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 Why We Need the European Union

 

Why We Need the European Union

Source: Speech by FCO Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, at Polityka Magazine, Warsaw, Tuesday, March 26, 2002 .

I am delighted to speak to you in this wonderful new building - a testament to the robust health of the Polish political press. My thanks to the editors of Polityka, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Futurum Forum for making this possible and helping us to make history.

In just over twenty months the European Union will take in ten new Member States, assuming that all goes well in the accession negotiations. It will be the biggest enlargement of the EU, the most complex, and the most historically significant. After the bitter divisions of the Cold War, we are reuniting Europe.

The sufferings of Poland in the last century remind us constantly of why we need the European Union. Membership of the Union offers a better future. It has healed historical scars, and created peace and stability on a continent where more wars were fought in the last few centuries than anywhere else in the world.

Britain is a champion of European Union enlargement. Eighteen months ago, here in Warsaw, our Prime Minister Tony Blair held out the prospect of Poland’s membership in 2004. The EU is keeping to its timetable; the candidates are keeping to theirs. Both sides know what’s at stake and what the prize is. Enlargement is not just to your benefit. It is to ours:

  • by increasing Europe’s zone of stability and security, including in the fight against terrorism;
  • by building the biggest single market in the advanced world with a population of nearly 500m (more than the USA and Japan combined), so boosting trade and prosperity, and creating 300,000 new jobs in the current Member States and up to 2 million in candidate countries, including Poland;
  • by giving consumers access to a wider range of products at competitive prices;
  • by enabling us to work together to tackle those common problems that we cannot tackle alone: like environmental pollution, international crime, drug trafficking.

Negotiations are just reaching the critical stage. Both the EU and the candidate countries must remain firmly focussed and committed. The candidates will have to keep up their reforms, not only introducing the new laws and systems required for membership, but making them work on the ground. This is a very practical matter. Upon enlargement, UK citizens will depend on your civil servants, judges and customs officials to uphold their rights as EU citizens and to ensure their safety. Just as Polish citizens will depend upon ours.

Building the administration to manage this is a massive practical task for Poland and other candidates. And Britain is determined to help. We have agreed ‘Action Plans’ with each candidate country. These finance a range of bilateral projects designed to support the accession process. Not just on technicalities, but on issues affecting us all like drug trafficking. And under the EU’s Twinning Programme we have been involved in 25 projects assisting Polish administrators implement EU legislation and standards in areas such as border management, crime and the environment. We have 10 advisers currently in Poland working with your experts in departments as diverse as Maritime Transport and the Customs Board.

Future of Europe

Your new Government has made enormous progress in tackling these difficult issues. I am delighted that Poland closed two more Chapters last week: capital and tax – making 22 in total. We know there are tough choices and hard decisions, but Danuta Hübner and Jan Truszczynski are highly respected negotiators, and the prize for Poland is huge.

Making a success of enlargement is not the only major task facing the EU. The second is to re-connect the Union with its citizens – and connect with its future citizens. Europe’s institutions need to be more effective in delivering their objectives. Its citizens need to understand how they do so. These are not academic issues. We want the enlarged EU to take full advantage of the political and economic strengths of its Member States. But the EU’s political strength depends on its democratic legitimacy. And here we in Britain, like you in Poland, see a problem. President Kwasniewski put it well: ‘The most important decisions cannot be taken in secluded offices, or be formulated only by panels of experts. European unification cannot just be a matter for elites and experts, it should be an issue for its citizens.’ I strongly agree.

In recent years, the EU has been in constant evolution. Keeping up with all the changes in organisations and names, acronyms and jargon, is very difficult, even for a Minister of Europe. But this evolution of the last 30 years is surely better than what went before, as Poland, above all knows only too well.

Poland – and the other candidate countries - will have an important role in shaping the future of the EU. Our Prime Ministers have already produced a joint paper at their meeting in November on the Future of Europe; and set out our joint views on economic reform before the Barcelona Council. They identified three principles that should guide the European Union: legitimacy, transparency and efficiency. Legitimacy through greater accountability and concentrating on delivering what our peoples want; transparency using clearer and simpler language and by more open decision-making; and efficiency through better governance and clearly defined roles for a streamlined Commission and European Council.

I am already working closely with Danuta Hübner as we share views on how to take this agenda forward. I want to work with your government as well as other future Member States to ensure that a reinvigorated Union has the structures capable of delivering on issues that matter to the people; and to ensure the EU will be ready to meet the unique challenges thrown up by the ambitious project of enlargement. Our goal should be to enhance a sense of belonging of all our citizens, and a sense of responsibility of politicians and officials.

Convention

We have just attended the 2nd meeting of the Convention on the Future of Europe. It offers an historic opportunity. For the first time, representatives from the governments and parliaments of the 15 EU Member States and the 13 Candidate Countries – the future members – and representatives from the Commission and the European Parliament, are meeting to talk about the future of the European Union. It will examine which solutions will deliver the best results for the Union and for its citizens.

The world has changed since the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community in 1957. Mass communication is ever more rapid. Comments made in one language are quickly reported in others. Our peoples are more informed. They have greater expectations from government. For many – both those inside the system, and observers outside – the deliberations at Nice made us question whether it might be time to think again. Time to ask fundamental questions about the Union. Not to rip up the blueprint and start again – we are starting, after all, with a track record of success, not of failure. But time to recognise that what worked for 6 countries with a similar heritage might not work for 25 plus, with a wide range of post-war experiences.

We should not be afraid of facing up to a need for change. Change is part of the Union’s tradition. It has served us well. A further evolution to lead us towards a reunited continent, and a better relationship with our citizens, can only be a good thing.

The Convention is a new way of doing business. I have argued that it should be free to discuss, in broad debate, all proposals put forward by any participants, from representatives of civil society (through the Civic Forum), to the members of the agenda-setting Praesidium. This will allow us the freedom to look at any aspect of the way the EU organises itself. More fundamentally, it will allow us the freedom to ask what it is that our citizens want the EU to do. We must have a clear answer if we are to tackle how best we can work together through the various European institutions to deliver those outcomes.

Britain’s approach to the Convention is ‘confident and constructive’. We have engaged, and been building alliances, with other members to secure reforms. Reforms aimed at making Europe more competitive; to develop a capability for international peacekeeping and crisis management operations; and to press ahead with enlargement. It is only through constructive engagement that Britain can maximise its influence: with Denmark and Sweden on enlargement; Germany on institutional reform; France on defence; Spain and Italy on economic reform, for instance.

The fundamentals of European politics are shifting. Old certainties – that the EU is run by the Franco-German motor, that integration is a one-way street, that foundation-stone policies like the Common Agricultural Policy can be tweaked, but not fundamentally reformed, are being questioned and reopened.

This is long overdue. There’s a disconnect between the European institutions and Europe’s citizens. And there’s a ‘delivery’ deficit: people don’t perceive Europe’s output – legislation, regulation, European Council communiqués – as making their daily lives better. And, as we face the biggest enlargement in Europe’s history, we have to make sure that the EU recognised for what it is – an historic success for Europe – and not something that makes these problems worse.

Britain is ready to play a full part in shaping our future. Our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has already set out some of our ideas on how to improve the efficiency of the Union’s institutions in a speech in the Hague last month.

These included ideas on Council reform: reforming the Presidency system; looking at the way the sectoral Councils work; and ensuring that the European Council holds annual strategic discussions. He advocated the extension of Qualified Majority Voting to areas such as asylum and immigration policy which affect the European common interest.

And not all of our proposals concern the Council. We want all the institutions to be stronger. This means a stronger, more effective Commission: we might perhaps achieve this by reducing and rationalising the number of Commissioners, perhaps with Deputies to ensure all countries are represented. We want a bigger role for the European Parliament, formalising its role in holding the Commission to account. We want also to build up the European Parliament’s links with our national parliaments.

But these proposals do not represent a fixed national position. They are ideas intended to promote discussion and debate. Our ideas are designed to improve the efficiency and effective working of the Union for the benefits of each country, large or small.

We want to achieve the best results for citizens from policy applied at the right level – local before regional, regional before national, national before European Union-wide. Together with an increased transparency at the centre – allowing television cameras into the Council chamber when its is legislating – we hope we can begin to discuss ways of achieving a Union built on its citizens, as removed from the myth of a centralised Brussels bureaucracy and a European ‘superstate’ as possible.

So we will be constructive in the Convention, for example, keeping an open mind on a constitution for Europe. Some of our partners have described this as ‘un-British’. Perhaps the traditional British position would be to hold up our hands in horror at the very idea and storm out of the room. No, we will look at how to simplify the complex European Treaties into a text understood by all.

Europe is also seen as an impenetrable forest of jargon and committees. Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder have called for Council debates on legislation to be opened up to the public and the media. This would be a positive step. I’m not sure that people would find it exciting – though it will take away the image of backroom deals. Whether it’s more openness, or simplification of the Treaties, or a statement of principles about what the EU is for, or the role of member states, I’m sure the Convention can do much to make the EU more transparent and accessible.

We are open to all kinds of ideas from all quarters, and we have surprised some with our readiness to use words that many thought we would shy away from. But the Convention must be about more than words. It must be about deeds. I shall therefore keep reminding my colleagues what this is all about: better decision-making, better democracy and better delivery.

The Convention has now met twice in formal session. I am glad to have heard ideas from the Polish and other candidate country representatives. Citizens from candidate states also have the chance to contribute to the debate. And this is the way it should be. After all, you are the real stakeholders in Europe. Together we are building a new Europe

New Neighbours

There is one subject which I should like to touch on, because I know that this is of particular interest to Poland. That is the effect of enlargement on the EU’s neighbours to the East.

The next waves of enlargement will bring the EU’s borders to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. That will give the EU a huge stake in these countries. Their problems will be our problems. Their successes – the opportunities that reform will create for trade and investment – will be ours also. We – the European Union - need to increase our engagement with these countries, particularly in the run up to enlargement, to ensure that there are no new dividing lines in Europe.

We must spread the area of stability further eastwards, and encourage Ukraine and Belarus to continue on the path towards democracy, economic reform and the rule of law, just as you have in Poland and elsewhere in Central Europe since 1989. This should not involve throwing large sums money at these countries or going soft on regimes – like Lukashenko’s - which fail to observe European standards. What the UK would like to see is an EU policy which ties incentives of a closer relationship - like trade liberalisation or political co-operation - to concrete progress on reforms.

We also have to think more about the EU’s relations with Russia. Britain welcomes recent progress in EU-Russia relations. President Putin’s reform drive and his response to the horror of September 11 show that there is scope for the EU to deepen its relationship with its largest neighbour. EU assistance for Russia’s application for World Trade Organisation membership, the emerging EU-Russia consultations on Common Foreign and Security Policy, the long-term prospect of a common economic space for free trade and common economic standards: these are all valuable signs of Russia deepening its relations with Europe. But this will be a long and gradual process. We will have to ensure that our offers match Russia’s own capacity for reform.

Poland will have a special role to play in the EU’s developing relations with its Eastern neighbours, not least because of your long Eastern border. One of the biggest challenges to face you will be to manage and regulate that border to ensure that legitimate trade and visitors enter the Union. That does not mean we should have a closed border. But we must ensure that we do not have an external border that drug smugglers, people smugglers and terrorists can take advantage of. And I know from your country’s contacts with Ukraine, and from your recent consultations with Russia over Kaliningrad, that this is an area where Poland is already actively at work.

Britain and Poland are already acting together to reach out to the EU’s new eastern neighbours. We are working together on projects with Ukraine and Belarus; for example training the independent media in Belarus, in training police and border guards. I hope we can work on similar trilateral projects in Kaliningrad as well in the near future. We need to push forward with this practical co-operation to help these countries meet European standards, promoting respect for the democratic rights and well-being of all citizens including minority groups. We look forward to working with you at shaping the EU’s strategy for its relations with these countries following your accession.

Conclusion

Delivering jobs, opportunities and prosperity is the best way to convince sceptical citizens of the current and future importance of the EU. The EU offers you huge opportunities for improving the quality of life. And not just opportunities but practical help, through funds towards the modernisation of your infrastructure and economy. The Commission’s financial proposals are worth around 5% of total national income to candidate countries.

This practical focus is why the British government attaches so much importance to the EU’s economic reform agenda. Poland has had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. You have every interest in keeping Europe dynamic and flexible, so that you can derive maximum benefit from the single market. One of the reasons we support enlargement is precisely the new thinking which you and others are bringing to the EU’s decision making.

Enlargement will reunite our continent and put an end to the divisions of the past. And it will position us far better to address the challenges of the new century. We need your commitment, your ideas, your knowledge of Eastern Europe. We need God’s playground back in the heart of Europe to build a peaceful, prosperous Europe for the 21st Century.

 

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