Go back to the Europarl portal

Choisissez la langue de votre document :

 Index 
 Previous 
 Next 
 Full text 
Debates
Wednesday, 4 July 2001 - Strasbourg OJ edition

  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS FONTAINE
President

(The sitting was opened at 9 a.m.)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Cossutta (GUE/NGL).(IT) Madam President, as we all know, Parliament will be in recess in August. Therefore, I would like to recall today that 8 August 2001 is the anniversary of a tragedy: the 45th anniversary of the terrible accident which took place in the Marcinelle mines. On 8 August 1956, 262 miners died in the most tragic accident in the workplace ever to take place in Europe: 262 miners from all over our continent. I am sure, Madam President, that you will want to take suitable measures to mark the anniversary of this tragic event, and I am also sure that the Belgian presidency, which has announced that its programme will include the creation of an equitable social Europe, will make every endeavour to ensure that this proposal establishes the conditions necessary to prevent a tragedy such as that of Marcinelle ever occurring in Europe again.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Thank you, Mr Cossutta.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Thyssen (PPE-DE).(NL) Madam President, I learned yesterday that the Bureau was to make a statement today about the memorandum being prepared by this House on enlargement. You have a great sensitivity for language, Madam President, and you are more aware than anyone that the choice we are about to make on language regulation is the key to a great many other decisions that will have to be taken. Can you assure us that in the future all elected members of this House will continue to have the right to express themselves in their own language, to listen to their fellow-MEPs in their own language and to write in their own language? That would be a great help in setting our minds at rest.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Mrs Thyssen, I have noted what you say. But having said that, I must explain to you that the Bureau will not be adopting the document you mentioned this evening. It will not be until September, when the groups have been able to study it in depth.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Van Dam (EDD).(NL) Madam President, I should like to draw your attention to the increasing and continuing problems faced by our drivers. I was told that this afternoon a lawyer’s letter was going to be delivered to the prefect of Alsace, to clarify the uncertainty over the problems between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the French Ministry of Transport, since at the moment, the logical consequence of the regulations is that the vehicles used for taxi transport in the other weeks would no longer be available for use this week. I believe that in the light of the fact that France is very keen on keeping the seat of Parliament here, it is very regrettable that these kinds of formalities should jeopardise our transport.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Yes, I can tell you that the Quaestors will be looking into this issue. I am looking at the few Quaestors who are present in the House and I can confirm that they will be examining this issue very closely.(1)

***

 
Programme of the Belgian presidency
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – The next item is the Council statement on the programme of the Belgian presidency.

I give the floor to Mr Verhofstadt, President-in-Office of the Council.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Verhofstadt, Council. – (FR) Madam President of the European Parliament, Mr President of the European Commission, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to present to you the new presidency’s work programme. Incidentally, Madam President, this is not the first time I have addressed the European Parliament, because in 1987, as Chair of the Budget Council, I presented the budget for 1988 to the European Parliament. Compared to today, it was prehistory in budgetary terms. There was no financial perspective and no Berlin ceiling, and the preparation of a European budget was, at the time, an entirely small-scale and often nocturnal activity.

May I first of all express my appreciation of the Swedish presidency. Sweden had set itself three priorities, as it happens the three e’s: employment, environment and enlargement, and significant progress has been made in each of those fields; fresh impetus has been given to the Lisbon process, a common strategy for sustainable development has been established and excellent work has been done for enlarging the Union.

However, there can be no doubt that the greatest step forward has been in the field of the common foreign and security policy. By way of example I am very pleased to be able to mention the meetings with Presidents Putin and Bush – where the Fifteen spoke with one voice – the prominent part played by Javier Solana in the Balkan conflict, and the joint European Union and United States action in the Middle East.

All evidence, Madam President, that the European Union is also recognised as a partner in its own right at international level: when the European Union speaks with one voice, people listen.

 
  
  

(NL) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, despite the many bright spots in the past few months, dark clouds gathered on the European horizon. Following the Danish ‘no’, the Treaty of Nice was rejected in a referendum in Ireland and it yet again became clear, if clarification were needed, that there is a crisis of identity in the European Union. There is a yawning gap between the individual citizen and the European institutions. It would be to display a supercilious, indeed arrogant, attitude and would therefore be a great mistake simply to ignore this. The fears, concerns and complaints of the ordinary citizen must definitely be taken seriously. His expectations must also be met. That is why there is in fact only one great challenge for the new presidency, namely to reconcile the individual citizen once more with Europe, with the European Union and with the European institutions. To reconcile the citizen once more with Europe, to give the peoples of Europe new belief and confidence in the European Union – that is our task.

For the European Union represents the only future for the peoples, states and nations of our old continent. Only as a Union are we a player on the world stage, a power capable of changing things for the better, whether it is a matter of the conflict in the Middle East, the combating of climate change or the fight against hunger and injustice in the Southern Hemisphere. Let us be honest: on our own we are not capable of doing this; as Europeans, we must instead work together in a single Union, act together and also raise our voice together. In exactly the same way, Europe will only count for anything economically by continuing to work on the internal market and by launching the unified currency on 1 January next year.

In fact, it is for all those reasons that I fail to understand the anti-globalists. Of course I am not talking about a small number of violent demonstrators whom we saw in action in Gothenburg, because they are just hooligans for whom only violence counts. No, I am talking about those who protest indignantly against internationalisation and globalisation. Perhaps not coincidentally a generation born into luxury and prosperity.

Within the European Union, globalisation is not a threat but a benefit. Joint global action enables the Union to do things that previously could not possibly be achieved in a continent traditionally divided by the Iron Curtain and national borders: a community approach to organised crime, for instance, agreements on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, minimum standards to combat poverty and social exclusion. In short, the Union is not a threat but a boon.

Of course, more than fine rhetoric is required to restore the citizen’s confidence. More is needed than a plausible argument to reconcile Europeans with their institutions once more. There must be action on two fronts: on the one hand, a series of very practical decisions enabling visible solutions to be put forward to real problems with which the citizen is confronted daily; and, on the other hand, the mapping out of a wide-ranging vision of the future of Europe. We need a Union that avoids the ills that beset it today, namely lack of efficiency, lack of transparency and, especially, lack of democratic legitimacy.

 
  
  

Let me mention, first of all, the specific dossiers on which we want to work. Our first dossier will obviously be the introduction of the euro on 1 January and the development of a coherent economic policy to underpin monetary union.

I believe nothing will bring Europe closer to its citizens than the successful introduction of the euro; that is the presidency’s task and it will have to act like a good father to ensure that it comes about. That is why the Heads of State and Government will be examining an evaluation report in October, with the aim of ensuring that the introduction of the euro on 1 January goes smoothly. The evaluation will be accompanied by an information campaign aimed more specifically at small and medium-sized businesses and the most vulnerable groups of society; explaining the euro to them is, I believe, the best way of dispelling the fears that always go with an operation of such a scale.

All this, ladies and gentlemen, seems to me much more important than the endless squabbling about the value of the euro. As if we introduced the euro as an instrument for speculation on the foreign exchange market! That was not the purpose of the euro. Let us not forget that the aim – which will be achieved only when the euro is circulating physically both inside and outside the Union – was to create a single market, without currency fluctuations or exchange risks, in order to give a major boost to the Union’s economic growth.

Let us admit it, what else did we want to achieve with the euro? We wanted to give Europe a tangible expression of its existence. Yet, in order to exploit the advantages of the single market to the full, we must also integrate the financial markets, liberalise gas, electricity, telecommunications, post and transport, reduce state aids and make the fiscal package reality. The presidency nevertheless believes that, on this last point, progress must be made on every component of that package.

On the economic front I should again like to stress the introduction of the Community patent, the definition of a common position on the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development, the implementation of the European Small Business Charter and the conclusion of negotiations on the European company statute. When I was studying European law at university – that is nearly 30 years ago now – the prospect was held out that the European company would become a reality in a few months’ or at the most a few years’ time. I believe the time has now come to make it reality; it is a necessity for European enterprises that want to be able to take on world competition by means of mergers or alliances.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, if we want to reconcile the citizen with the European Union, we must set to work quickly on creating a social Europe.

 
  
  

That is the second main thrust of the presidency. Continuing the development of the European social model, which is precisely what distinguishes us from that other great internal market, the United States, and specifically, we want to define the quantitative and qualitative indicators of employment and to finalise the directive on the information and consultation of workers. All Member States are today facing the same challenges of an ageing population and escalating health care expenditure. A first joint report on pensions will be submitted to the European Council by the end of the year.

Our third main objective is the creation of a European area of freedom, security and justice, in other words the implementation of the Tampere conclusions. This may sound pompous, but they are, in fact, matters that affect the citizen directly: asylum, immigration, the fight against organised crime, trading and trafficking in human beings. Instead, ladies and gentlemen, of noting the progress, or rather the lack of progress made at the European Council in Laeken, I hope that the justice and home affairs ministers, together with Commissioner Vitorino and the full support of the European Parliament, will together make progress in five specific areas: a directive on asylum that will harmonise procedures for recognising and welcoming refugees, the establishment of Eurojust and the provision of an operational force for Europol –incidentally, after the recent incidents supervision of Europol will have to be radically strengthened – the initiation of a high impact operation to strengthen the Union’s new external frontiers and thus to combat trafficking in human beings, mutual recognition, or the start of it, for judgments and rulings and lastly, and importantly, we must start work on a European extradition mandate.

 
  
  

(NL) In the months ahead, a wide-ranging debate on migration must be launched. The Commission has already published a document on the subject. However, I must warn against a one-sided and all too facile approach to the problem, particularly the call to introduce a quota system for economic migration in order to offset the shortfalls in so-called problem occupations. It is clear from the United States that a quota system does not do away with illegal migration.

Should we not also be careful that such a measure does not even widen the gap between north and south because more highly qualified people are lured away? I am firmly convinced that the best way of halting migration flows is to create prosperity in the countries of origin, to liberalise world trade and to dismantle protectionism. In fact, it is very simple. If people cannot build a good life for themselves in their own country because the fruits of their labour cannot be sold in our markets, they will always try to immigrate.

(Applause)

The fourth line of action of the Presidency is aimed at improving the quality of life. Following the lead of the Gothenburg Summit, we shall establish precise objectives and concrete indicators for the new strategy to be pursued on sustainable development. In addition, the Presidency will concentrate its efforts on two specific issues relating to transport and mobility: the establishment of standards relating to pollution and noise generated by civil aviation, and the so-called Erika measures on safety at sea.

Most of the Presidency’s attention will be focused on Kyoto. After all, climate change represents the greatest threat to the whole planet and, in Gothenburg, the US President promised to respect the general objectives of Kyoto, although he disagrees fundamentally with us about the means of achieving them. In any case, he promised more specifically in Gothenburg that he would not block either this process or the forthcoming conference in Bonn. I believe that our resolute stance is bearing fruit and that we should consistently maintain that resolute stance.

Finally, food safety. Belgium wishes to complete the setting up of the European Food Authority so that it can become operational by the beginning of 2002. After all the crises of the last few years - dioxin, BSE and foot and mouth - that is the only way to restore consumer confidence.

 
  
  

Madam President, the fifth main thrust is the enlargement of the Union. In this matter, it is the new presidency’s ambition to achieve results as good as the Swedish presidency’s. The route mapped out in Nice has been scrupulously followed and we shall keep up this sustained momentum of talks. In this matter, the qualitative aspects deserve as much attention as the quantitative aspects and elements.

In saying that, I mean that it is important that the candidate countries transpose the acquis communautaire, but it is not only important that they transpose it into their national legislation, they must also modernise their administrations, develop their judicial capacity and really implement the acquis on the ground. The Commission has been asked to prepare an evaluation report on the matter for October. None of this must, of course, be allowed to cast any doubt on my conviction. The Union must be enlarged as quickly as possible. We must unite Europe. What it was never possible to achieve through war and violence is, in fact, now within our reach by democratic means within an enlarged Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I said in my introduction, the Swedish presidency took a tremendous step forward in developing a coherent European foreign policy. We want to continue down that road. Apart from intensifying relations with both the United States and the Russian Federation, apart, too, from launching a new round of trade talks, the presidency primarily wants to concentrate on European security and defence policy.

I do not believe the public will perceive Europe to be a reality until, in addition to the euro, it sees the development of common defence. A recent opinion poll showed that in all Member States – and I mean all – the population was in favour of the development of a recognisable independent European intervention force alongside the national armies. By the end of this year, therefore, we must at least be ready to declare operational the initiative taken in Helsinki.

The second major challenge on the external front concerns three conflicts. First of all, the Balkans. Now that democracy has returned to Belgrade and Milosevic has been extradited, we must make every effort to prevent new crisis points appearing elsewhere in the region and Javier Solana will therefore enjoy the presidency’s full support in all his efforts.

Then, there is the Middle East. In cooperation with the High Representative and the Commission, the presidency will continue to urge the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue. Full implementation of the Mitchell Report, to which the European Union contributed, must be the starting point for the process.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to draw your particular attention to another conflict: the conflict in the Great Lakes region in Central Africa. I have just returned from the Congo, from Kinshasa and Kisangani. The Balkans and the Middle East may be more important politically. I am not going to dispute that. From a humanitarian point of view, however, the tragedy that is unfolding in the Great Lakes region is a thousand times greater. This region is incubating a war on a continental scale involving no less than seven countries and their armies. If such a situation were to arise here, with our Eurocentric outlook, we would quite naturally speak of a world war. In three years, more than three million human beings have been killed, not counting the victims of the ethnic violence in Burundi or the 800 000 or more persons massacred during the Rwanda genocide in 1994. I say to you that the Union can no longer stand idly by. Political, diplomatic and economic action is urgently required and the presidency will present an action plan to that effect.

(Applause)

Madam President, I am counting on the European Parliament’s full agreement, together with the Council and the Commission, to support and implement this plan.

 
  
  

(NL) Europe not only has a present, it mainly, of course has a future. Offering practical solutions to practical problems is one thing, but giving citizens a view of the future of the European Union is just as important. That is why, in Nice, we were charged with drawing up a Laeken Declaration by the end of the year which can map out the way ahead.

However, the Laeken Declaration must be more than a simple procedure. It must not restrict itself to what I venture to call a dry summary of agenda points or to simply establishing a method of working. I believe that our ambition should extend further. In Laeken, we must provide the impetus for the great reform that is fast approaching and sketch the outlines of the new European Union after enlargement. An enlargement which, if I may say so, is, in fact, not so much an enlargement as a genuine change and transformation. Of course, we must not try to anticipate the answers, but it will be necessary to ask the right questions and identify those issues which will determine the future of Europe. In doing so, absolutely no issue or topic must be taboo.

In the Laeken Declaration, I should like to broach the following crucial questions. My starting point is that the European Union has a huge problem. It has lost touch with the individual citizen, and at least a section of public opinion is convinced that the Union intervenes all too often, and sometimes too drastically, in people’s daily lives. People find the Union non-transparent, unduly bureaucratic and insufficiently democratic. Quite rightly so, too. All this must be discussed in the first chapter of the Declaration, for how can you in fact solve problems if you do not dare first to acknowledge them in the Declaration? From this, the question naturally arises as to what the European Union’s values and objectives should be. What precisely does European identity consist of? What does it mean to people? This, brings us, of course, to the subject of a constitution for the Union, accompanied by a simplification and revision of the Treaties.

This leads us on to a third, and perhaps the most crucial issue, namely that of the ordering of the Union’s powers, in other words the division of responsibilities within the Union. We need clear agreements. Who does what at what level? For their part, people now already know perfectly well what essential tasks they expect the European Union to fulfil. The recent soundings in Europe constantly indicate the same core tasks for the Union: the socio-economic policy designed to support the Monetary Union, basic standards on social security, a common asylum and migration policy, a joint foreign policy and a collective approach to defence. At the same time, citizens feel that the Union is too concerned with the over-detailed implementation of policy that could be better implemented at national or regional level. In short, people feel that the Union should concentrate first and foremost on creating the regulatory framework, on the boundary conditions, on monitoring and on the implementation of policy by regions or Member States. Consequently, we must not in any way shirk this discussion, which must focus on a division of powers in both directions. Which additional tasks will be assigned to the Union, and which to the Member States?

The Laeken Declaration must also initiate reconsideration of another problem, namely the unchecked growth, the proliferation and, I am tempted to say, the inflation of policy instruments. In a speech I gave recently in Göttweig in Austria, I listed what amount to no less than thirty different policy instruments in the Treaties. A radical simplification of those instruments is urgently necessary.

Nor must the method of financing the European Union be omitted from the Laeken Declaration. At the moment, the Union does not have full budgetary powers of its own. It has no real resources of its own, since it is largely financed on the basis of GNP contributions. We must at least be bold enough to ask the question of whether this indirect method of financing is the correct one and of whether direct financing would not be more legitimate and more democratic.

(Applause)

In the Laeken Declaration, we shall not of course be able to avoid a discussion of the institutions. Do we or do we not want a directly elected President of the Commission?

(Applause)

Would it not be better to generalise the co-decision rights of the European Parliament?

(Applause)

 
  
  

(NL) Why not make the Council a second chamber, in which case how would we better distinguish between the legislative and executive powers of the Council?

(Applause)

Should the implementation of the Union’s foreign policy not now finally be entrusted to one person?

(Applause)

I may well receive telephone calls from both parties.

(Laughter)

Finally, we must decide on the method to be followed between the Laeken Declaration and the start of the intergovernmental conference. As far as the method is concerned, in my view it is not of great importance whether we are talking about a convention or a forum. What is important are the following two matters. The working method chosen must make it possible to involve all the parties in the debate: the European Parliament, the European Commission, Member States, national parliaments and the applicant countries. In addition, we must give the convention or forum the opportunity to work out different scenarios and present different options, because if we bind the convention or forum with the consensus rule and charge it to publish a single text, then we are in danger of being confronted with an unambitious document, perhaps the result of the lowest common denominator.

The Belgian Presidency regards the European Parliament as an ally. We wish to conduct an intensive dialogue during the next six months. This all the more important because this Parliament is the instrument par excellence for finally obtaining a unitary public opinion in Europe that is more than the sum of fifteen national opinions, as is still too often the case at present (and also one of the problems of Europe).

Well, naturally we have many plans for the next six months. I say six months, but in fact we have worked out that it amounts to no more than 99 working days, which of course does not mean that our staff will not be working at weekends. So time is short, but I believe, and I should like to end on this note, that shortage of time must not prevent us from looking to the future of Europe with daring and courage.

Thank you for your attention.

(Loud applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Prodi, President of the Commission. – (IT) Madam President, Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to begin the work we will be undertaking with the Belgian presidency.

Prime Minister, this presidency comes at a critical juncture. We are in the final stages of the preparations for the introduction of euro notes and coins, the most tangible expression of Europe ever achieved. Belgium knows that it can count on the cooperation of the Commission and the European institutions to make this truly historic event a great success.

Moreover, we are pushing resolutely ahead towards enlarging the Union as, Prime Minister, you said just now. Accession negotiations have reached a critical stage, with the most difficult chapters now open. Meanwhile, precisely to prepare the Union for enlargement, the Member States are in the process of ratifying the Treaty of Nice. However, the referendum which took place in the Republic of Ireland recently has reminded us that ratification is not a foregone conclusion. I shall return to this subject shortly.

Prime Minister, Madam President, at the Laeken Summit, we shall be reviewing the Union’s progress in implementing its social agenda. Steady and solid implementation is essential if we are to succeed, this decade, in making the Union’s economy truly dynamic and competitive while, at the same time, ensuring that our social model remains anchored in the principles of justice and sustainability.

I agree with the new presidency’s emphasis not only on the essential drive towards achieving full employment but also on the equally essential need to improve the quality of work. Modernising our pension and social security systems is also an important part of our social agenda. This is one of the most important challenges of today’s society and, yesterday, the Commission adopted a Communication proposing an integrated European strategy for tackling it. We are also committed to the fight against poverty and social exclusion. I am therefore pleased to see the Belgian government’s commitment to action on these issues in its presidency.

In particular, I share the concern that underlies this commitment: the gap between rich and poor in Europe is widening at an alarming rate. We have a duty to stop this trend. If we do not change our economic and social policies, we will be in danger of undermining solidarity, the very value on which the European social model is based.

The rapid drift towards an increasingly divided society is happening not only in Europe but also on a much wider scale. An entire continent, Africa – about which you made a highly relevant point in your speech, Prime Minister – has lost contact even with the developing world. We must do everything in our power to stop this unjust development model and to give voices and rights to those who have neither.

Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister, the Laeken Summit and declaration are also vitally important for another reason. Laeken must determine how we are to structure the second stage of the ‘Future of Europe’ debate. This is a far-reaching debate with huge implications. I am particularly glad that, in contrast to the situation six months ago, it is now being conducted widely in all the media. At last, our fellow citizens and their governments are beginning to realise how important these issues are for their future.

Prime Minister, in a recent speech, you stated that ‘the Union has turned into an institutional and instrumental imbroglio’. It is my unenviable privilege to share your concern. The diagnosis is clear: what we need now is treatment, proposed and discussed freely and openly. There must be no more attempts to settle these questions behind closed doors. In my opinion, the only acceptable way to reform the institutions is for a Convention to be set up at Laeken. The Heads of State have also talked about a forum – I personally prefer the word Convention –…

(Applause)

…which will bring together, on an equal footing, representatives of the governments of the Member States and the candidate countries – and I stress, the candidate countries as well – representatives of the national parliaments, the European Parliament and the Commission. It is in this Convention that we will be able to find the best solutions to Europe’s most serious problems.

Ladies and gentlemen, not only must the future of Europe be firmly in the hands of its citizens but they must also understand what needs changing. Whatever else it may imply, the Irish ‘no’ to Nice tells us clearly that we have to close the gap between the institutions and the citizens.

The Europeans want a Union that meets their new demands. They want far more than an economically integrated continent, which we have already largely achieved. They want a Union they can understand – and that means we must simplify our procedures and our Treaties – where the responsibilities of each institution are clearly defined and decisions are taken at the appropriate level. They want a Union that delivers the quality of life and the type of society they desire. A Union that is clearly accountable to its citizens for what our policies have achieved and how our resources have been used.

Their calls for greater democratic control over the Union’s institutions are fully justified. This too is an issue the Convention must address. The Laeken Declaration must therefore set an ambitious and comprehensive agenda for this Convention and lay down the methods and timetable it is to follow.

Ladies and gentlemen, the position I recently adopted on the Treaty of Nice and the Irish referendum has raised some concern in this House and elsewhere. From the very start of my term of office, I have consistently attached great importance to political and institutional relations between the Commission and Parliament. I firmly believe these relations must be based on a spirit of cooperation and openness.

Therefore, let me conclude with a few more words on the ratification of the Treaty of Nice.

A Union of 25 or more Member States cannot function with its present structures and methods of decision-making. That is why, for the task that this Commission has set as its absolute priority, the enlargement of the Union, I have always maintained that we need to introduce, at the very least, the institutional changes so painstakingly and laboriously agreed upon at Nice. We must, indeed, remember that enlargement is not simply an internal matter for Europe: our role as a point of reference for the ideas and politics of a large part of the world depends on the decisions we take on this process.

The candidate countries, for their part, are making a huge, unprecedented effort to qualify for Union membership. The Union must therefore be ready to welcome the new Member States. This means revising our institutional system and the decision-making process. That is why, despite the fact that it did not live up to our expectations, the Treaty of Nice is necessary for enlargement. Therefore, as I have stressed on a number of occasions before this House, I very much hope that the Treaty will be ratified by the end of next year, in full respect for the democratically expressed opinions of our fellow citizens.

The people of the Irish Republic have recently expressed their opinion of the Treaty. I do not want to go into the details of the debate that preceded, accompanied and followed the referendum. I just want to say that I am convinced, particularly after my visit to Ireland, that the Union does not pose a threat to national identities. Quite the opposite: our real strength lies in ‘unity in diversity’. After visiting Ireland, I can, in any case, affirm without a doubt that the Irish people did not vote against enlargement. However, we must not underestimate the importance of this ‘no’. It raises a crucial question that we cannot ignore: what happens if, in spite of our best efforts, Nice is not ratified? Some people have not been able to resist the temptation to reply simply that this question is not on the agenda. However, it would not be responsible for me, as President of the Commission, to give that answer.

Enlargement must not be compromised. It is, and will remain, our number one political objective. It is an historic project and I have made it an integral part of my task as Commission President. It has the unanimous backing of the Gothenburg Council. It is therefore my duty, as President of the Commission, to anticipate the potential repercussions of the Irish ‘no’ on the enlargement process. Ladies and gentlemen, in your opinion, is it wise to pretend that the problem does not exist? No, it is not. Over the past few days, I have therefore taken up this duty. I chose to be frank and made a carefully-considered, informed decision. We have all said that Nice is necessary for enlargement. Well then, we must not give the impression that the process can succeed without the reforms we all wanted at Nice. I do not wish to dwell further on the views of the legal experts who assure us that we could go ahead with enlargement simply by making small changes to the Treaties. That is not the political point. The point is that we have to enlarge the Union while, at the same time, deepening it in the ways that Nice itself stated were essential.

Ladies and gentlemen, a ‘no’ to Nice would inevitably delay the enlargement process. We want to avoid that if at all possible but, were it to happen, we would have to bring forward the date of the next Intergovernmental Conference. This would allow us to fulfil our solemn commitments with the strong support of this House expressed completely within its mandate. As you can see, the Treaty of Nice is already an integral part of the debate on the ‘Future of Europe’.

Our ‘yes’ to ratification is not, therefore, about tactics: it is about the need to ensure the political coherence of the Union. Prime Minister, what you have said confirms that your presidency fully agrees with this analysis and endorses the strategy we must therefore adopt.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Poettering (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Mr President-in-Office, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, you have presented an ambitious programme Mr President-in-Office. Our Group of the European People’s Party and European Democrats can support this programme because – you did not state this explicitly but the overall tenor of your speech made it plain – you represent a Community-based Europe and not a Europe of intergovernmental cooperation. That is why we stand by your side, because you defend European law, democracy and Community procedure.

(Applause)

You are thus following in the footsteps of your Christian-Democratic predecessors, Wilfried Martens and Leo Tindemans, who also made an outstanding contribution to the work of the European Parliament. On 1 January 2002, we will have the single currency. The introduction of the euro is a peaceful revolution and we want to look forward to the advent of the single European currency. We have to be proactive in defending it. If the younger generation of today are able to pay in one currency throughout their lives, in the future, throughout Europe, in all the countries of the European Union and in some cases even further afield, then this is also an act of peace. Let us not talk down the single currency, but let us together be proactive in defending it.

This also requires us – and here I have a request to make of you – to pursue a policy of stability, to fight inflation, to cut the public debt and, above all, to create the conditions to make investment in Europe worthwhile. That is why it is not enough for us to ease the tax burden on large companies; we need to ease the tax burden on small and medium-sized companies so that they are willing to invest and increase productivity and so that Europe receives a real signal in favour of economic growth. You said in the Council of Heads of State and Government that the European Union ought to be the most competitive continent in the world, but this statement is only truly meaningful if we encourage investment in Europe. I would ask you to name those Member States which do not comply with these principles because we need success across the board for Europe’s economy to be attractive.

(Applause)

You mentioned Laeken. The European Parliament will be represented in the convention. You are fighting – and we very much welcome this – for the involvement of the Commission and the national governments. It would give a boost to the spluttering French-German engine if both countries were to push for governments also being represented at high level in this convention, for example by ministers for Europe who are responsible for this portfolio in their national parliaments, render account to the national parliaments and thus also reach their respective public. We call on the national governments not only to send civil servants – whom we esteem highly – to this convention, but also politicians who have mandates from their governments.

(Applause)

My third point is transparency. We were particularly pleased to hear you say that when the Council of Ministers is actively legislating it should become a real second chamber. We firmly support this. But we can already take steps towards achieving this now, during your presidency, before Laeken. If, for example, we know that civil servants but not the ministers are sitting on a conciliation committee between Parliament and the Council, and there are internal instructions that the majority of the people represented there ought to be ministers, then we would ask you also to ensure, through the Council General Secretariat, that there are politicians present, ministers who are equal in rank to the European Parliament representatives and who will legislate at European level alongside them.

(Applause)

You mentioned the work of the High Representative. Our group has a high opinion of Mr Solana. We share your view, however, that, in the next reform, we need to ensure that the responsibilities of the High Representative are identical to those fulfilled by his counterpart in the Commission and that this position is based in the Commission. We must also ensure – we will be discussing this in the conference of presidents – that obviously the High Representative also comes here before the European Parliament at regular intervals to report on the European Union’s common foreign and security policy.

(Applause)

In conclusion, because I will keep to my allotted time, allow me to say the following. We acknowledge the fact that, precisely because of its historic responsibility for Africa, the Belgian presidency will be making this a particular priority. We support this. But at the same time we say that of course, where external relations are concerned, we need to focus our efforts – and this should not be to the detriment of Africa – on the developments in the Balkans and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, so that we contribute to creating peace there. Given that ultimately it might be necessary for the Europeans to take joint action by deploying their security forces there, we are revealing weaknesses in our policy if the North Atlantic Alliance is telling us today that some Member States are not in any position at all to do this. We should not only talk about defence; we need to get beyond the rhetoric and give our armed forces the hardware they need to make a real contribution to maintaining peace in Europe.

We wish you every success in your work, Mr President-in-Office. You are a founding member of the European Union. Belgium has already successfully completed eleven presidencies. We wish Belgium all the best for its twelfth presidency. We are at your side!

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Barón Crespo (PSE).(ES) Thank you, Madam President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen.

Mr President-in-Office of the Council, you are appearing here today with a great political ambition, with a coherent programme which is a significant commitment, and you are offering an alliance with Parliament. On behalf of the Socialist Group, I can tell you that, in the terms that you have presented the issue – as Prime Minister of a Belgian rainbow government, which has demonstrated that democratic alternation also works in Belgium – of course you can count on our support and our cooperation.

Firstly, with regard to the future of the Union and its challenges, you have insisted that unity creates strength and that there must be cooperation with Parliament. We agree on the diagnosis of the specific problems. The question is now to know whether the way we are going to deal with them will be effective. I believe we have two possible fundamental points of departure, which you have mentioned: on the one hand, the development of European citizenship and, on the other, the introduction of the euro. It seems to me that over the last twenty years, since the draft Spinelli Treaty, the Adonino report, our work in preparing the Treaty of Maastricht, our drafts of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Parliament has always been an ally and an accomplice in European progress. Specifically, at the moment, we believe that it is extremely significant that, faced with the Laeken Declaration, there is an agreement on what you call the ‘constitutionalisation’ of the Treaties, which demands a public debate. You have the responsibility to provide it, on the one hand, with a method and, on the other, with content. That is a fundamental issue: we believe that the convention must be the forum which, with the participation of parliamentarians, governments and the Commission, prepares the work for a decisive Intergovernmental Conference.

You began by talking about your appearance as Minister of Budgets in 1988. I was the rapporteur who presented the financial perspectives which have allowed us to make progress, but, as you know very well, anyone who ignores the budget is making a big mistake. I believe it is absolutely essential that you argue that funding must be a public, democratic and fundamental element of our future. Another basic element is the economic and social agenda.

You have asked for a coherent economic policy. We need one. We are in a period of far-reaching conversion and restructuring. We need to defend our competitive capacity, but we must also respond to the thousands and thousands of workers who are affected by this very broad and decisive process. It is therefore absolutely essential that we have an ambitious social dimension, that we insist on the quality of employment, and deal with pensions and the demographic future of Europe, and all these things are in your programme.

Finally, Madam President, our international dimension. The European Union is the first experience of civilised globalisation in history. We must defend that and take it to the next Millennium Round of the WTO. But there are also some important challenges in relation to our personality in the world. You have correctly pointed out that you can receive two telephone calls. Two is better than none, which is what happened before. We must consolidate what already exists. I believe that, in this respect – think, for example of the number of calls received by the President of the United States – what we need is a clear approach, that must maintain a presence in the Balkans, in the Middle East, and I thank you for mentioning Africa. At the Council of the Socialist International last weekend in Lisbon, we spoke about Africa as a fundamental priority. That is one of our moral commitments.

I would add something more: for the first time there is a minister in Ecofin who proposes a debate on the viability of an international tax on speculation. That must also contribute to making globalisation more civilised, and we welcome the fact that the Belgian presidency has taken that initiative.

Lastly, Mr President, and I will end here, I believe that 99 working days is very little; surely you are going to end up without any holidays. However, if you are able to implement this ambitious project, you can count on our support, our cooperation and our understanding.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  De Clercq (ELDR).(NL) Madam President, Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, it has already been said more than once that the Belgian Presidency comes at a crucial moment. There are ample reasons for this. To begin with, the indispensable and broadly based debate on the future of Europe which you must initiate.

The Laeken Declaration must be an initial outline of a Union which, although enlarged, can nevertheless work efficiently and with which citizens can identify. Precisely because of people’s declining interest in Europe, you rightly said that the European Union must pay more attention to the concrete complaints of its citizens.

Another crucial point is the place of the Union in the world. It is correct that the European Union should exercise more influence on world developments in the monetary, economic, social, ecological and commercial spheres, but also and especially in the field of international policy. On that point, you are right to point to Africa, where there is a humanitarian problem. But the EU could also play a more active role in relations with, for example, the United States, Russia and Asia and, particularly, in relation to the peace process in the Middle East.

Be that as it may, the merits of this Belgian Presidency will be largely judged by its internal achievements. The Belgian programme appears many-faceted and ambitious, involving the European social model, concern for the quality of life and work, better cooperation in the fields of migration and asylum, the transition to the euro, the follow-up to enlargement and many other points.

Prime Minister, an onerous task awaits you. The European Parliament and European citizens are waiting for a powerful signal. In Belgium, you have proved yourself able to breathe new life into politics. Let us hope that you can transfer this to Europe too. You are said to be a keen and energetic cyclist. It is true that you frequently enjoy cycling, and in a variety of conditions: without wind, with the wind behind you and with a headwind. You will now learn that, in Europe, you will often be cycling into the wind. However, we know that you are undaunted and we wish you the success you deserve.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hautala (Verts/ALE). – (FI) Madam President, President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, Prime Minister, during your presidency we will be travelling down a long and winding road, which began with Nice and will end with Laeken. As we saw at Gothenburg there have also been obstacles along that road. Along the way there was also Dublin, where the people said they did not want to go any further along this road unless there were radical changes made to the plans. I would now like to ask whether we must therefore return to Nice in order, finally, to get to Laeken.

My own view is that at Nice some big mistakes were made, which must at all costs be put right. Future Member States were treated unfairly there. For example, they did not all receive their rightful share of seats in the European Parliament. Secondly, we were by no means able there to confirm and clarify decision-making conventions in the European Union. You yourself gave an example of this: there are more than thirty instruments at our disposal, which means it cannot really be clear how the European Union functions.

I think that the European Union can continue its expansion, even if the Treaty of Nice should not be ratified in its present form, and you, Prime Minister, have an excellent opportunity in this respect. At Laeken a consultative committee must certainly be set up, to commence drafting a constitution for the European Union and to deliberate on fundamental issues. It is most important that this is the path we should take and that future Member States can also be involved in this work, this convention, which must be established at Laeken.

You mentioned globalisation. I was pleased to note that during your presidential term the Tobin tax is to be discussed, which civil society is speaking so much about. I think you have a perfect opportunity to show you understand what President Prodi was talking about: that globalisation also causes problems, dividing European societies into two and, furthermore, adding to the two-way split in societies in the global context. Show you understand this concern, so that globalisation may then finally serve to benefit the development of the European social model, which you have named as one of your goals.

I would also like to mention the forthcoming talks on climate, which are to start in Bonn in two weeks’ time. You must use all your diplomatic skills to bring the United States, Japan and Australia back to the negotiating table. My group will lend you all the support it can in your efforts to continue the work Sweden began in the name of sustainable development. I would also like to note that we now have a president of the Council and a president of the Commission, who are both cyclists! I believe that you understand the need to give sufficient weight to environmental problems relating to traffic and mobility in particular, which are contained in the programme of the Belgian presidency. In this connection I might say that the President-in-Office of the Council in the Transport Council represents my political group and is doing some creditable work.

Finally, as we approach Laeken, first the king’s mighty castle appears on the horizon. But do not, however, make this European Council meeting a royal event of bygone days, where decisions are reached over the people’s heads. Remember that democracy and transparency are what are needed more than anything else, and do not in any event build more castles in Brussels for future European summits! This would not be giving the right signal to the public. I nevertheless hope that your presidency will come to be even half as popular as a certain well-known royal princess – Mathilde – is in your country. If you manage as much, your presidential term will have been a job well done.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Wurtz (GUE/NGL).(FR) Madam President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Mr President of the Commission, I appreciated the fact, Mr Verhofstadt, that you frankly acknowledged what you rightly called an ‘identity crisis’ in Europe between the citizens and the European Union, and that you stressed the need to take their aspirations seriously so that, as you said, we can bring the citizens closer to Europe. It makes a change from the all too frequent speeches designed to mollify, which people can no longer listen to because of all the contradictions that are glossed over. It is only natural that new issues will arise from experience, which call for changes, innovations, and sometimes a questioning of matters that were believed to be done and dusted. No subject should be taboo – we must acknowledge the problems, as you stressed.

In this spirit, I would like to mention a few issues that surface increasingly often in the debate provoked by the changes that are now affecting the European Union. I believe that these issues should be raised as part of the exchange of ideas that you are hoping to promote during your presidency. We have been repeatedly told, for example, that the eurozone was shielded from the major repercussions of the economic slowdown in the US. We must now admit that, unfortunately, this has not been the case. This is quite a serious misdiagnosis. What sort of analysis is being carried out? What sort of lessons in economic and monetary policy must we learn from this, so as to avoid the European economy becoming entangled in the American financial bubble that is now about to burst over us? I would reiterate that, over six years, there has been a nine-fold increase in the amount of European capital flowing to the United States which, last year, reached over USD 220 billion.

There is another example that Mr Duisenberg himself sometimes uses – in contrast to the US Federal Reserve, which is required under its mandate to promote employment and growth, the European Central Bank is not required to deal with these problems, which are indeed at the heart of all of our concerns. Do the European citizens know this? And what do they really think of this, when in fact unemployment is on the increase and growth is in decline? Should we not give some thought to this subject?

I have another example – the Stability Pact requires Member States to rationalise their public and social spending. If we merely follow this policy over the coming months, will it not lead to an economic slowdown, at a time when we actually need to stimulate growth? In what way can we revise the usual criteria or the way in which they are implemented in order to overcome this contradiction?

Generally speaking, the fundamental question that the new, and rapidly deteriorating, economic circumstances raise and indeed force us to consider is, in my view, the following: what sort of political creativity can we come up with in order to avoid serious tension arising in all our societies even between some of the Member States, and, more importantly, with the candidate countries? This question cannot be answered by some sort of project to elect the President of the Commission by universal suffrage. I think that we will have to attack the hard core of the neo-liberal model, which pervades European integration to an excessive degree. I also think that we are going to have to listen as well as involve the social actors and citizens in this necessary change.

Mr President-in-Office of the Council, I would like to know how courageous and daring the Belgian presidency, which you have launched today, is prepared to be in this area?

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Collins (UEN). – Madam President, firstly I should to thank the Belgian government for outlining in its legislative agenda the priorities it intends to pursue during its six month presidency of the Union. It has already made it clear that it intends to promote wider cooperation between law enforcement agencies throughout the Union.

Within the Union a new institutional framework to fight against organised crime is being put in place, following the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam. The European Council has since launched two action plans to combat organised crime, aimed at overcoming disparities in national procedures and encouraging more efficient judicial cooperation. The creation of Europol represented a major step forward in this context.

It is important that all EU institutions work together to ensure the development of a coherent European strategy against organised crime. We must, at the same time, overcome difficulties to ensure that crossborder crime is tackled without curtailing the freedoms and legal rights of individuals and economic operators. We should all recall that the primary motive of organised crime is financial gain. I support a European-wide political agreement concerning the identification and confiscation of the proceeds of crime in all its forms. We are all aware of the success the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau has had over the last five years in confiscating the proceeds of crime.

In Europe much has already been done to fight cyber crime. The Council of Europe is in the process of completing preparations for the world’s first international convention on cyber crime. The Commission has already presented a legislative proposal on child pornography on the Internet, in line with the provisions of the Council of Europe’s cyber crime convention. I support the Commission’s framework programme to combat trafficking in human beings; the aim is to develop effective judicial cooperation across the European Union.

Over the next six months the Belgian presidency will have a coordinating role as we put in place the finishing touches to the launch of the euro notes and coins on 1 January next. It is important that the information campaigns, which are to be intensified later this summer, are successfully managed.

In recent weeks the Israeli foreign minister and the Palestinian leader have visited Parliament. It is now evident that the European Union has come to assume a pivotal role in pursuing peace within the Middle East. I very much hope that the Belgian presidency will use this important time to help end the spiral of violence in the Middle East and seek the recommencement of dialogue between all parties in the region.

We are all aware that the EU leaders will be meeting in Laeken later this year to agree the format of a structured debate on Europe’s future. It is very important that we avoid contributing to the creation of a two-tier Europe. I certainly do not want to build a European Union that is controlled by the larger Member States to the detriment of the smaller Member States. Smaller Member States must be strongly represented within the overall EU institutional structure.

Finally, I would urge the Belgian presidency to ensure that the difficult chapters of negotiation with the applicant countries are opened as soon as possible. Solutions must be found to the chapters of discussion which to date have remained closed concerning the future accession of countries from central and eastern Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Vanhecke (TDI). – (NL) Madam President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, I have heard the Presidency being very quick to talk of a Laeken Declaration, but feel obliged to remind them that the Treaty of Nice no longer exists, since it was rejected by an impeccably democratic referendum in Ireland. The way in which this established fact is being ignored by European officialdom is very characteristic of the undemocratic, dangerously totalitarian turn that the European Union is taking.

For that matter, in other European Member States, even holding referenda is considered too risky. No referendum on European expansion plans, no referendum on the introduction of the euro and no referendum on Europe’s ever-tightening grip on strictly national powers over, for example, culture or social security.

Gentlemen with the word democracy forever on their lips refuse to let the people decide for themselves. Last week in the leading Flemish weekly Trends, Frans Crols put it as follows: ‘On 1 July, Belgium will become head of the Brussels mafia. An amalgam of unelected apparatchiks in Brussels who are trying to build an ersatz-superpower in consultation with European politicians who outdo each other in vagueness’.

In that sense, it is very symbolic that the Belgian Presidency should be represented in Parliament by Prime Minister Verhofstadt and by Foreign Minister Michel. Mr Michel is the man who led the hate campaigns against Austria and against Italy, since the people of those countries paid no attention in democratic elections to the paternalistic voting advice of a self-satisfied Belgian diplomatic machine. Mr Verhofstadt is an undisputed champion, not only in cycling, but also in lying and breaking his word. He is the man who came to power in Belgium, and remains in power, by denying his own civil manifestos and election promises and through a policy of systematic horsetrading and lying to the detriment of his own people.

Mr Verhofstadt is the man who cannot defeat the opposition Flemish Block party at the polls and who therefore is trying, at the taxpayers’ expense, to have my party banned by the courts with methods that would not have been out of place behind the Iron Curtain or in Nazi Germany.

What the French lawyer Isorni once said about Michel Debré applies equally to Mr Verhofstadt: Qu’il marche à plat ventre sous le poids lourd de ses reniements, he crawls flat on his belly, weighed down by the weight of his denials.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR INGO FRIEDRICH
Vice-President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Poettering (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, what we have just heard is unprecedented in the history of the European Parliament, of which I have been a Member since the first direct elections in 1979. The Belgian Prime Minister and President-in-Office of the Council does not belong to my party. Nevertheless, I would say to you, Mr Vanhecke, that the comments which you made just now make you and those who share your views deserving of our most critical judgement. It is intolerable that you should pick a fight like this here in the European Parliament. Do it in your own country, but not in the European Parliament!

(Applause)

The President-in-Office has our full support where the defence of democracy and the rule of law in Europe are concerned.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bonde (EDD).(DA) Mr President, Prime Minister and Mr President of the Commission, the Group for a Europe of Democracies and Diversities and the cross-party intergroup, SOS Democracy also wish to welcome Mr Verhofstadt as President-in-Office of the Council and pledge our critical and constructive opposition, at the same time as reminding the prime minister of his promise of a meeting with SOS Democracy. Your speeches in Austria and here today would have been much better if you had also talked with the democratic EU opposition. We can perhaps help you to understand why people have voted no in the last three referenda on the EU in Denmark, Switzerland and Ireland. When we discussed the Irish ‘no’ vote in the conciliation committee, there was not a member who dared to say that the Treaty of Nice could be adopted in a referendum in their country. Those who expressed an opinion thought it would fail to be adopted. One person said that it was fortunate that no referendum was to take place, for in that case it would also fail to be adopted in his own country, Portugal. It is easier to replace a treaty than a country’s people.

Respect the ground rules that have been adopted unanimously. Respect the Irish ‘no’ vote. The Treaty of Nice has failed to be adopted. Instead, support grassroots discussions concerning a treaty which people will be able to vote in favour of in all the countries, because it does not restrict, but rather extends democracy. Acquire a more comprehensive circle of advisers. With all due respect, your new think-tank consists mainly of elderly people who have all contributed to shifting power from voters and elected representatives to officials and ministers. There are no young people and no women and not a single person who shares the views of the democratic majority which votes ‘no’ in EU referenda. Mr Delors, Mr Dehaene, Mr Amato, Mr Geremek and Mr Milliband are hardly in a position to write a treaty which can attract majority votes in referenda. SOS Democracy has sketched out a thirteen-point alternative which we should like to discuss with you. It can be read at EU.observer.com, and its demands could presumably be adopted in a referendum because the heading refers not to a more intrusive European Union characterised by secrecy, bureaucracy and remoteness from the people but to a considerably slimmed-down EU, characterised by transparency, democracy and proximity to the people.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Berthu (NI).(FR) President-in-Office of the Council, you said in your speech that you wished to bring Europe closer to its people. The gap is, in fact, now widening and you will have to work hard to bridge this gap, especially given the disastrous effect produced by the contempt shown by the Gothenburg Council with regard to the democratic views of the Irish people.

Unfortunately, the advanced federalism that you are advocating, with some audacity, it has to be said, for a presidency that will have to seek consensus, this federalism will only widen the gap between Europe and its citizens. What should we do in order to bring the two back together? First of all, of course, we must respect national democracies and we regret that the recent memorandum from Benelux on the future of the European Union does not make any reference at all to this respect. We want a Europe that respects its people in practice and, as a start, we request that the next Intergovernmental Conference be prepared by the national parliaments and by these alone, and not the confused and illegitimate authorities or the committees of so-called wise men, which only succeed in sending Europe down dead end roads. Respect for national democracies also involves avoiding projects that flout national sovereignties, such as the European tax which, in fact, Mr Verhofstadt, you are advocated by renaming it the ‘direct funding of the European budget’. It is the national parliaments and they alone that must have the right to tax, because it is the national parliaments who have the most vital legitimacy.

Lastly, we can close the gap between Europe and its people by listening to them, which is obviously what we did not do when we decided to that the euro would replace the national currencies, rather than just complementing them, which would give rise to huge practical difficulties. This is a mistake, you will see this between now and the end of the year, and, in order to make amends, in order to bring the people closer to Europe, we will have to gain a better understanding of the practical problems that the citizens face and we must of course show great flexibility.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Thyssen (PPE-DE).(NL) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, although the Belgian Presidency has only just got into gear, many people have the impression, President-in-Office of the Council, that your tour of Europe began earlier with the rather premature launch of the sixteen priorities programme, or even in the wings at Nice, where your well-oiled communications machine managed to project the notion of Laeken even before it was fully appreciated that Nice, in several respects at least, would prove a failure.

The road ahead of you is not an easy one. On the one hand, you yourself have chosen it through your ambitious announcements but, on the other hand, you will not have escaped the tricolour rucksack given you as head of government of a country that is traditionally known to be able to reconcile the irreconcilable and, at difficult moments, to have launched visionary proposals that help the European community to progress.

On behalf of the Belgian members of the largest group in this Chamber, I wish you the same success as Jean-Luc Dehaene in 1993. He was virtually buried under the weight of praise. We are not part of the coalition headed by you, but we have no intention of putting a spoke in the wheels of your Presidency or of reducing this Chamber to an arena for internal Belgian use. What our predecessors constructed in Europe is too precious to us for that.

We are even prepared to give you a helpful push, at least when the race official is not watching, but only if your Presidency sets a course that really improves people’s lot, both here and elsewhere in the world.

Mr President, there is insufficient time to dwell on the matters on the agenda, but the list is not really that important. What does matter is the quality of the solutions and the vision that they project. Whether we are talking about the conversion to the euro, enlargement, the Laeken Declaration on the future or the legislative matters, one thing is clear: the people are no longer behind us, they have lost their way, the peloton no longer really knows where the European course is leading it.

Prime Minister, work to ensure that people feel at home again in Europe. There are no miracle cures, but there are key words: information, democratic involvement and transparency.

In December, you have the king’s permission to use his palace. I hope that you will also be given the use of the royal greenhouses. Their symbolic value is great. Naturally, you will also be expected to ensure that the palace at the summit of Laeken is not demolished. There will be no shortage of demonstrators and troublemakers in Brussels either, unless you ensure that there is real involvement. Why do you not conduct a Europe-wide NGO consultation exercise? Not at the same time as Laeken, but about four weeks beforehand. You would be offering genuine demonstrators the opportunity to make themselves heard in a positive way while it were still of benefit to do so , and if the mass of genuine demonstrators were subsequently absent, the attraction for the anarchist hooligans would be immediately removed.

I look forward to your reaction to this suggestion.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Van Lancker (PSE).(NL) Mr President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I think, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, that the applause from my group just now on the presentation of the programme of the Belgian Presidency has shown you that you can count on the full support of my group and, for that matter, I should also particularly like to emphasise the complete support of the Belgian Socialists in this group.

I was especially glad that you began with Europe’s crisis of identity, because it is definitely not just in Ireland but everywhere in the European Union, even in Belgium, that there is a sense of there being a gulf between ourselves and ordinary citizens. It will therefore not be ‘business as usual’ for the Belgian Presidency, certainly not with a historic task such as enlargement in prospect.

In that context, I should therefore like to bring to your attention three points that strike us as being especially important.

Firstly: it is clear that the future of Europe can no longer be worked out in exclusive groups either of diplomats or of technicians. Europe must again become a political project, and that means, for example, that the debate on the future must really become a large-scale, albeit difficult, exercise in European democracy. It must therefore be carried out in dialogue with civil society and be more than a virtual debate on a website being instead a kind of parliamentary assembly of civil society.

The second point concerns your Laeken Declaration. As you yourself quite rightly say, the discussion must centre on where we are heading with the enlarged Union and cover how we are to proceed, with what institutions and with what finance. I should like to ask you, please, to remember to include a healthy environment and the quality of life in this vision of the future of Europe.

I believe it is a wise decision that you wish to prepare for this debate with the help of the advisors of the Laeken group. But allow me, with the greatest respect for the mainly grey-haired wise men, to say that it will surely not be prepared for without the presence of a single woman. I truly hope that you will correct this blemish, because the future of Europe concerns the future of men and women alike.

A final point. I am convinced that people’s confidence in European institutions can also grow through the practical issues. And I believe that your programme guarantees a social, sustainable and politically stronger Europe.

I should like to come back to one specific matter, namely that concerning the taxation of speculative capital flows. This may seem a detail in your list of priorities, a symbolic matter, but for everyone, MEPs and NGOs, throughout Europe who are convinced that globalisation has produced distortions, this is a very important issue. The Belgian Presidency could show, in connection with this matter, that there really is a difference between the thousands of peaceful demonstrators who stood in the street of Gothenburg and have a political message and those who know only the language of violence.

I wish you every success with the Presidency, and you can rely on our support.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Ducarme (ELDR).(FR) Mr Verhofstadt, first of all, if I may, I would like to praise what I shall call the Belgian presidency’s clear analysis. I think that there really is a democratic deficit and that we must resist a hard core. I would like, however, if I may, to clarify that I am not thinking of the hard core that Mr Wurtz referred to, but the hard core of excessive bureaucracy, red tape and administrative hassle, which have prevented the public from being able to see clearly what Europe is doing. Stay focused, therefore, on what you have presented. What we must destroy is this Europe which lives by means of paper, by means of an image which does not correspond to what the citizens effectively want.

I would like to wish you good luck, because we know full well how demanding your political task is. I shall now come back to three points.

The Laeken Declaration must, without question, give more weight, credibility and depth to our diplomatic approach. It is clearly important to transform the current mechanism for international relations in order to gain the means to enable us to intervene, as you have said, in Africa and in other countries, as well as in Maghreb and in events that currently unfolding, particularly in Algeria. We need a stronger diplomatic mechanism.

Secondly, as regards the power issue within the European Union itself, do what you have said you would; set a challenge for the debate to clarify the responsibilities of each of the institutions and, possibly, to extend the co-decision procedure in Parliament.

My third and final point is that, with reference to the lack of clarity for citizens, I believe that it will be essential to dare to bring up the problem of the European constitution. The people of Europe have to know who wants and who does not want this European constitution, and, finally, after Laeken, the process must be more definite.

I wish you good luck and I hope that at the end of the presidency, you will have been able to make progress on most of the points that you highlighted in the presentation on this presidency.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Maes (Verts/ALE).(NL) Mr President-in-Office of the Council, you can obviously count on this Parliament being predisposed in your favour. That of course has to do with your high ambitions, which correspond with our own and also with the great disappointments that we as parliamentarians were forced to endure at Nice and during various presidencies. But, as you know, the higher you climb, the further you have to fall. It will count more heavily against you in this Parliament if you fail, than against those of whom less was expected.

There is already a first: regional ministers will also operate during your Presidency of the Council. And I am speaking here as chair of the European Free Alliance to tell you that the regions are counting on you to ensure that, during this Presidency, their request to be directly involved in the discussions on the future of Europe will be granted. Our wish is that the role of the European constitutional regions should be strengthened in the Union.

At the same time, we want a federal Europe that is better equipped for its core tasks, such as foreign and security policy. Is it not appalling that, so close to enlargement of the Union to include five hundred million people and over twenty Member States, we do not yet even have a coherent European migration and asylum policy although, every day, traffickers in human beings dump desperate people on our coasts and allow them to drown?

A safe and just area, able to remove people’s fear of enlargement, is one of your priorities. The battle against illegal trading in arms, drugs and human beings must be vigorously engaged in, as must the battle against fraud. Of course, I have a number of other wishes, but I shall be able to make them known to you on other occasions. I wish you every success.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Dupuis (TDI).(FR) Mr President, President-in-Office of the Council, President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to give my sincere and heartfelt thanks to Mr Verhofstadt for presenting the work programme of the Belgian presidency. Unlike Mrs Thyssen, I believe that Mr Verhofstadt is showing us the way. He has made some revolutionary proposals, and I am slightly saddened, Mr Poettering, that you and many others have not picked up on this. Mr Verhofstadt is proposing nothing less than saving the Commission, because the election of President of the Commission by universal suffrage is the only way to save the Commission, since we know that the European Union will perish without it.

Therefore, I would say to the dead souls of bureaucracy, who would prefer to choose a president using fundamentally obscure parliamentary manoeuvres, that those who are not on this wavelength must strongly support Mr Verhofstadt’s idea and proposals. I hope that we too will be allies of the Belgian presidency and the Belgian presidency not just an ally of the European Parliament.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Krarup (EDD).(DA) There is, of course, no doubt about the main message of Mr Verhofstadt’s statement, of which we were also aware in advance: the integration process is to be consolidated, where that fine up-beat word ‘integration’ means more power to the EU institutions and a corresponding weakening of the national democracies. This is something of which the President-in-Office of the Council and, for that matter, the combined EU machine is very well aware, and they betray the fact when they talk about the distance between the EU and its people. This is described as a democratic deficit, and it is said that people must reconcile themselves with the EU’s institutions. What, then, is to be done about something that is undeniably, of course, a fundamental democratic problem? What is to be done when, time after time, the people vote against integration on those notably exceptional occasions when they are asked? Is the voice of the people being listened to? No, it is not. Instead, a complaint is voiced, most recently to the effect that the Irish people had voted wrongly, and it is also pointed out that there were not a great many people who voted and that those who did must have thought they were voting on something else. What is more, the vote was about the same as at the elections to the European Parliament.

And so the integration and ratification process in connection with the Treaty of Nice is continued with as if nothing had happened. However, rhetoric is not enough, as the President-in-Office of the Council so commendably said. Ignoring a people’s clear statement about the integration process is not democracy, but autocracy. Autocracy must have a democratic façade, however, and the very telling words of the President-in-Office of the Council are designed to reconcile the people to the EU’s institutions. The Benelux Declaration of 21 June is a frightening example of this process. It is a so-called structured debate. Whether it be called a forum, a convention or whatever, what essentially it is about is excluding one side: the crucial side of the agenda. The historical model to return to in this case is the Supreme Soviet’s democracy arrangements. It is a parody of democracy: government by the people, but without the people. You say that more than rhetoric is needed here, Mr President-in-Office of the Council. I agree, and that ‘more’ is to ask the question, ‘Is integration the solution or the problem?’

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hager (NI).(DE) Mr President, whether the presidency’s chosen epitheton ornans is achieved – and it is an ambitious aim – is something which we will only be able to assess at the end of the year. In any case, the programme which has been presented today indicates as much. I am particularly pleased that the issues surrounding the future of Europe play an important role in this programme. Allow me, in this connection, to make two comments. Firstly, I think that we cannot simply ignore the Irish referendum and proceed with our agenda without harming the European Idea. Secondly, I am convinced that if the intergovernmental conference were brought forward to 2003, as the European Parliament has proposed, this would be seen as an attempt to escape the people’s vote. The result would be a further fall in turnout at the elections. I particularly welcome the fact therefore that the report on priorities will still be produced in 2004, hopefully after the elections.

I should like to recall one further point: it should come as no surprise to the Belgian presidency, of all presidencies, if it is forced to realise when implementing its ambitious programme that, because the sanctions are still ringing in their ear of solidarity, the Austrian people have become rather hard of hearing.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Galeote Quecedo (PPE-DE).(ES) I would like to focus on one of the central ideas of the Belgian presidency, according to what has been said this morning.

I believe we can all agree on the following consideration: the free movement of people, goods and capital which we enjoy in the European Union has also given rise to the free movement of criminals within our borders but, nevertheless, since there is no free movement of police or judicial decisions, we are running the risk of creating an area of impunity within Europe.

Furthermore, we must recognise that the progress made since Tampere in the development of the third pillar has not responded to the ambitions drawn up there. In Laeken, within the planned assessment of the degree of compliance with the European Commission’s scoreboard for the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice, the Heads of Government are being offered an excellent opportunity to provide a political impulse for this process. I would therefore ask Mr Verhofstadt to decide to favour a political declaration of this nature, which would inject new dynamism into the process started at Tampere. This means creating more efficient instruments for combating terrorism, such as the European arrest order.

The European Union, Mr President, is an area with harmonisable judicial systems in the field of judicial guarantees and respect for human rights, and we must therefore ‘communitise’ the fight against organised crime.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Hughes (PSE). – Mr President, I very much welcome the programme and priorities of the Belgian presidency in the employment and social field. It is a programme essentially about the modernisation, but also about the renewal and reinforcement of the European social model, and as such it obviously strikes a positive cord with the Socialist Group in this house.

One key element of that programme will be the work you will do to set out clearly the social goals we need to achieve in the reform of our pension systems. That, rather than a concentration on the concerns of the financial institutions, should be our proper starting point. Your work should also fit well with the communication announced in Parliament by Commissioner Diamantopoulou yesterday. In that broader field, you will be putting in place the most important building blocks for an open coordination for social protection, and we wish you well, although I was disappointed not to hear specific reference to social exclusion in that context.

Three specific points in the employment and labour market area: first, in relation to quality of work, it would be very useful if you could work with us in Parliament to incorporate amendments on quality indicators into the employment guidelines for 2002 to jump-start the Commission’s communication on that subject. Second, also in relation to quality, I hope you will apply some pressure to the Commission to speed up its preparation and launching of a new strategy on health and safety. The delay is unacceptable.

Finally, I know that you will work with us to adopt, as quickly as possible, the general framework on information and consultation and the company statute. But I also hope again that you will apply pressure to the Commission to speed up its work on the revision of the European Works’ Council Directive. That too is a very important ingredient and there is no good reason for its delay until the end of this year or the beginning of next.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Sterckx (ELDR).(NL) Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister, after what you have said I am satisfied that the great, but also difficult, debate on the future of the Union is in good hands with you. So, open that door as wide as possible in Laeken so that we can have a thorough debate. And, as a Fleming, I should like to ask you to ensure that, in this debate, the regions are finally able to play a role in the Union.

As you quite rightly said, a radical intervention is necessary to make it clear to people how important the Union can be for them. But more is required than that. The Union must also work through, and carry to a conclusion, the decisions that it has taken and is still taking. And you have already mentioned a number of things. As a Liberal, I should like to stress a few more: the Tampere Summit , the rights and duties of the citizen and security. I am glad that you have said that it is high time that some impact was felt. That Tampere Summit is almost two years old. The Lisbon Summit was about achieving the most competitive and efficient economy in the world. It was a very liberal declaration, but the fire has gone out of it. I am glad that there are a few important liberalising issues on the table and that you have said that, during this Presidency, a few must be solved. The Gothenburg Summit of a few weeks ago was about sustainability, including the decision to comply with Kyoto. Therefore, the Commission must table a proposal as soon as possible on the trading of emission rights and, under your Presidency, something must be done as soon as possible with that proposal so that we can apply Kyoto in an economically feasible manner. That is of huge importance to the European economy, and certainly to the Flemish economy. The Feira Summit is my last example. At that summit, already over a year ago, a charter for small and medium-sized businesses was approved. The Union has had a policy on small and medium-sized businesses for such a long time, but the benefits of the Union sometimes seem very far off, especially for small businesses. People find it all too complicated, so give concrete form to a few of those provisions of the charter for small and medium-sized businesses. And if you implement a number of decisions where security, competition policy, small and medium-sized business policy and the environment are concerned, , you will increase the impact of Europe on people and we shall be able to say at the end of the year, as in the TV commercial: “a little pride can do no harm”.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Montfort (NI).(FR) Mr President, we are aware of your interest in businesses, and particularly the role they play in society in each of our Member States. A genuine policy of cooperation for businesses is even more essential due to the fact that economic growth is slowing down, the number of people out of work in our societies is still too high and because of regional planning, especially in our rural areas. What became of all our good intentions and the objectives that were laid down in Lisbon in March 2000 to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic area in the world – or those set at Feira last year, where the Council adopted the European Charter for Small Enterprises? This charter has gone unheeded. No appropriations have been set aside and no practical measures have been planned.

Mr President, what decisions are you going to take in order to draw up a work programme for the practical implementation of the ten policy guidelines laid down in this charter? Furthermore, the Sixth Framework Programme on Research and Development, which will be voted on during your presidency, is in the process of being drafted. What place will you grant to businesses? What are your proposals to enable every business to gain access to the consumer society, regardless of its size and business sector? I am thinking in particular of all small enterprises and traditional businesses.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Brok (PPE-DE), Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy.(DE) Mr President, thank you for the warm reception. Mr President-in-Office, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, the Belgian presidency comes at a time when the European Union is at a crucial crossroads. Rarely, in my opinion, has a presidency taken office in such a difficult situation, where there are nevertheless so many opportunities on offer. This is the presidency which must shape the future face of Europe: it must steer the post-Nice process, which will have to be concluded in Laeken, and at the same time it must also set the necessary preparations for the enlargement of the European Union in train. A link must also be established between the two. This means that an important point is being made to President Prodi, namely that following the Irish referendum we need to keep a further option open and consider how enlargement can be achieved without Nice, and without enlargement being delayed as a result. This must remain an option so that we do not put the accession countries into a state of uncertainty.

I am delighted, Mr President-in-Office, with your proposal for a convention, or whatever you would like to call it, because this paves the way – and I am sure that you will make this a reality in Laeken – for the European Union to find a new method of working which will take us away from the routine of intergovernmental conferences hitherto. This convention will move the preparations for the intergovernmental conference onto a political level, and this will allow us to seek solutions and a means of having a treaty which the public understand, a treaty in which the division of responsibilities is clear to the public, so that the drawbacks and rewards which it has to offer can be articulated by the public and so that, above all, we have a Union of 27 Member States which is capable of making decisions.

I am also particularly pleased that you mentioned the Council in this context, which will have to be active as a legislator, as a second chamber, and – crucially – in public, so that in this way we really can foster public involvement in the decision-making process.

At the same time, in the light of what is happening in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, it is important for this presidency that, where foreign, security and defence policy is concerned, we move away from the ‘too little, too late’ and finally make the necessary decisions to ensure that we do not have to face military conflicts of this kind again.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Napolitano (PSE), Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (IT) Mr President, I feel I can say that the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Affairs firmly supports the statement which launched the Belgian presidency’s term of office this morning, particularly one of the points you made, Mr Verhofstadt, to the effect that it is not enough to provide the citizens with tangible solutions to the tangible problems which affect them most. Of course, the new developments in the Union’s policies such as those you outlined will enable us to win back the citizens’ confidence in the European project, but the citizens also feel a strong need to be able to take part in the development stage of the Union’s guidelines and decisions.

The democratic legitimacy of the Union is not an abstract question, of interest only to institutional affairs enthusiasts and experts; moreover, enlargement on a large scale imposes the urgent need and provides the opportunity for a genuine renewal, both symbolic and institutional, of the European Union. We therefore appreciate your clear, unequivocal commitment to producing a European Constitution. In this regard, I would like to point out that, only yesterday, in Milan, the Italian President of the Republic, Mr Ciampi, made a speech along precisely those lines.

As regards the Convention, Mr Verhofstadt, as you know, the dispute over the name is not meaningless. Those who insist on the term ‘forum’ have something different in mind from what you said. We support the line you have taken and we are confident that Laeken will opt for the Convention.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Maij-Weggen (PPE-DE).(NL) Mr President, first of all welcome to our Belgian neighbours here in Strasbourg and best wishes for a successful Presidency of the EU. I must say that what I heard sounded good. It was as if I were hearing our good friends Leo Tindemans, Wilfried Martens and Jean-Luc Dehaene, , but that places you in a very positive pro-European tradition.

The Benelux countries are among the founders of the European Community and that already implies a good deal of idealism and vision. That is also necessary alongside the realism that we also always require. I should like to make two comments in this debate.

I should like to say something about the after-effects of the Nice Treaty. I should like to say something about asylum, migration and human rights policy. And then I shall address Mr Michel.

Where the Treaty of Nice is concerned, what has gradually emerged is that Nice produced a botched job and that it is necessary to do that work again. The Belgian Presidency has resolved to set this process in motion at the Laeken Summit. It is important to us that there should be no false start as regards both the agenda and the method.

I believe that it is really necessary to reform the complicated voting procedure and the many methods of decision-making in the Council. I also believe, and I agree completely with what Mr Verhofstadt said, that the European Parliament needs to be given co-decision powers in all legislative areas. On that point, a deplorable chain of events was, in fact, broken at Nice.

Where the method is concerned, we opt, as you know, not for the concept of a forum but for that of a convention. I have a critical comment on this. I cannot understand why that convention should draw up three scenarios in advance. Because I gather that that is the intention. Surely the convention can do that when it meets. The convention for the Charter worked well. When you talk of three scenarios, I have the feeling that a divide and rule policy is being deployed whereby the Council can always choose one of the three.

Finally, a comment about the asylum and migration policy. What I did not find in Mr Verhofstadt’s list in that area is the ‘safe countries’ policy. A great evil besetting the European Union is that we all have different ideas on the subject. I should like to ask if that could be added to the list of five. We shall be having a large-scale debate on the subject in Parliament in September. At that time we shall probably be able to go into greater detail.

For the rest, I wish you every success with your policy. It is a good start. Make sure that you are able to bring things to a successful conclusion.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR MARINHO
Vice­President

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Randzio-Plath (PSE), Chairman of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.(DE) Mr President, the Belgian presidency’s ambitious programme for this presidency gives us hope that it is possible to combine tangible, solid steps on the way to an even more successful future for Europe with vision. You see, I actually believe that the public not only expect practical solutions, but also want to know where we are heading in the European Union.

This will also become apparent in the case of economic policy. Here too, Mr President-in-Office, we need more democracy and transparency, and I would be pleased if the Belgian presidency were also to take on board the proposals which the European Parliament has already developed. It is in economic policy in particular that we see that, on the basis of the Lisbon and Stockholm conclusions, further progress needs to be made so that we can also actually bring about growth based on effective employment. At a time when one negative prognosis about the development of the European Union follows hot on the heels of another, it is important for the Belgian presidency to try, with a steady hand, to set priorities so that we can actually successfully achieve our ambitious goal of bundling and coordinating policies in the fields of the economy, employment and social affairs. There is still a lot of catching up to do here, and coordination must not only be a word; it must also be reflected in the bundling of policies and in the creation of greater transparency so that steps of this kind are also taken in tandem across the Member States. The same applies to fiscal policy, Mr President, because here we have unfair competition within the European Union. I am counting on the Belgian presidency here.

In conclusion, I should like to make one further point: yours is a twofold presidency and you also have the task of leading the eurozone in the run-up to 1 January 2002. We all know that there is still a lack of information and a lack of acceptance. I call on the Belgian presidency, together with its colleagues, to make the introduction of the euro really a top-level issue so that we not only have brochures being distributed but also confidence-building measures being initiated by your side, so that as the euro moves from being a virtual currency union to being a reality it is accompanied by confidence and credibility.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Bodrato (PPE-DE).(IT) Mr President, the Belgian presidency’s ambitions coincide with the ambitions of Parliament. There is continuity in foreign and defence policy, in the implementation of the single currency and in sustainable development, but there is also insistence on the relationship between European integration, economic competitiveness and the social agenda. We need to modernise the European social model, which is characterised by solidarity.

Nevertheless, the key issue concerns the relationship between enlargement and reform of the European institutions. Enlargement must be a success for Europe. The Laeken Summit must remove the intergovernmental uncertainties of Nice. It is now a question of method and of political substance as well. The response can only be provided by a Convention which in which, first and foremost, the national parliaments and the European Parliament participate as democratic representatives of the citizens. In order to restore the citizens’ confidence in Europe, we must make the institutions of this Convention more transparent, more efficient and more democratic. This is the point – it has even been said today – on which Council, Commission and Parliament all agree. This is a challenge which is highlighted by globalisation, a challenge that we must tackle together as we work towards a European Constitution.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Grosch (PPE-DE).(NL) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Belgium is Europe in miniature with all its advantages and disadvantages. This experience is partly the key to the success of the Belgian presidency.

 
  
  

(FR) The Belgian work programme is ambitious, and it is also set against an extraordinary context in order to regain the trust of the citizens, in other words, with the introduction of the euro, a debate on the future of Europe and also a debate on enlargement. If we wish to gain the trust of the citizen, however, I believe that, above all, it is essential to make Europe credible and to make our policies credible.

 
  
  

(DE) Mr President, in this context I should like to highlight a specific problem, namely the typically European behaviour which we have observed in recent years and which consists of fighting for one’s own country and for one’s own region, even if this is at the expense of Europe’s development, and then being astounded that the public have lost faith in Europe. However, this analysis goes even further. The end product of this – and this brings me to what the President of the Commission said – is a denial of solidarity, and we are only too aware of this. Just as it is in Belgium, it is also an easy but very dangerous policy at European level to convince the rich to refuse to show solidarity with the poor. I believe that today we need more courage to show solidarity, but the forthcoming enlargement means that we need even more courage. Making Europe credible therefore also means answering the very simple questions posed by the public, which are part of your programme.

Why do we talk about a Europe without borders when in health, fiscal and social policy we still have borders, which even create competition? Why do we not simply say: we want enlargement towards the east, but no country is prepared to pay even one additional euro towards the cost of this. There are numerous questions and I would say to the Belgian Prime Minister: in the language of figure skating, your compulsory programme is outstanding, but you will be judged on your free programme, and in these efforts to win over the public Parliament will be at your side.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Stockton (PPE-DE). – Mr President, ambition is a practical joke played by the gods on mankind. They give us ambitions so we believe we can climb the heights of Olympus and then they ensure that we never reach the top.

The programme of the Belgian presidency is ambitious. It would be ambitious for a two-year presidency, but for one of 99 days, as the President-in-Office has pointed out, I fear that it is too ambitious. I welcome, of course, his intention that the Union should listen to the people. "We have to resolve the Irish question." How often have those words been uttered down the centuries?

But Mr Verhofstadt has to lead the Council towards a resolution of the problem, posed by the failure of Nice and by the Irish referendum. The democratic decision of the Irish people cannot be ignored or ridden roughshod over. Democracy may be inconvenient, but it is all we have between freedom and tyranny. Moreover, the Irish referendum and the concerns exposed in the demonstrations – even though they were hijacked by extremists – should be telling us something. As the President-in-Office has said: they are telling us that Europe is not being listened to.

People all over the Union, and indeed in the global market all over the world, have lost their faith in the institutions of governance. They are looking to us, their elected representatives, not for initiatives, but for reassurance. Not for change piled upon change, but for stability. Not for ambition, but, for that rarest of all human virtues – common sense.

If I may paraphrase the ancient Greek proverb for the President-in-Office: "Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first raise high."

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Tajani (PPE-DE).(IT) Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciated Prime Minister Verhofstadt’s call in his speech to make Europe not just a Europe of red tape but, first and foremost, a Europe of citizens. However, it is not enough, ladies and gentlemen, to tell the Europeans that they are European citizens. We need to make them feel like European citizens.

The euro is certainly an important step – and I agree with the line taken by President Prodi – but it is not enough. Without substantial political support, the euro is likely to encounter difficulties, as it has in recent months, in relation to the dollar and other currencies. This is why we cannot disregard the outcome of the Irish vote but must give it our utmost attention. This is why we must involve the European citizens in a convincing rediscovery of our common cultural, historical and political identity through an incisive policy linked to the principle of subsidiarity. Therefore, what can be decided at a lower level – and here I agree with Prime Minister Verhofstadt – must be. The European Union must not concern itself with too many things but must lay down the guidelines, the policy lines for genuine involvement of the people and parliaments in the process of unification and enlargement.

The Convention preparing the forthcoming IGC must therefore directly involve the representatives of the people, that is the representatives of this and the national parliaments. Involving the people too in the reform of the institutions will give this European Union an increasingly significant political – and I stress, political as well as economic – role.

These, I feel, are the bases for achieving an enlargement which we strongly believe to be an irreversible, necessary step for the European Union: an enlargement in which my political grouping believes and which the government, which my political grouping supports in Italy, stressed both in its meeting with President Prodi and at the last Gothenburg meeting. However, if we really want to achieve permanent enlargement, it is vital that we involve the citizens and their representatives more and more.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Smet (PPE-DE).(NL) Mr President, the Belgian Presidency is an important link in the preparation for enlargement because, during this Presidency, the first steps will be taken towards the next IGC. That will be the conference that represents the last chance before enlargement to modify the European institutions and decision making process. Despite this, the wider context is difficult.

The Germany-France axis will be partly blocked by elections next year in both countries. Public alarm in the face of enlargement is real.

When it comes to Europe, the courage of the present Member States is not very great, and time is short. Against this background, Belgium must succeed in having a declaration approved at Laeken which must, at any rate, contain an improvement in the decision-making process and must increase democratic legitimacy.

I am consciously not talking here about much larger projects that are being launched and that are aimed at bringing about a real revolution in all the institutions. I have my doubts about the political feasibility of these. As far as the improvement of the decision-making process is concerned, two things are essential.

Firstly, the unanimity rule must be abolished, except for matters related to the institutions themselves and to the transfer of powers. With twenty-seven or thirty Member States, you cannot continue to work with the unanimity rule. In conjunction with this change, the co-decision procedure with Parliament must be expanded. The one must be linked to the other.

Secondly, there is an absolute need to make Europe less complex. The Treaty of Nice is scarcely comprehensible, let alone explainable. A host of decisions, directives, regulations, orders, guidelines and recommendations cannot be understood without a dictionary or accompanying notes, and even then they pose problems.

The decisions from Gothenburg are still puzzling even after three readings and four translations. This is true not only for ordinary people but also for extraordinary ones. European seems to be becoming a twelfth language, with terms that, if they are not incomprehensible, have at least taken on a life of their own. You must also already have been ‘benchmarked’, ‘mainstreamed’, etc. The language of Europe has not become the language of Europeans. On the contrary. In order to channel the involvement of the population productively, I believe that the Belgian Presidency should make a real project out of such involvement. You should include this project among your priorities. Euronews is financed by Europe. If we want to know something about Europe, we follow CNN, not Euronews. And you can say the same about many things that Europe does to inform the population. Make it a project, Prime Minister! Add this to your priorities and try to agree a relevant course of action with the countries of Europe.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Nassauer (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, you have announced an ambitious programme, Mr President-in-Office, and the ambition of your proposals is commensurate with the challenges which lie ahead. That is why, at the end of this debate, I should like to express the wish that you will be equal to your own ambition and that you will enjoy success. On behalf of the CDU/CSU Group in this Parliament, may you be an effective President-in-Office of the Council. You will need our support and you will also have it.

You rightly said at the beginning that you want to reconcile the public with Europe. This has been expressed in various different ways. The reasons for the loss of confidence in Europe, which before was hidden beneath the surface but which, since the referendum in Ireland, is now there for all to see, are many and diverse; they have been mentioned. In passing, however, it should be stated that a further factor in this was the way in which the powerful members of the Council for example dealt with a country like Austria. Perhaps your foreign minister will have the opportunity to repair some of the damage which has been done to Austria’s faith in Europe.

The method adopted hitherto in intergovernmental conferences has had its day because decisions of consequence – such as those made when treaties are amended – must no longer be made in Council back rooms in the dead of night; instead beforehand we need a phase of public consultation. That is why we are calling for an assembly, similar to a convention, to be set up which will organise a public dialogue in Europe before decisions are made in the Council. To achieve this we need, above all, your support.

Mr President-in-Office, it would be a first and very specific step forward – and would also send out a signal to the Irish – if the intergovernmental conference were to be opened up and made more transparent. In taking a step of this kind, we would also be justified in going before the Irish for a second time and tabling the treaty for a vote. This is what you will be judged on, and we wish you every success for your work in the interests of Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Verhofstadt, Council.(NL) Mr President, first and foremost I should like to thank the various speakers and especially the group chairmen. I should also like to thank the President of the Commission, Romano Prodi, for his words. I should like to make a total of four marginal comments on the various declarations.

First and foremost, I should like to comment on the outcome of the Irish referendum and on the suggestions that the Irish referendum be seized upon to argue that, in fact, we need less of a European input. That should, apparently, be the result of this Irish referendum, at least if we were to take it into account.

Well, I find that a reductionist view. There is certainly a democratic deficit in Europe, but you do not solve that deficit by having less of a European input, but by creating more democracy in Europe.

(Applause)

I believe that such an attitude is certainly not an arrogant one. I have always, including at the meeting of the Council in Gothenburg, argued that we must not adopt an arrogant attitude to Irish voters by saying ‘there is no problem, we shall not bother about the referendum and will simply continue as if there is nothing wrong’. No, we must take that ‘no’ vote seriously and take it on board in our reflections. The problem must be tackled. However, it is an unacceptable solution to draw the conclusion from the Irish ‘no’ vote that we must simply again take the European Union into reverse.

My second marginal comment concerns the convention. I agree with the various speakers that the governments must also be represented there at a high level, because it would be a mistake to exclude the governments and only to have them represented at a low level, resulting in a possible incompatibility between the outcome of the convention and that of the intergovernmental conference which, in the normal course of things, will be organised in 2004. In addition, I believe that we must ensure that the constitutional regions are involved in the whole process.

 
  
  

(FR) The third comment that I would like to make, Mr President, concerns the European constitution. I believe that we should also emphasise the positive aspects during this debate. Some years ago, when we were discussing a European constitution, this was an idea that seemed impossible to achieve. Today, I notice that, in speeches that have been made in the last two years, every European policy leader has taken up a position in favour of a European constitution. I believe therefore that, as expressed in the Laeken Declaration, this is an idea that is possible to achieve.

 
  
  

(NL) Fourthly, I should like to make a comment on the Treaty of Nice. Like the President of the Commission, I feel that it is absolutely vital that this Treaty is ratified. No one need explain the weak points of the Treaty of Nice to me. For four days we discussed and debated them constantly until four in the morning. However, I believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The advantage is that enlargement of the Union can finally take place, an enlargement that is more than just an enlargement. It is a change that will finally bring about European unity. It is therefore vital to ratify this Treaty quickly.

Finally, not one but several speakers wondered if all this were not too ambitious, warning that it is mainly deeds that matter. Let me make it clear at the outset that I have no intention of playing Icarus, since that is one of the allusions that have just been made. I believe that it is time that significant plans for reform were put on the table. Anyone predicting ten years ago that we would have a single European currency, was in fact called an idealist. The same applied to the introduction of the internal market, when the idea was floated twenty years ago. I have no desire to play Icarus, but my motto is that of the first President of the European Commission, Mr Hallstein, who said, “Anyone who does not believe in miracles in European matters is not a realist”. That strikes me as better advice.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  President. – Thank you very much, Mr Verhofstadt. I wish the presidency and Belgium every success.

The debate is closed.

 
  

(1) Approval of the Minutes of the previous sitting – Petitions – Membership of Parliament: see Minutes.

Last updated: 5 August 2004Legal notice