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MEP debate forthcoming crucial Lisbon summit and new Reform Treaty

Institutions - 10-10-2007 - 18:34
Plenary sessions
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The European Parliament debated the forthcoming European summit of heads of state and government to be held in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October. There was much debate as to the merits of the new Reform Treaty and how it compared to the Constitutional Treaty. The first MEPs to speak were Parliament's three representatives for ministerial level meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference.

Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, DE) said the progress made was an example of good operation between presidencies, in this case German and Portuguese.  "We decided to support this mandate not because it is the one of our dreams, but because it was the best possible way in the circumstances to get more democracy and effectiveness for the EU in its enlarged state."  There would, he said, be better decision making in Council, new responsibilities in energy and security, the end of the "third pillar" in justice and home affairs (JHA) and Parliament would have equal rights over JHA matters, agriculture and the budget. "The big democratic hole in the side of Europe has been closed," he said.
 
The Charter of Fundamental Rights would make the EU a "union of values", he said, since it would be legally binding in EU level joint decisions, notwithstanding some opt-outs for national level implementing measures.
 
Some problems remained: the issue of protection of personal data in external relations needed to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and judicial oversight, he said, and the future "Foreign Minister who cannot be called a Foreign Minister" should not be appointed without the approval of the future Commission President and the approval of the whole Commission, of which he would be part, by Parliament.
 
Enrique BARÓN CRESPO (PES, ES) said all three EP representatives had been united in seeking more democracy and effectiveness for the EU - he regretted there was not more transparency, but that, he said, was the result of the IGC process.  "The Charter of Fundamental Rights will no longer be a statement, it will be solemnly proclaimed by the Presidents of the three institutions and will be legally binding," he said, this being a sine qua non for Parliament's support for the Treaty.
 
He welcomed that citizenship of the EU had been reinstated in the Treaty, using the wording from Maastricht.  Progress could still be made on data protection, and also on dialogue with social partners.  Mr Baron said it was possible to "build confidence" via the Ionanina declaration, but more mechanisms giving an option for unanimity in areas where the Council should operate by a majority vote would be wrong: "It is like the atomic bomb - it is only useful as long as you don't use it - otherwise the whole thing is destroyed."
 
All should now work together to achieve ratification, he concluded: "If not will find ourselves in very difficult circumstances.  All need to be loyal to the compromise reached here."
 
Andrew DUFF (ALDE, UK) said:  I agree that a political agreement is probable at the IGC in Lisbon. But the thing that concerns us still of course is the quality of the agreement. I have to express concern at the present stage of the IGC that we are seeing the emergence of a self-service Europe propelled principally by the British demands for the opt-outs in the field of justice and interior affairs and fundamental rights."
 
"Clearly there has to be a British domestic debate about why British citizens ought to be excluded from the benefits of integration inside all these important fields, but the British should also explain themselves more fully to the IGC. What is it precisely that they are seeking to achieve with all these opt-outs?" Can we be truly satisfied that the arrangements that are negotiated for the management of this pick and choose approach will stand up in practice and ensure that common policies in the field of freedom, security and justice will still enjoy proper commonality and the full resources and instruments to carry them out? Surely the UK and Polish opt-out on the Charter risks subverting the decision to make it binding for everyone else. I hope that the IGC can be able to examine the question with sufficient care. Would the Presidency press the British to support the proposal from the Parliament for an escape clause from their unfortunate protocol on the Charter? The same applies to Ioaninna."
 
Political Group speakers
 
Joseph DAUL (FR) for the EPP-ED group said the period of reflection had reached an end. Are we ready to take action, he asked?  "We are giving the EU the necessary tools for it to function effectively", he said.  We believe in a united Europe, strong and efficient, which can take up its rile in global affairs which change so rapidly.  We can not live with the rules based on the Treaty of Nice.  We have called for more transparency and more democracy. "
 
The Reform Treaty, he said, is a means and not an end in itself.  Its name does not mean much, only the substance and the progress it will bring to citizens. "We do not want a European state."  We want super efficiency, democracy, transparency and the respect of subsidiarity.  European citizens want a Europe which acts on the climate, on energy, on immigration, on innovation, on terrorism.  I hope and I wish that this Treaty will let us do that and we support it".
 
Martin SCHULZ (PES, DE) stated that we can be optimistic regarding the Lisbon Summit because, but for a few exceptions, it's exactly the same as the mandate from the June Summit.  Anything other than that would have been unacceptable for the Socialists.  We'll now have to fight in all MS to make sure the process of integration can be taken forward. I hope all members of your group will fight for it, Mr Daul.
 
If this fails then it is the end of the EU as we know it.  Europeans may think Europe is big: 500m people, 27 MS, a big market.  But we're only 8% of the global population.  India and China make up 33% of the world's population.   If we want to defend our achievements in the social sphere and defend the basis of our welfare states, we have to be able to compete and we can only compete if we are united and that's why we need the reform treaty. If want peace in Europe, more jobs, growth, more justice and freedom, we must defend the reform treaty
 
If we want to renationsalise policies, we need to recall the words of President Mitterand in this House many years ago: nationalism is the opposite of European integration and nationalism means war.  Europe was born from wartime wounds; European integration has to be the aim of all democratic forces.
 
Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK) compared Portuguese PM Socrates to Shakespeare's Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt.  "Your PM must hold firm to Europe's red lines," he said: "Once more unto the breach dear friends once more." Failure would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  Unanimity cannot work as it takes things to the lowest common denominator and this is not enough when we need to deal with issues such as climate change and terrorism. 
 
One thing we cannot live without is a definition of European citizenship (as in Article 8) because it has real implications for all people.  We can't have two classes of citizens and we are opposed to the idea of UK and Polish opt outs being preserved in perpetuity.  We demand a clause of revocation without the need to call a new Inter-governmental Conference.  And we suggest those that cannot accept this start thinking of an amicable divorce from the EU if they cannot accept this.
 
The interests of Europe must take precedence.  To end on a Shakespearean note:  Bend your sinews; bend up every spirit to its full height in defence of our common interest.
 
Konrad SZYMAŃSKI (UEN, PL) questioned whether it is a good time to gang up on Poland and the UK? It is said that the Charter of Fundamental Rights merely bolsters existing provisions? But what if the European Court of Justice interprets it further. I understand the concerns of Poland and the UK.
 
It is not Eurosceptics who came up with the notion of a lack of control.  It is no less a personality than former German President Herzog who asked if Germany was still a democracy given that so much legislation is being adopted outside the German Parliament.
 
Monica FRASSONI (Greens/EFA, IT) -We are a few days away from the IGC and the usual horse-trading is going on leading to a downwards compromise.  The text is user unfriendly and does not in any way involve citizens.  Where is the clarity of law?  It is a government plot to go behind their citizens' backs.  Bureaucratic and legalistic rather than the democratic and open consultations of the Convention and the referendums - for good or ill.  Transparency has not improved.  This treaty  is damage limitation not an improvement. What was the point of the Parliament's role in the IGC?  We do not wish to be jointly responsible for this text.  Why do some MEPs turn the possible loss of such a treaty into such a drama? The text is vile!  No ordinary person will look at it.  It is not what any ordinary person wants.  If we are to be responsible and credible to our citizens we will support the Treaty but we cannot like it.  Governments have torpedoed the process and made what we could have had an impossibility.
 
Francis WURTZ (GUE/NGL, FR) - Will not repeat our group's general evaluation. We are opposed to it not because we are nationalists but because none of our basic concerns have been addressed.  This is an error which will be paid for .  I want to refer to one article, article 24.  We question this protection of citizens' rights via a vis the processing of personal data.  The legal procedure will differ as to whether within the EU or in a third country.  ECJ jurisdiction will not run beyond EU.  Takes us straight back to the debate on Passenger data and the US and what happened despite the European Parliament's opposition.  The situation is not acceptable.  We should state this clearly to the Council.  Reveals further problems:  the Charter of Fundamental Rights really has very little impact  as what the Treaty says violates article 8 of the Charter.
 
So much of the Treaty is incomprehensible except for the well initiated. The mystery of the IGC's workings was unacceptable in the production of a document which will affect the lives of millions.  We have a two fold democratic plea: for a wide-ranging debate in all Member States and ratification by referenda.
 
Jens-Peter BONDE (IND/DEM, DK) - We have been told there will be a new treaty.  This time it will get the green light.  At the last Strasbourg session the President suggested all MEPs should receive the IGC documents.  This has not happened.  Three political groups have had a privileged position in relation to documents.  This is not fair as five groups have not been in this privileged position.  105 new powers in the Treaty , 62 types of decisions have been changed - more than in the Constitution.  We have a text which is impossible to read.  What we have is Sarkozy's mini treaty and no referendum.  No real legal basis.  Different names.  No referendum - hypocritical to say the least and regrettable.
 
Frank VANHECKE (ITS, BE) said that the Reform Treaty was being "forced down our throats" and totally undemocratic.  He was opposed to the idea of decisions on immigration being taken at the European level.  The EU, he said, was causing a "brain-drain from poor African countries".
 
Maciej Marian GIERTYCH (NI, PL) said that the substance of the Reform Treaty and the Constitutional Treaty were much the same.  The "lower ranking" of the document was a way to avoid referenda.
 
British speakers
 
Jim ALLISTER (NI, UK) On past performance, I suspect that the Council will be an occasion when British red lines will become pink smudges, later to be rubbed out entirely by the federalising European Court of Justice. Opt-out, opt-in, shake it all about, the British Government will claim victory, others will publicly indulge them, knowing that any apparent concessions are really without any substance. All this is to con the British public into believing that the Reform Treaty is actually materially different from the rejected Constitution, when patently it is not.
 
Now that Mr Gordon Brown has bottled out of an election, the need for a British referendum is greater than ever. No election means Labour’s 2005 manifesto commitment of a referendum must stand. No referendum means no mandate for Mr Brown to proceed to ratification, and that is the bottom line upon which all democrats in the United Kingdom should unite.
 
Timothy KIRKHOPE (EPP-ED, UK) thanked the Council and Commission for their statements. The Lisbon informal summit is going to be a crucial event, having had the publication of the draft Reform Treaty which Heads of State and Government will focus on when they meet there. But the IGC process has been rushed too much. Indeed, the British Government says it has only had two days to consider the draft mandate. The proposals are of course, as has been said by other speakers, very much the same as those contained in the original constitutional text.
 
The British Prime Minister has a problem. It is called trust - trust in what he says. For the past few weeks he has encouraged his Ministers to talk up prospects of an election in the UK and then when the political going got rough, he backed down. I think his European colleagues, fellow European leaders, should be very careful that whatever he says in Lisbon, he is likely to mean something completely different. British Conservatives of course will continue to demand a referendum on the Treaty. The vast majority of British people want one, including most of the Government's own supporters. If the Prime Minister continues to resist that pressure, despite a clear election manifesto pledge, then the British people will have further confirmation that he cannot be trusted. The leader of my party said that this could well be a blatant breach of trust - one of the greatest and most blatant breaches of trust in modern politics.
 
 
Richard CORBETT (PES, UK) congratulated the Portuguese Presidency on the progress they have made towards securing consensus. But, of course, we have heard from many colleagues today that there is considerable disappointment in this Parliament. There are many who are disappointed at the loss of the idea of a constitution that would have replaced the current treaties and refounded our Union on a new legal base.
 
There are others who are disappointed at the numerous changes that have been secured and the special provisions and derogations for certain Member States.
 
Some of these changes are of course unfortunate. But they are the price that has to be paid to secure agreement of all 27 countries capable of being ratified by all 27 countries.
 
That is the situation that we are faced with. There is no way around the fact that this Treaty has to be acceptable to all Member States and ratified by all Member States.
 
Colleagues should not lose sight of the overall picture. This Treaty, even in this form, contains many vital reforms. We need those reforms. The Union needs those reforms. Anyone who wants a well-functioning and democratically accountable Union should support these reforms.
 
And the alternative to the reformed Treaty is more of the same. But, with years more wrangling on the institutions and the mechanics of the European Union.
 
I would rather secure the reformed Treaty and then move on with a greater capacity for the Union to address the real issues that citizens are interested in: climate change; the performance of our economy; overseas development aid; the environment. All those things for which we need the Union, because alone and separate, we are not effective, but together we can do more.
 
Let us move on and get these institutional issues settled once and for all.
 
REF.: 20071008IPR11352

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