. Now that we are in the process of ratification of the European constitution we are once again called upon to join forces to undertake special efforts together.
For a long time the Europa-Union has been calling on the Constitutional Convention to elaborate a federal constitution which is to replace the complicated community treaties. And the Europa-Union was an early champion in the defence of a binding catalogue of common fundamental and human rights. Let me take this opportunity to thank you for the forerunning and pioneering role you have assumed in this context.
I also gladly came here as a neighbour. In the key-note address I delivered in Vienna two days ago, I stressed the importance of neighbourhood policy as a very special priority of Austria’s foreign policy. The neighbourhood relations between Austria and Bavaria are probably the best concrete example and the best-suited model for such a policy.
1. Austria and Bavaria
For centuries Austria and Bavaria have been related to one another by very close ties of deep friendship.
Austria and Bavaria share a similar mentality, a similar culture, similar dialects and customs. It is well-known that we really have a lot in common: from the lederhosen and the dirndl to the modern high-tech diesel engine from Austria which runs in the Bavarian BMW.
However, apart from such clichés we also share similar political and economic interests. But what might probably not be so well-known is that with more than EUR 10.8 billion in exports and EUR 9.2 billion in imports the volume of trade Austria generates with Bavaria alone is larger than Austria’s volume of trade with Italy and France together!
It is indeed a pleasure for me to share with you some basic reflections on the constitution and future development of the European Union.
As one of my first official acts as new Austrian Foreign Minister I signed this constitution on 29 October last year in Rome. The solemn ceremony was held at the Campidoglio palace, where Germany and the five other founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community signed the treaties establishing the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community on 25 March 1957.
2. Historic dimension of the constitution
This Constitutional Treaty truly deserves the term "historic" - never before in the history of Europe have we had a common constitution for 25 - and from 2007 hopefully 27 - Member States.
Being the first great joint project of the enlarged Union this Constitutional Treaty also carries enormous symbolic value.
Alongside the old Member States, the accession candidates already participated on an equal footing in the deliberations and the decision-making processes, not only in the Constitutional Convention but also in the Intergovernmental Conference.
The day after tomorrow, on 1 May, the reunited Europe will celebrate its first birthday. For almost one year all 10 new Member States have thus been represented around the Union’s negotiating tables with equal rights and have contributed to shaping the Union.
But the functioning of the Union also requires rules - a well-balanced set of rules - because those which are currently in effect, in the shape of the Treaty of Nice, merely created the institutional minimum requirements for enlarging the Union to 27 Member States.
This constitution will also enable us to adapt these rules to the political reality of the enlarged Union. The EU of 25 needs the Constitutional Treaty in order to function efficiently in the longer term without at the same time allowing transparency and democratic and legal control to fall by the wayside.
In fact, the mere elaboration and coming about of the new constitution was actually based on a whole new process. A Constitutional Convention - consisting of members of national parliaments, governments, European lobby groups and the Commission - was set up to reform the foundations of the EU.
Initially the term "constitution" was somewhat avoided but the work undertaken by the Convention soon developed its own dynamism:
After in-depth deliberations, on 10 July 2003 the President of the Convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, submitted not only a reform of the EU Treaty but a genuine draft for a European constitution to the heads of state and government.
In accordance with current EU law, this proposal was then forwarded to the Intergovernmental Conference, which revised and amended only a few sections.
3. Road map
On 18 June 2004 the heads of state and government of the now 25 Member States eventually agreed on the new constitution.
It was in fact no easy task but the efforts were truly worthwhile. The constitution as such represents a difficult and laborious compromise reached between big and small states, the rights of small and medium-sized states being safeguarded.
The Constitutional Treaty is in no way a radical cut with the European Union as we know it today. It is no spectacular re-invention of European integration but a further development of the EU, which leaves the Union’s underlying fundamental principles and institutional interaction unchanged.
The objective is not to re-invent the wheel, but rather to improve it, adapt it and further develop it.
We all know that this Constitutional Treaty will not come into force unless ALL Member States ratify it. In five Member States - Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Greece - the national parliaments have already given their assent. In Spain a referendum was held in which the overwhelming majority of the population voted in favour of the constitution. The consent of the Spanish Senate however is still to be given.
Austria, like Germany, will submit the Constitutional Treaty to parliament for ratification. On 11 May Austria will ratify the European Constitution in the National Council, and in Germany, the Bundestag will vote on the constitution the day after, on May 12. On 25 May the Austrian Federal Council will discuss the constitution while in Germany it is up for ratification on 27 May in the Bundestag. Both in Germany and Austria a 2/3 majority is necessary in both houses of parliament.
At the committee level, a debate in which experts were also invited to participate was held in the Austrian National Council yesterday. The fact that the committee unanimously adopted the constitution following this discussion was a gratifying success.
Provided that all hurdles in terms of ratifications and referenda are successfully overcome, this common instrument will become effective in 2007, a number of institutional provisions regarding the European Parliament, Council and Commission will however not come into force until 2009 and 2014 respectively.
4. Referendum in France
It must nevertheless not be ignored that the mood in some states in which referenda are still outstanding is now giving rise to concern.
Is European integration in danger of being thwarted by the vote taken in one individual Member State?
The referenda in France - in one month to the day, on 29 May - and in the Netherlands on 1 June will certainly serve as a signal in this context.
I am quite confident of the outcome of France's decision regarding the Constitutional Treaty. I know and appreciate the pleasure with which the French engage in pointed discussions. But I am also convinced that the French people, who, after all, historically enshrined the concept of constitution in the European consciousness, will give their assent to this first task accomplished by the reunited Europe.
5. Content of the constitution
The guiding principle of the constitution is: "united in diversity". To an American it is quite evident that this diversity represents the constitutive element of Europe: in every corner of Europe people speak a different language, you will find different customs and mentalities; landscapes and buildings look different. And on top of that: you will not only find these differences between national states, but also within national states. This diversity and colourfulness is to be safeguarded - it is one of the strengths of Europe. But this diversity also has its price, just think of the costs for translations and interpreting services, but this is a price we should be willing to pay.
A German is not just a German, but at the same time also a Saxon, Bavarian or Swabian. We all, I as a Carinthian, you as Bavarians, live with multiple identities - and the European identity is just simply one of these identities now.
In general, identities can be chosen more freely today than ever before, and they may also change more rapidly. We are thus faced with a rise in multiple identities.
No group experiences these multiple identities as intensely as our youth today. What was safely taken for granted before no longer exists, which means that today young people more than ever before have to find their bearings themselves - and are in fact doing so. They are actively on the look out for something they can orientate themselves by, building up patchwork-identities for themselves.
It might be due to their wider openness to new concepts that young people are extremely interested in European integration. And also on the subject of identity, young people think more European than the population at large: In my home country the majority of the 15-25 year olds feel equally European and Austrian, and only 39% regard themselves exclusively as Austrians.
The fundamental objectives of the European constitution - peace, freedom, an innovative spirit, solidarity, responsible use of natural resources and respect for the diversity of our continent - are also shared by our youth.
And nevertheless, we talk at cross-purposes. Often young people don’t understand the language of the EU and the EU does not listen attentively enough to young people. According to a Eurobarometer survey 57% of adolescents stated that the EU’s work is not transparent enough, and 80% would like to learn more about the EU at school.
Since they are currently running in parallel, it is thus high time to align and merge the discourses of the young and those delivered by the EU - and the European constitution is a clear contribution to the accomplishment of this goal.
Because in a following stage it will be necessary for our young people to define the European dream in concrete terms: their desires and experiences will determine the horizon of this great process of peace and integration.
The European youth - especially youth organisations like the Young European Federalists, for instance, experience Europe at first hand and actively contribute to shaping it. National borders have ceased to be barriers. From Vilnius to Lisbon, from Dublin to Warsaw - there is thus one actively lived, experienced and free Europe.
Exchange programs and mobility in our professional and every day lives help us remove the barriers we have in our heads and promote this European feeling of community.
6. What is actually laid down in the constitution?
It is made clear that all competences which are not explicitly transferred to the EU remain with the Member States. The Member States are and will thus remain the masters of the constitution. The Constitutional Treaty will in no way put us under the yoke of a European super-state. Moreover, regions and municipalities will be assigned a special role under the European architecture. The constitution is thus in conformity with the federal approach that the Europa-Union has been advocating for decades.
In the constitution the 25 Member States commit themselves to joint values and goals, which put people, their rights, social prosperity and the environment in the fore.
Apart from the European fundamental values, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, these shared values also include equality between men and women, and respect for human dignity.
These values are reflected in a social model which is characterised by pluralism, tolerance, non-discrimination, solidarity and equality of men and women.
The European Union has raised the bar right up in terms of the targets it has set itself in the constitution. Just think of the fight against poverty, combating social exclusion, the protection of the rights of children and full employment.
A clear European commitment arises out of these goals:
- to a pro-active peace policy and
- the promotion of sustainable development and the fight against poverty,
- a commitment to a social market economy - but also
- to the European economic and social model,
- sustainable protection of the environment and
- to the linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe.
These goals have to be reconciled with one another and have to reflect the European economic and social model.
Fundamental rights - effective legal protection
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union was successfully incorporated into the constitution. In his capacity as Chairman of the Convention responsible for drafting the Convention on Fundamental Rights, Roman Herzog contributed substantially to shaping it. Taken over unchanged, the Charter of Fundamental Rights became Part II of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.
Explicit mention is made of the protection of minorities, the principle of equality of men and women, and it also includes a general command of non-discrimination. Moreover, the accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights is also laid down in the Charter. Since equal rights and duties are a sine qua non for living together in a well-ordered manner and in solidarity.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights also stipulates the ban on capital punishment, the right to education and freedom of opinion, as well as the prohibition of child labour.
The commitment to these fundamental and human rights is not mere lip service - but they are legally binding, every EU citizen thus being able to invoke them when necessary.
The constitution also facilitates the pre-requisites for bringing individual action to the European Court of Justice. Every citizen may now turn directly to the European Court of Justice if he/she feels treated unfairly at the national level!
Democracy - European citizens' initiative
The constitution also implies: more democracy.
In concrete terms, it strengthens the role played by the European Parliament, whose members are elected directly by the citizens of the European Union. It will become a co-legislative body, having equal rights, which means that almost all - i.e. 95% according to experts - of European laws will be co-decided by the European Parliament.
The constitution also implies more transparency since the Council will for the first time hold public meetings when deliberating and deciding on European legislature. You can thus listen to and watch EU decision-making processes live on radio or TV.
I can but recommend that one reads the constitution. Even though its text is a bit dry - which will certainly not make it a bestseller - it is nevertheless a highly interesting set of rules.
The system of double majority - i.e. 55 % of the members of the Council, comprising at least 15 of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 % of the Union's citizens - replaces the complicated decision-making system laid down in the Treaty of Nice. Currently a qualified majority in the Council requires 232 out of 321 votes, the blocking minority being 90 votes - and 13 Member States and 62% of the total population of the Union.
By enhancing the number of qualified majority decisions the Union will be able to act more efficiently in the future. Necessary decisions can be taken swiftly and efficiently.
A novelty is the opportunity for a European citizens' initiative. Under the constitution, citizens’ initiatives having more than 1 million signatures from nationals of a significant number of Member States will be granted legal status under European law. By means of such initiatives citizens can, for instance, invite the Commission to elaborate relevant European legal acts on important matters. These are entirely new elements of direct democracy which have never existed before in this form.
The new system involves a strengthening of the national parliaments' legal and political positions. In this spirit the European Commission will at the same time thus forward all proposals for legislative acts to national parliaments. Legislative resolutions from the European Parliament and joint positions of the Council must be submitted to national parliaments without delay. If one third of the national parliaments holds the view that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality have been violated, the Commission shall subject its proposal to detailed scrutiny. It will also be possible to take a matter to the European Court of Justice.
Regional and local self-government
The respect for national identities is explicitly enshrined in the constitution, which means that the Union shall not interfere with individual Member States' fundamental political and constitutional structures.
The principle of equality of Member States is adhered to as well as that of regional and local self-government. Also in the future municipalities will thus be able to decide themselves on special services - the so-called services of general interest -, such as waste removal or water supply.
A clearer delimitation of competences between the Union and its Member States was one of the major concerns shared by the Member States with federal structures Austria, Germany and Belgium. The various types of competences are explicitly and conclusively laid down in the constitution. Depending on the policy area, there will be different categories of competence in the future:
- areas of sole, or exclusive competence of the EU, with respect to the customs union or the common trade policy for instance;
- areas of shared competence, with respect to issues relating inter alia to the environment, consumer protection or the internal market;and
- areas of supporting, coordinating and complementary action of the EU, with respect to the protection and improvement of public health, tourism, education and culture for instance.
Under the Constitutional Treaty, however, the transfer of competences is tied to the condition that regulations which are to be applicable across the whole of Europe must demonstrably entail more added value than national regulations. The EU shall thus only interfere in individual Member States' or regional authorities'autonomy where this is absolutely necessary. Both of us, you in Bavaria and we in Austria, with our federal structures, have always attributed the utmost importance to upholding this principle of subsidiarity.
The number of decision-making procedures for European legal acts will be limited to four: The procedure of co-decision - involving both the Council and the European Parliament in decision-making - will become the rule.
As already mentioned before, this makes the European Parliament a co-legislator with equal rights.
Only in exceptional cases will the procedures of consulting and obtaining the consent of the European Parliament as well as that of exclusive decision-making by the Council be applied.
The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs
Europe also has to sharpen its foreign policy profile and represent its interests to the outside world. With the future Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, the world will be given one European contact person - instead of 25 - for matters relating to foreign affairs.
Europe speaks with one voice - which will make it easier to better represent and safeguard European citizens’ interests on the international, geo-political stage in the future. Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, always complained that there was no European telephone number he could call. The new constitution gives us this number.
The EU is well represented towards the outside world by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner; besides the European Commission already maintains 128 representations all around the globe.
7. Europe in concrete terms
In our everyday lives the new Europe we live in becomes most clearly perceptible in the obstacles which have been removed and in all the things which no longer exist - or only in very exceptional cases:
- passport controls,
- customs formalities,
- trade barriers,
- the need to exchange money, but also
- monopolies in the fields of energy, telecommunications and transport
- all these are now a thing of the past.
We Austrians still have a vivid recollection of the time before our accession to the European Union and the changes it has brought with it are still very present.
However, a sober stock-taking process also requires us to keep a sharp eye on what has not been achieved, on the frustrations and also on those in Germany, Austria and in Europe who feel that they have lost out. In the EU the weather is not always fair and the sun does not always shine for everybody. Over the last ten years we have had to change and adapt, we have had to give up much of what we had been used to and to accept many new things - such as the burden represented by transit traffic or the lack of progress in the field of nuclear safety standards, the mistrust towards European bureaucracies and decision-making processes that lack transparency, or quite generally the feeling of powerlessness - our pleasure at being part of the Union is mixed with a considerable amount of euroscepticism.
There is no magic cure for this. Every single day Europe needs to be explained, substantiated and struggled for anew. For you and for every one of us "Europe" means more choice, fewer obstacles and better opportunities.
Economic performance and snapshots of the prevailing mood are important, but even more essential is the practical work on the peace project of European integration.
Today we have the privilege of contributing to the development of the European peace project. We have the privilege of living in a re-united Europe. Our generation has cut through the Iron Curtain and we are actively working to fully dismantle it once and for all - both in economic terms and in contacts between people.
While, until 1994 the European Union ended here with you at the Inn, in 20 months' time the EU will probably end at the Danube Delta.
Only last Monday I, together with my counterparts from the other EU Member States, signed the accession treaties with Romania and Bulgaria in Luxembourg. And there we responded to the touching "Good afternoon, Europe" from Romania's President Băsescu with a warm "Welcome to the European Union". This enlarged European Union must not fill us with fear, it is only in the interests of all that there be common legal rules applicable to all in the entire EU.
Permit me to point out that this is, in very concrete terms, also of importance to Burghausen: The OMV, not completely unknown here, has effected the most substantial foreign investment so far in Romania.
For the future of this particular company and that of hundreds of other enterprises too, these two states' accession to the EU represents a means of safeguarding their investments.
But it is not about business alone: the European peace project goes far beyond business alone.
We all entertain the hope that the violent conflicts in the Western Balkans - the last ones only five years ago - were really the last ever on European soil.
Currently, for instance, a feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement for Serbia and Montenegro is being drafted. For the countries of the Western Balkans are facing huge problems and in view of their geographical locations - surrounded by EU Member States - there is no reasonable alternative to European integration - let me just mention in this context that this summer we will commemorate the ten-year anniversary of Srebrenica.
To the countries of the Western Balkans which have been tried by war and destruction we will be partners on their road towards European integration.
Europe must not complacently rest on its laurels now. The European Union must assume its specific responsibility in Europe and the world at large.
And it is very evident that Europe is increasingly assuming responsibility around the globe. Irrespective of whether in the immediate neighbourhood, like in the Western Balkans for instance, in the Mediterranean region, in the East of the continent, or in the third world: no other entity has a wider range of tools at its disposal than the European Union - reaching from trade agreements to development assistance, humanitarian and disaster relief, but also including support in building up democracy and modern governmental structures and institutions.
This - Ladies and Gentlemen - is the grand European peace project in very concrete terms.
But the constitution is also necessary to make resources and energy available for resolving pending problems at the European level. The fact of the matter is that for today’s problems an ever decreasing number of solutions can be found solely at the regional and local levels: terrorism, the dark sides of globalisation and migration, unemployment or the economic development require rapid responses at the European level.
8. May we now look forward to a perfect Europe?
The answer is "No", Europe is by no means perfect and neither is the constitution. Well, who can in fact claim to be perfect? But this very Constitutional Contract is a small step on the road towards making this Europe more perfect and more modern.
The citizens of Europe know exactly what they do not want: centralism, faceless uniformity, excessive regulation, rigid bureaucracy, mindless administration instead of responsible governance.
One of the objectives of the constitution is also to assist in preventing a certain alienation of Europe's citizens from the project of European integration. Europe will become more transparent and understandable. A structure which is much clearer and easier to comprehend will be created for you - for each and every one of us.
We will thus get a "basic law for Europe".
Because what Europe is offering us and our partners in the world is still valid and has remained unchanged:
- securing peace,
- work on the European economic and social model,
- respect for diversity and
- pleasure in the colourful nature of Europe!
9. We only have this one constitution
We cannot choose between this and another, better, Constitutional Treaty. The only choice we have is between this Constitutional Treaty before us and the much more intricate EC and EU Treaties in the version of the Treaty of Nice now in effect.
Naturally, we can say: I don't like this or that point. This is not my constitutional draft, but it is a compromise. And I have to tell you that I am not aware of any better one and this is why I would recommend us now to accept this draft, to give it a try and to make progress with the ratification of this European Constitutional Treaty as a further important chapter in the history of the EU. It represents another element that goes to show how the world has positively changed in the way we have wished it to.
The Constitutional Treaty might not be the best of all theoretically possible texts, but it certainly is a well-balanced compromise, achieved after long negotiations by the Convention and the Intergovernmental Conference. And only and precisely in the form it was signed on 29 October in Rome is it acceptable for all involved political players and stakeholders of the EU.
All parties have made delicately balanced compromises in order to achieve this consensus.
Any re-working of individual passages is ruled out, since this would jeopardise the overall balance. The consensus which was achieved at such an effort between the European partners would collapse, immediately opening Pandora’s box - and nobody would ever be able to close it again. Moreover, six Member States have already ratified the Constitutional Treaty.
Germany's assent on 12 May in the Bundestag and on 27 May in the Bundesrat would thus emit an important signal to France and the Netherlands for their forthcoming referenda.
Including Austria, 8 Member States will then have ratified the constitution - and this is almost one third of all EU Member States.
With wise foresight Konrad Adenauer once said:
"The unity of Europe was a dream of a few,
it has become a hope for many,
and today it is a necessity for all"
These words make it very clear that we should not adopt this constitution out of a sense of duty but with conviction and pleasure.
I hope that I was able today to give you an understanding of the European Constitution and the European integration process, which have my full and complete support.
The future of Europe is in our hands.