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The Priorities of the French Presidency (1)

The Priorities of the French Presidency (1)

Source: Statement by Mr Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic to the European Parliament. Strasbourg, July 7, 2000.

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen of the European Parliament,

Thank you for welcoming me here today. Since 1 July, France has held the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and I shall be chairing the meetings of the European Council on two occasions. I therefore thought it appropriate to present the priorities of the French Presidency to this House.

Last winter, when I was invited to participate in the inauguration of this new Chamber, I made a commitment to involving Parliament fully in the work of our presidency. I think it natural and necessary to conduct discussions and debates within the European Union in close collaboration with the men and women that represent the citizens, the men and women elected by the people of Europe, who have the task of representing their opinions in the debate on the future of Europe.

Therefore, the French Presidency, represented in particular by Mr Hubert Védrine, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr Pierre Moscovici, Minister of State for European Affairs, intends to maintain an ongoing open dialogue with Parliament. The citizens of Europe want more transparency in the operation of the European institutions. The time when decisions could be taken behind closed doors has passed. Nowadays, discussions within the European Union must take place in the light of day and, of course, here in the European Parliament.

We shall also be working hand in hand with the European Commission. I should like today to express my confidence in and support for Mr Romano Prodi, the European Commissioners and all the parties cooperating with the Commission. Having come into office in quite exceptional circumstances, they have managed to lay the foundations for a radical reform which will bear fruit in the future.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, just fifty years ago the ‘Schuman declaration’ laid the foundations for the building of Europe, undertaking primarily to reconcile Germany and France. I should, at this point, like to pay tribute to the memory of one of the great and ardent Europeans who paved the way for Europe, Pierre Pflimlin. He devoted his life to France, of course, and Europe, a bold and noble idea of Europe. This House acknowledged his commitment by electing him its president. We have lost a great and fine figure in this venture we are all involved in.

Ladies and gentlemen, half a century of European construction has given rise to a profoundly original European Union, based on the common will of the nations which make up that Union, and today we clearly feel that we are entering a new phase in the history of European construction, which has already brought us peace, economic success and social progress.

The fine and necessary project of enlargement is going to change the European Union, its modus operandi and, perhaps, even its very nature, at a time when it is intensifying its political dimension.

At the same time, as the areas in which the European Union is becoming involved are expanding, the citizens are demanding, quite rightly, that it should be more democratic, more transparent and more efficient, and that it should be more diligent in respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

The debate on the future of Europe has thus been launched, and this is good news because is it essential in crucial periods to look further than the immediate concerns and time limits, and to set the course for the future.

I had the opportunity to express my views on this subject last week. My comments were intended to shed light on the future and to express what the Europe of tomorrow could and should be. They, of course, extend beyond the limits of the French Presidency of the European Union. One thing is clear, however, and I stressed this in Berlin: all further progress of the European Union is conditional upon the success of the institutional reform. If the IGC were not successful, then it would be pointless to consider the next stages.

The French authorities are fully aware of the responsibility they bear in this respect and they are approaching this presidency with the ambition to achieve progress or a successful conclusion in all the matters impacting on future development. They shall do so with a commitment to safeguard, and improve, that which gives our whole project meaning: the protection of fundamental values and the respect of national and cultural identities, the continual determination to reconcile economic performance and social progress and to fulfil the practical expectations of the citizens, and the strengthening of Europe’s role as a major player on the international scene.

This is the spirit in which France intends to take forward the remarkable work achieved by the Portuguese Presidency, in close liaison with the Swedish Presidency which is to follow us on 1 January next year.

We have outlined four objectives for this six-month period: firstly, to make the European Union ready for enlargement, next, to place Europe more at the service of growth, employment and social progress, to bring the European Union closer to the citizens in order to drive the message of our shared project home, and finally, to affirm Europe’s position in the world.

The Presidency’s first focus is on making preparations for the future of Europe, post-enlargement. As I said, the reform of the European institutions is one of the primary issues of our presidency. Let us not make the mistake of underestimating the importance of the matters on the agenda. The composition of the Commission, revision of the weighting of votes and the extension of qualified majority voting are all of critical importance given the prospect of the enlarged Europe. If we do not manage to resolve these matters, the European Union will be sentenced to paralysis in the short term, and I am convinced that all the Member States are aware of this and are in favour of finding solutions.

The French Presidency is also determined to make progress on the matter of intensified cooperation, which was added to the IGC agenda at the Feira European Council. The objective is not to set the divisions between Europeans in stone, but rather to introduce greater flexibility into the operation of the enlarged European Union by allowing those who wish to do so to travel more quickly along the common path.

You may rest assured that we shall provide ourselves with all the necessary means to make a success of these negotiations, in which the European Parliament will, of course, continue to be very closely involved. The European Council in Biarritz, two months before the Nice Council, will be an informal summit, chiefly devoted to institutional reform. It should give the necessary impetus for an agreement to be signed in December, an agreement which is worthy of the importance of the issues involved. None of us, neither you nor us, can be content with a minimum agreement.

Reform of the institutions will pave the way for enlargement of the European Union. I am, as you know, a staunch supporter of enlargement. It will be an achievement for peace and democracy in our continent, and it will make the European Union all the stronger. The French Presidency is, therefore, determined to achieve real progress in the accession negotiations with all the candidate countries, based on their individual merits and implementing the principle of differentiation. Our objective at the European Council in Nice is to arrive at as comprehensive as possible an overview of the state of negotiations, in order to provide effective guidance for the work of future presidencies and to clearly signpost the route to accession. Bilateral dialogue with the candidate countries will, moreover, be stepped up, and dialogue will also be emphasised in the European conference of Heads of State and Government which I shall be convening in Nice prior to the European Council.

The second focus of the French Presidency is a Europe at the service of growth, employment and social progress. Opting for the euro means opting for growth and employment. It is a success. We can already see the positive effects in all the countries of the European Union. Coordinating our monetary policies, however, must necessarily be accompanied by serious social ambitions and improved coordination of our economic policies. For many long years, France has been putting the case for employment to be the focus of the concerns of the European Union and the central objective of its policies. 2-061

A great deal of progress has been made thanks to successive presidencies, particularly in Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Cardiff and Cologne.

The Lisbon European Council in March marked a crucial phase. It was there that we affirmed our strategic objective to restore full employment and activity for all, increasing employment rates among the working-age population of Europe to 70%, and we set ourselves a target of 3% average annual growth. The French Presidency will be following up the action initiated by this Lisbon Council.

On the first day of France’s presidency, I was keen to invite the European Trade Union Confederation to visit me. As you know, I attach great importance to affirming the European social model as based on social dialogue, on social protection appropriate to the requirements of our time and on acknowledgement of the role of the state as the guarantor of social cohesion. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will have to support this model.

Our priority, then, will be the adoption of a "European social agenda". Economic growth and industrial modernisation are meaningful only if they represent a rapid fall in the rate of unemployment which, despite the positive results recorded throughout Europe in recent years, is still far higher than in the United States or Japan.

Europe at the service of the nations also means the determination to make great efforts to achieve social justice, improve the protection of children and boost commitment to combating exclusion in all its forms, particularly in the face of the new challenges of the knowledge-based economy.

The social agenda will make it possible, on the basis of the communication which the Commission has just submitted, to outline a five-year working programme involving all the operators concerned: Member States, the European Parliament, the Commission, unions and management. We are looking for ambitious projects in fields as important as social protection, the involvement of employees in company decisions, reconciling family life and a career and lifelong training. This is how we intend to support our European social model: by making progress on practical projects, backed by a strong political will.

At the same time, we must step up liaison and coordination between our economic policies. This is necessary in order to consolidate the euro and to make sure that the current growth in Europe lasts. The French Presidency is today proposing to improve the operation of the 11 euro states, shortly to become 12, by making its work more visible and more authoritative, to enhance the coordination of our budget policies by making the Community inspection procedures more effective, to make progress in the harmonisation of our tax policies in the wake of the European Council at Feira and, finally, to take action to prepare our citizens for the forthcoming advent of the euro. It is vital that the citizens accept the euro. Everything possible must be done to make a success of this crucial phase in both practical and human terms.

Finally, we must put Europe at the forefront of the information society, build up growth in the European Union on the basis of our training schemes – some of the best in the world – our tremendous scientific and intellectual potential and our industry, which is a world leader.

France will be endeavouring to develop fully the decisions taken under the Portuguese Presidency: support for innovative firms thanks to new risk capital developments, the establishment of a Community patent, the framing of a European scoreboard for innovation, the creation of a highly flexible network of scientists and the development of European projects, the fight against cybercrime. We must also ensure that the benefits of these new technologies are accessible to all, avoiding the creation of a digital divide, and, in particular, supporting Internet connections for all European schools by the end of 2001, as decided.

We shall also be very attentive to enhancing Europe’s position in the highly strategic biotechnology sector, while, of course, monitoring the observance of the ethical rules which must be applied to any scientific, inventive or industrial activity involving living organisms.

Growth and solidarity must benefit all the regions of the European Union, particularly the island regions which must be helped to overcome their handicaps. The Presidency will also ensure that links with the outermost regions are consolidated and intensified. The new terms of the Treaty of Amsterdam now have to be implemented to ensure that the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and the French overseas departments benefit from the rights, advantages and specific Community policies due to their specific features and constraints The third focus of the French Presidency will be to bring Europe closer to the citizens. This is now the legitimate concern of all successive presidencies leading the European Union. Europe still seems far too remote in the eyes of many of our fellow countrymen, who find it hard to see what Europe gives them or can give them in their everyday life. It is high time that the European Union took more notice of the matters of concern to the ordinary citizen. Let us achieve a Europe of the people.

The adoption of a Charter of Fundamental Rights which is currently being drawn up with the active participation of Members of this House will make it possible to enshrine in a single text the values, principles and rights which are the basis of our Union: civil and political rights, economic and social rights. It is crucial that the Convention responsible for framing the text completes its work in sufficiently good time in order to be able to deliver the charter by the end of this year.

We shall also be promoting this Europe of the people by building the Europe of mobility, of knowledge and of young people. While respecting Member State authority in the field of education, we must also staunchly support individual exchanges, particularly at university level.

Looking forward to the European Council of Nice, the French Presidency will be surveying the obstacles to the mobility of research workers, students and teachers, and investigating ways to overcome them. We must be ambitious and adopt a substantial increase in exchanges within the European Union as our goal. It is the synergy between European laboratories and firms, and the strengthening of the many important centres of research and innovation in Europe, which is at stake here, not to mention a certain vision of dialogue between cultures and cultural diversity and, ultimately, European citizenship, the feeling of belonging to the same political and human unit.

In more practical terms, the French Presidency intends to achieve progress in initiatives likely to improve the daily life of Europeans, firstly in terms of public health and consumer protection. The traumatism caused by the mad cow epidemic and by other similar threats is forcing us to set up an independent European food authority. I know that I shall be able to count on the support of this House in this undertaking. We must also achieve recognition for the precautionary principle at European and international level, and make progress in the labelling and trackability of genetically modified organisms.

Let us never forget that agriculture is the first of our common policies. The French Presidency will be particularly attentive to the WTO in the context of enlargement negotiations and in considering the problems encountered by specific industries, such as pig farming and the fruit and vegetable and banana industries.

As for the environment, the main focus will be on the safety of maritime transportation and the transportation of dangerous substances and petroleum products. The ecological disaster caused by the wreck of the Erika is all the more intolerable in that it was due to human negligence. The French authorities are firmly resolved to make tangible progress in the coming months, on the basis of existing and forthcoming proposals from the Commission and from the authorities themselves to prevent our coastlines suffering a recurrence of this tragedy.

Apart from this, Europe will continue to be in the vanguard of the fight to protect our environment. The environment must be ever better integrated into European policy. We are familiar with some of the environmental risks connected with the globalisation of the economy, which may irreversibly compromise the living conditions of future generations. Accordingly, the French Presidency is committed to arriving at a good agreement, as good as possible, next November, at the Hague conference on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and will ensure that the Kyoto Protocol is properly implemented.

In the field of justice and home affairs, the French Presidency will ensure that the decisions taken in Tampere in October 1999 are followed up in an ambitious manner. There must be progress in implementing a European asylum and immigration policy with regard to three specific points: the issue of long-term residence permits, the harmonisation of reception conditions, and the fight against illegal immigration and the associated ‘industry’. We all have the Dover tragedy in mind. In accordance with the conclusions of the Feira European Council, the Presidency will draw up specific measures regarding sanctions against parties responsible for trafficking.

There will also be particular emphasis on combating drugs and the financial crime often associated with it. In particular, Europe will have to contribute towards the adoption of measures to combat money laundering effectively in support of the action undertaken in the context of the G7 Okinawa Summit, in Japan. I shall have the opportunity to stress this point.

Finally, we are resolved to make progress in achieving a European area of justice based on the mutual recognition of legal rulings and judgements. Permit me, in concluding this chapter on the Europe of the citizens, to say a word or two about sport. Now that the Euro 2000 football championship, which gave Europeans so much pleasure and so many thrills, is over,

We must ensure that the European Union takes the specific nature of sport and its social role into more careful consideration. There is a real problem which must be investigated and solved. The French Presidency will make every effort to do so. The fourth and final focus of our presidency: a Europe with a strong international role. In terms of the common foreign and security policy, the French Presidency will make a point of affirming the European identity, with the support of the High Representative and the Commission. One of its priorities will be to consolidate the Europe of defence and security which has experienced spectacular progress in recent months. This legislation must be put into practice and developed.

In the operational arena, we are to hold the Conference on the commitment of capabilities, in order to give the Helsinki objectives due credibility. We would also like to see the interim bodies in place in Brussels since 1 March fulfilling their given role in the transition to the final phase. In particular the interim Political and Security Committee, intended to replace the Political Committee, should gradually become the mainspring of the CFSP, supporting and with the support of Mr Javier Solana. Finally, the arms industries must confirm the ambitious European defence policies by their harmonisation and their cooperation programmes. The results of recent months have been very positive in this respect, in terms of helicopters, missiles and the future transport aircraft.

In all these areas, the French Presidency will spare no effort to ensure that Europe provides itself with ample resources for its foreign policy, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation, of course, with its allies.

Geographically speaking, in addition to the summits scheduled with its major partners – the United States and Canada, Russia and Ukraine – three main priorities are discernible in the field of the CFSP:

  • the Balkans, and the continuation of the stabilisation process which has commenced, in both the military and the economic sector. The European Union must provide the countries in this region with a clear European perspective in order to persuade them to undertake reform and to cooperate at regional level. This is the purpose of the summit the Feira European Council proposed should be held between the European Union and the counties of the Western Balkans
  • the Mediterranean, with the fourth meeting of ministers in Barcelona and, circumstances permitting, the first Euro-Mediterranean Summit to be organised in Marseilles. 2-062
  • the Balkans, and the continuation of the stabilisation process which has commenced, in both the military and the economic sector. The European Union must provide the countries in this region with a clear European perspective in order to persuade them to undertake reform and to cooperate at regional level. This is the purpose of the summit the Feira European Council proposed should be held between the European Union and the counties of the Western Balkans;
  • the Mediterranean, with the fourth meeting of ministers in Barcelona and, circumstances permitting, the first Euro-Mediterranean Summit to be organised in Marseilles. 2-062

This will offer an opportunity to give new impetus to the Barcelona process by means of adopting a peace and stability charter and by strengthening economic and cultural links between the two shores of the sea we share. Then there is Asia, with the third Asia-Europe summit (ASEM) and the bilateral summits between Europe and China and Europe and Japan. Here too the French Presidency wishes to develop fully the relations it considers essential in order to construct the balanced multipolar world of the future.

The French Presidency is also keen to ensure that the new convention between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is implemented efficiently. Europe must be strong and open to the world. It must therefore play its role fully and consistently and show solidarity, in order to enable a new round of global and balanced negotiations to be launched within the World Trade Organisation.

As you can see, Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the route map that France has set itself for its Presidency of the European Union is both ambitious and very specific. In the first place, we must ensure that the institutions of the European Union are operating properly at this time when the Union is set to radically change its appearance. Tomorrow, the number of Member States will have more than doubled and we must find procedures to enable decisions to be taken and Europe to make progress while strengthening its efficiency and legitimacy. This is precisely what is at issue. The European Union will only retain its dynamism and its strength if we are able to ensure that it is appreciated by the very people it serves, i.e. the citizens of Europe.

The European Parliament also shares these concerns. By working hand in hand, with mutual trust, on each of these matters, together we shall succeed in taking Europe through the phases that are essential for the future. It is my conviction that, in six months’ time, when I come back to this Chamber to review our Presidency, Europe will not be quite the same. We shall have consolidated the edifice by making it more welcoming both for those that already reside in it and those that wish to enter. 2-063


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).