by Mrs Nicole FONTAINE
President of the European Parliament
at the Special Meeting of the European Council
in Feira on 19 June 2000
Mr President of the European Council,
Heads of State and Government,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I should like to take this opportunity briefly but very sincerely to thank the Portuguese Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and congratulate them on the skill and determination which has characterised their conduct of the Presidency at this important moment in the process of European integration.
I should like to emphasise in particular the consistent attention you have paid to the quality of the relations between the Council and our Assembly.
The Portuguese Presidency has been a success and I should like to single out the following aspects more particularly:
- firstly, the Lisbon European Summit, which focused on the social dimension which we wish to give to the process of European integration in a climate made conducive by the return to growth and the opportunities offered by the new economy founded on information technologies. By laying down clear guidelines in this area, the Summit generated fresh, irreversible impetus which the forthcoming French Presidency will have the task of building on. We know, moreover, that it is determined to do so.
- Secondly, the results of the conciliation meetings, which have demonstrated that the codecision procedure is working. As part of the forthcoming reforms, I hope we will be able to extend codecision to cover all legislative acts adopted in the Council by a qualified majority, as Parliament wishes, but of course without reducing Parliament’s legislative role. In that connection, let me say that the definition of a ‘legislative act’ which is currently being proposed would be unacceptable to the European Parliament. We are therefore looking to the Council for fresh proposals.
- Thirdly, the impetus given to the IGC. We would have liked the report from the Presidency to place greater emphasis on the extension of the agenda. In overall terms, however, the way in which Parliament has already been involved in the proceedings of the IGC is satisfactory, although there is room for improvement.
These new arrangements augur well for what I hope will be more effective cooperation between our institutions. We have worked with the Commission in that spirit since its investiture. I know that some members of the European Council took a close interest in the negotiations we have been conducting with a view to placing our new relations on a formal footing.
I am happy to inform you that very recently we concluded a framework agreement which meets two major objectives:
(1) it provides the European Parliament with the means to carry out the monitoring tasks conferred on it by the Treaties;
(2) it safeguards the strength and independence of the Commission as regards the exercise of the role allocated to it by those same Treaties.
I understand that the President of the Commission, Mr PRODI, shares my view that the agreement is balanced and will enable our institutions to exercise their respective prerogatives in a climate of mutual trust and cooperation. The team formed by the EP and the Commission is vital to the smooth functioning of the institutions and the future development of the European Union.
As regards the internal functioning of the European Parliament, the members of the European Council will, I am sure, appreciate the progress we have recently made towards the adoption of the single Statute for the Members of the European Parliament. Moreover, this progress is regularly monitored by the ad hoc group we have set up jointly with the Council. The group's work has moved forward quickly thanks to the efforts of the Portuguese Presidency.
Firstly, our Bureau adopted measures designed to guarantee complete transparency in the use of the secretarial assistance allowance.
Secondly, a group of independent eminent persons submitted to us a report setting out a very pertinent analysis of the situation and putting forward proposals on which the European Parliament has not yet taken a decision, but which seem, at first sight, to have been inspired by the objectives of transparency, clarity, equality and the dignity of Members, as we had intended.
I understand that the informal response by some members of the Council to these proposals was favourable and I should like to reiterate our determination that this issue be settled as a matter of priority. We have all the tools we need to make rapid progress and I hope we will reach the agreement required with the Council as soon as possible.
Continuing with the theme of transparency, let me emphasise the importance of the practical recognition of political parties established at European level. The Amsterdam Treaty acknowledged them, and the aim now must be to give them a statute and, by extension, to grant them independent funding. We welcome the fact that the European Commission has informed us of its willingness to use its right of initiative to propose an amendment to Article 191.
Turning now to the IGC, on 13 April 2000 Parliament adopted a resolution setting out clear objectives for the Conference. It reiterated them on 15 June 2000.
In particular, there is very broad majority support for three basic guidelines:
- qualified-majority voting. We would like this to become the rule in the Council and for unanimity to be the exception. Although the members of the Council now seem to have accepted the need to make the closer cooperation arrangements more flexible, such arrangements will not resolve the problems affecting the institutions’ decision-making capacity on all matters concerning, for example, the internal market and must not be used as an alibi to explain away inadequate progress on the voting procedures in the Council. The European Parliament will be very vigilant and it regrets the cautious approach currently being adopted by the preparatory group;
- Parliament’s second priority guideline concerns the nature of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Convention which Mr HERZOG chaired until very recently has performed remarkable work in which the European Parliament is playing an active part. Mr Mendez de Vigo will give you an account of that work shortly. In line with the view expressed by most of the national parliaments at the most recent COSAC meeting, we regard the incorporation of that Charter into the Treaties as vital. In giving the Charter legal force in this way, the European Union, on the eve of an enlargement which is unprecedented in scale, will confirm that it is founded above all on a community of shared values. I am also convinced that such a move will instil fresh impetus, fresh ideals, in short an animating spirit, into the process of European integration. European citizenship has become a reality. It implies that each citizen should have rights, should feel part of a shared destiny and should have the conviction that he or she is taking part in the process of creating a model for European society.
- the third guideline, for which there is very broad support within our Parliament, has become highly topical over the last few days. It concerns the prospect of providing Europe with a constitution and, with that aim in view, of restructuring and simplifying the Treaties. What is more, steps to achieve that objective can be taken immediately: what further proof is needed than the proposals recently drawn up by the European Institute in Florence at the request of the European Commission. They show that the current Treaties can be simplified without altering the institutional balance and that such a simplification can make an effective contribution to the constitutionalisation process.
Finally, I should like to emphasise the importance which the European Parliament attaches to a revision of Article 7 of the Treaty on respect for fundamental rights. We are familiar with the proposals which have already been put forward. The European Parliament has not yet given its views on those proposals, but, at this stage, it welcomes the fact that a dispassionate debate has been launched on a problem central to the functioning of the Union. In that connection, paragraph 8 of the resolution we adopted on 15 June ‘calls on the Council Presidency to analyse relations between the 14 Member States and Austria and to draw up with all the parties concerned within the Union a procedure which will enable an acceptable solution to be found’.
Rendering the decision-making process more effective and forestalling any risks of deadlock, facilitating closer cooperation arrangements among those Member States who wish to move forward, whilst avoiding overlap between the institutions, simplifying the Treaties and confirming our commitment to democratic values by means of a charter with legal force, and implementing the CFSP sketched out in Cologne and Helsinki, a CFSP which incorporates a parliamentary dimension: these are all ambitious objectives which require support from everyone, including the citizens in our Member States, provided that we can make those objectives readily understandable. Pending the outcome of a much broader debate on the future of a Europe of 28, those citizens need clear ideas: open and lasting institutions and ‘unity in diversity’, to quote the motto adopted a few weeks ago by 80 000 young Europeans.
I have no doubt that the Portuguese Presidency will come to be seen as an important step towards achieving these objectives and thereby creating the conditions which will enable the Union to make a fresh start.
© European Parliament: 19 June 2000