|The Priorities of the French Presidency (2) |
The Priorities of the French Presidency (2)
Source: Statement by Mr Prodi, President of the European Commission, after Mr. Chirac's address to the European Parliament. Strasbourg, July 7, 2000.
Madam President of the European Parliament,
Mr President of the French Republic,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to stand here before you at the start of this new Presidency. It is always a very exciting moment when the torch is handed over in the race to achieve Europe’s goals, and the fact that we are in the year 2000 makes today even more special.
Europe has already taken great strides towards its goal of economic regeneration during this first half of the year thanks to the Lisbon and Feira European Councils. Progress has also been made towards an extraordinary enlargement of the Union – enlargement which you have described, Mr Chirac, as a 'fine and necessary project' – and towards strengthening its institutions in preparation for enlargement. I would like to welcome your incoming Presidency, Mr Chirac, and say a few words on a couple of issues you raised in your speech.
Firstly, I would like to say that I support one hundred percent your commitment to developing Europe’s social agenda. When I presented the Commission’s strategic objectives for 2000-2005 in February, I announced that one of our major objectives would be to develop a new economic and social agenda for Europe. Less than five months on, I am extremely encouraged by the progress which has already been made in the implementation of the economic aspects of that agenda. The social aspects of Europe’s development are the other side of the same coin, and that is where we will focus our efforts during these next six months.
The Presidency will, in particular, have to tackle a whole range of major issues in relation to which the Commission has already tabled proposals. Just a few days ago, the Commission adopted a social policy agenda outlining what needs to be done over the next two or three years to ensure that the conclusions of the Lisbon and Feira European Councils are translated into practical actions. I feel that this document strikes a good balance between the political directions agreed at Lisbon and Feira and our duties and powers under the Treaty. It should therefore meet with consensus at the Nice Council.
Indeed, it is important for the Union to avoid creating inequalities in our society, all the more so in that we now have the right economic conditions to reduce these inequalities. The Commission therefore supports the Presidency in focusing on these issues.
The anti-racism directive was recently adopted in a record time of only six months, and we now look forward to seeing the French Presidency take up the other aspects of this extremely important anti-discrimination package with the same drive. Indeed, the primary function of any anti-discrimination programme must be to secure equal opportunities for men and women, and we must also do everything in our power to put an end to that most detestable form of slavery, the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
One of the forms of inequality still present in European society is inequality of educational opportunities. At Lisbon, an action plan was adopted which now needs to be implemented, and I know that the Presidency will be taking strong measures to ensure that all our young people develop the abilities they need for integration into a knowledge-based economy. It is also our duty to advance this knowledge and increase the mobility of students, teachers and researchers in both quantitative and qualitative terms, as was proposed, at last, at Feira. I am glad that this subject has been raised, for it is an issue of major importance, the furthest-reaching implications of which have not yet been fully examined.
Another source of inequality is the poverty trap in which too many European citizens find themselves. At Lisbon, the European Council committed the Member States to making great efforts to eradicate poverty, and a High Level Group on social protection is working with the Commission on this ambitious strategy. It is truly scandalous that extreme poverty still exists within our societies. At the Nice Council we should be aiming to achieve a consensus of positions on social exclusion, and the Commission has already put forward proposals on the matter.
The Feira European Council also gave strong support to the Commission’s proposals in the area of food safety and committed the Member States to making progress on setting up an independent food safety authority as soon as the European Parliament has delivered its opinion. I am confident that this opinion will be given by the first October part-session at the latest. Once we have put forward our proposal, I look forward to seeing the plans for the authority move swiftly ahead under the French Presidency. We owe this to our citizens, who will not tolerate it if we drag our feet on matters of food safety, but we must also have a common approach to this issue if we are to maintain our internal market. We have all learnt from the recent problems and I feel that everyone is now ready to shoulder their responsibilities.
The European public is extremely concerned about environmental issues, and I stand alongside the French Presidency in the intention Mr Chirac has expressed to make the protection and improvement of the environment one of our key priorities. Important decisions on climate change will have to be taken in November at the 6th session of the UN World Conference on Climate Change in The Hague. At this conference, which will be one of the most important to take place since Kyoto, the Union will have to confirm its leadership role: we must fulfil the commitments we made at Kyoto and maintain the pressure on our partners to fulfil theirs.
The impact of our transport and energy policies on the environment, and, in particular, climate change, will be a key theme in two documents the Commission intends to submit to Parliament and the Council this autumn. The first is a Green Paper on the common transport policy and the second is a strategic document on different energy sources and the security of energy supply. These are issues of considerable concern to the European citizens, and they expect us to take effective action, especially as the situation now stands.
The citizens are also extremely concerned about oil pollution disasters on their coastlines, and if we want to avoid repetition of these disasters the Council and the European Parliament must act swiftly and adopt a package of measures on maritime safety, as we have already proposed.
Another important issue which is of concern to the citizens is the use of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology. We must ensure adequate protection of human health and the environment while at the same time allowing society to benefit from the development of modern biotechnology. We therefore urgently need to adopt the new framework legislation on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms. This series of provisions strengthens and improves the existing framework, and it is important that we achieve a balanced response that inspires both public and market confidence.
We therefore have a common, ambitious programme for the next six months and it seems to me that the various lines of action can all be traced back to a strong desire for a better quality of life. At all levels of society, the citizens are calling throughout Europe for an improvement in social, ethical and environmental quality. We must heed this call.
This is why I want to end by emphasising the need for a constructive relationship with our new neighbours. One of the major challenges facing the European Union is the need to stabilise our continent, and promoting stability in the regions on our borders must clearly be a central part of that strategy.
We therefore fully support your proposal to organise a political summit between the European Union and the most democratically advanced Balkan countries. The Commission has already started to lay the foundations for this Balkan summit and we look forward to working closely with the French Presidency in order to make more detailed preparations.
I have recently had occasion to reflect on the increasingly important continuum of interaction between the European institutions. Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force, our legislative system has been working ever more efficiently under the new codecision procedure. This procedure applies to a greatly increased range of legislation, yet there has been less need to resort to conciliation.
A recent survey shows that more than half the legislative proposals put forward over the past year were adopted in two readings and almost a fifth required only one reading. This means that the legislative process is maturing and becoming more and more consensual. I find this encouraging, given that the Commission has recommended to the IGC that the scope of the co-decision procedure, together with the qualified majority voting procedure, should be extended. It will give even more democratic legitimacy to the European legislative process, and this is vital to the political health of the Union.
President Chirac, I welcome your commitment to the success of the Intergovernmental Conference negotiations, that is to the necessary reform of our institutions. Your commitment gives a clear, positive signal to our candidate country negotiating partners. In Biarritz and in Nice, Europe will need all your skills and a great sense of responsibility on all sides. We are all aware of how essential it is to reinforce our institutions and make them function more effectively. This is the essential precondition for enlargement.
We will have various other opportunities to go into this question in greater detail. Today, let me simply stress an obvious point, which is, moreover, the crux of what we want to achieve in Nice and beyond. With 27-28 or more States, the Union will need stronger institutions, not weaker ones. We will need a stronger, not weaker democratic commitment and a stronger, not more elusive legal system.
In this respect, it therefore an illusion to believe that the ‘Monnet method’ is a thing of the past, something that could be more effectively be replaced with ad hoc arrangements. The European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and the Court of Justice are our institutions, and they provide the guarantees and the checks and balances without which nothing lasting can be built. Because they are so essential we must work to improve them, and this is the task to which we are all committed for Nice. The next six months are clearly going to be busy, and I am convinced that by the time France hands over the torch to Sweden, we will have made very considerable progress in building the Europe our citizens want and expect.