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Debates
Tuesday, 11 January 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

10. Constitution for Europe (continuation)
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  President. – We are therefore continuing with the debate on the report by Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.

 
  
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  Costa, António (PSE).(PT) Mr President, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, the new Treaty is a positive step from an institutional point of view, as everyone has pointed out. The new Treaty gives us a Union that is stronger, more democratic and closer to the citizens. It is also a Constitution which, most importantly, represents shared values and is a political project. We see this straightaway with the constitutionalisation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is aimed at creating a society that sees itself as a social market economy and that targets full employment.

These are not mere words; they are the EU’s new objectives, which are enshrined in Article 3 of Part 1 of the Treaty and which must guide all of its actions and policies. Article 185 of Part III on monetary policy, for example, expressly states that, without prejudice to the objective of price stability, the European System of Central Banks supports the general economic policies in the Union in order to contribute to the achievement of its objectives as laid down in Article I-3.

Horizontal application clauses should also be highlighted. These clauses guide the Union’s actions and policies laid down in Part III of the Treaty. Accordingly, Articles 115 to 122 of Part III, for example, state that the various policies of the EU must ensure that equality between men and women is promoted, that the environment is protected, that consumers are protected, that social rights such as employment are guaranteed and that public services or services of general economic interest have the necessary conditions to fulfil their missions.

These examples show how the new Treaty strengthens the European social model. It does not backtrack on any gains that have been made and enshrines new and important advances. It is therefore good news, in that it gives tangible form to our desire to live in a society with high levels of social protection and high environmental values.

 
  
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  Malmström (ALDE). (SV) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, five years ago, there were some of us in this House who wished to revive Spinelli’s Crocodile Club. At that time, we started a federalist cross-party group designed to work towards a European Constitution.

There were many who laughed in a rather indulgent way then. In my home country of Sweden, I was patted on the head when I talked about the need for a common document that clearly stated what we stand for, why we stand for those things and how we work. Now, no one is laughing any more, and talking about a European Constitution is not especially controversial. Most people are in favour of it.

Through the Convention and through hard work, especially here in the European Parliament, we now have a draft European Constitution. That is fantastic progress. It makes the EU stronger, more open and more democratic, puts the citizen centre stage and simplifies decision-making. Mr Corbett’s and Mr Méndez de Vigo’s resolution gives a very sound and instructive account of the advantages of the new Constitution and is a document that can in actual fact be used in the campaign, since it is written in such an educational way.

Certainly, a lot could have been better, and many fellow MEPs have talked about the fact in this House. Personally, I should have liked to have seen a clearer demarcation of the EU’s powers. With so many Member States, it would have been sensible to concentrate upon rather fewer issues at EU level so as to be more effective in these areas. I should also have liked to have seen the permanent President placed not in the Council but in the Commission.

Finally, I regret that the Convention did not discuss the issue of the European Parliament’s seat. We must stop this commuting between Strasbourg and Brussels. It is expensive and inefficient and, as long as it goes on, people will never fully trust this institution.

A new era is on the way. We shall be able to adopt new reforms and shall be able in the future to take further steps with a view to the next Convention and the next Constitution. Firstly, the present Constitution must be ratified and, overall, this is a very good draft. It constitutes progress for European democracy and for our citizens.

Opponents must bear in mind that the alternative is the Treaty of Nice, which does not in any way increase democracy within the EU. Nor does the Treaty of Nice make it any easier for us to cooperate with so many Member States. I am therefore looking forward with great enthusiasm to the debate that is now in the offing and that is already going on in the various Member States and to being out with you on the streets and in marketplaces defending the European Constitution.

 
  
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  Staes (Verts/ALE). (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, together with the Flemish Greens, I will, over the next few months, be conducting a campaign for Belgian ratification of the Constitution in the federal, Flemish and Brussels parliaments. Tomorrow, however, we are not voting on the Constitution, but on the report by Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo, which I regard as disappointing. It is an apology, an excessively one-sided enumeration of the Constitution’s many benefits. What a missed opportunity, Mr Corbett!

Should we not have given more consideration to the criticism that is now being levelled by the Left? Why, for example, is it not possible to state that we are still on our way towards a fully-fledged European democracy, that the role of the constitutional regions is snowed under, that too many areas of policy are still left for intergovernmental cooperation, that there are too many areas in which the veto still applies? Why can it not be said that the European Union is still too much in need of a social order, and that its orientation is too neoliberal?

That is why I would ask you to revisit the amendments tabled by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, particularly Amendments Nos 4, 9, 15 and 16 and, I hope, support them when we vote tomorrow.

 
  
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  Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, among the various reasons for our opposition to this new Treaty I should like to highlight the fact that it reinforces centralism, federalism and European bureaucracy, that it calls for policies applicable to all Member States of the Union, irrespective of their actual situations, and that it embeds neoliberalism and the militarisation of Europe more deeply.

The blind impositions of the Stability and Growth Pact, the European Central Bank and the monetary and single currency policies in the euro zone, regardless of the reality of each individual country, have led to a deterioration in the social situation, to an increase in inequalities arising from the privatisation of strategic sectors and public services and to appalling attacks on workers’ rights.

We have also seen how these practices in agriculture, fisheries and in external trade policy have led to economic recessions, to unemployment and to the collapse of production in increasingly large sectors in countries with weaker economies. By the same token, we cannot accept the promotion campaign for the new Treaty, which is scarcely democratic and certainly not pluralist, based as it is on the arguments of its supporters, disregarding the arguments of those who are opposed to it, those fighting for a more social, more democratic Europe founded on the principle of sovereign States with equal rights and committed to peace.

 
  
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  Lundgren (IND/DEM). (SV) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, a Constitution should lay down the ground rules for policy and the rights due to citizens of a democracy. A Constitution should not establish the content of policy. Social policy and policy relating to taxes, energy, policing and issues concerned with alcohol should be drawn up by the people of each country, acting together through the democratic process. When the will of the people changes in a country, it must be possible for policy to be changed.

The draft with which we are now confronted is something quite different. It is an expression of the political class’s own ambitions for the European project. It regulates in detail; it deals with tourism and agriculture; it legitimises a corporate society; it forces each Member State into a currency union; and it points towards a concentration of power and a Europe governed by technocrats.

What is presented here as a Constitution is an attempt by the political establishment to usurp the European peoples’ democratic right to shape their own futures. That is why the June List rejects this draft.

 
  
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  Toubon (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the task of European integration has brought about the world’s largest area of law and economic freedom, but the organisation of our continent cannot stop there. Europe must become a political player, a political unit endowed with democratic power and diplomatic clout. We want a Europe of states and peoples and, consequently, we wish to strengthen people’s confidence in the European Union. That is indeed what is proposed by the Constitution signed in Rome.

I again congratulate our rapporteurs, Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo, and would emphasise the progress made through the new Treaty. The rapporteurs are sending out a clear message to our fellow citizens: the Constitution is fine, with the best possible wording. It proposes a more integrated, more efficient and more political Europe which is more attentive to people and stronger both internally and externally. The Constitution, as such, does not increase the competences of the EU. It prevents the emergence of a centralised superstate, it sanctions the legal personality of the EU and it gives the EU a human face in the form of a long-term President and a Foreign Minister. It also guarantees all our fellow citizens protection under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The European Parliament is gaining ground on the European political stage. Finally, the Constitution facilitates recourse to enhanced cooperation, making it possible to face up to what will be at stake in the future.

The destiny of a European country is now inseparable from the affirmation of its European personality. The Constitution represents the best way for our Member States to confront the future, starting from now. For them to be united around a document that they have all approved is very ambitious. What now will turn this ambition into a reality is the will of politicians and, in the first place, of ourselves.

 
  
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  Van den Berg (PSE). (NL) Mr President, the Dutch delegation within the Socialist Group in the European Parliament believes that the debate is about the Constitution rather than about whether we are in favour of Europe or against it. We are in favour, with reservations, because what matters to us are the benefits of the new Constitution compared to the Treaty of Nice. The Europe of Nice is undecided as to how significant it is. The new Treaty, however, guarantees the influence of regional, decentralised authorities, and designates the national parliament as a watchdog, so that Europe, rather than threatening to turn into a superstate, provides effective and cross-border cooperation in respect of crime and food safety.

In addition, in the new Constitution, more than 30 types of decisions have been replaced by a handful of terms readily recognisable by the public, including ‘law’ and ‘enabling legislation’. With this, the Constitution introduces more clarity about the type of Europe we would like and decision-making that we use to that end. The Constitution also brings us more effectiveness by extending the number of areas in which decisions are taken by qualified majority, thus ensuring that one country cannot put a spanner in the works. More democratic accountability is introduced by removal of much decision-making from the backrooms, and by making the Council’s decision-making meetings public.

Finally, the Constitution brings us more rights for the citizens: social dialogue, the inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the citizens’ initiative, of course. Anyone who fails to support this important step in the European integration process will become responsible for perpetuating the present Treaty of Nice, which is more bureaucratic, slower, and in many ways undemocratic.

Our ‘yes’ is one that is tinged with a critical observation, because Europe is still very much lacking one voice. Social Europe is still inadequately anchored; hence a critical ‘yes’. In short, the Dutch delegation within the PSE Group gives a critical ‘yes’ to the Constitution. Around the referendum in the spring, we will be enthusiastically advocating this position, supported by Johan Cruyff, Catalan Dutchman or Dutch Catalan in the Spanish campaign. In that way, we are hoping to gain support in the Netherlands for this new project, the new Constitution.

 
  
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  Harkin (ALDE). Mr President, Ireland held two referenda on the Nice Treaty: in the first we voted 'No' and in the second we voted 'Yes'. There were many reasons for this, but an overriding one was that our government took its citizens for granted. The Irish had always voted 'Yes' to Europe, so this time they thought it would be the same. However, on this occasion, the politicians got it wrong. We have to learn from our mistakes and ensure that, this time, citizens have easy access to all the information they require.

I would go so far as to suggest that every household should receive a copy of the draft Treaty – certainly every household that requests one. This will be expensive, but it is well worth paying that price. Furthermore, I would very strongly support a suggestion to publish a document outlining, on the one hand, what is already in place in the existing Treaties and, on the other, outlining what is new, changed or different. Unlike the assertions from some speakers in this House today, this is not telling people what to do or how to think; it is giving our citizens a choice.

If you were sitting a public examination in Ireland, you might be asked to compare and contrast. This is what we need to do: to assess if what we now have is an improvement or otherwise. In spite of the scathing references of many Eurosceptics, I do not claim this draft Constitution to be the Holy Grail or the Second Coming, but it is a positive step forward for Europe and one that I will support.

I have many reasons for saying this, but time allows me to mention just one today. This Treaty brings the EU closer to its citizens. For example, a million citizens' signatures can prompt the Commission to draft a proposal. That is people power! Just imagine the possibilities: citizens from Latvia, Spain, Ireland or Sweden, for example, finding common cause and demanding action. Surely, that is the possibility of a citizens' Europe!

 
  
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  Smith, Alyn (Verts/ALE). Mr President, there are some things to admire in this Constitution but there are also many things to dislike. On balance my party has decided that it cannot recommend it to the people of Scotland, and accordingly will not be voting for the report.

We have a number of objections to the Constitution itself, but in the seconds remaining I will simply mention the inadequate subsidiarity provisions. Scotland is not independent yet, but the Scottish Parliament is already the only body responsible for justice, the environment, education, health and many other areas of Scottish life. The provisions in this Treaty for incorporating it into the EU law-making process are inadequate.

We have seen in the field of fisheries the disastrous consequences of EU legislation being inadequately sensitive to reality on the ground within the Member States or territories of the Union, and this Constitution will not sufficiently improve EU law-making for Scotland. More to the point, it does not take account of the dignity of my country. We cannot recommend it to the people of Scotland and will not be voting for it.

 
  
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  Sinnott (IND/DEM). Mr President, I am from a country with a constitution that enshrines the truth about fundamental human rights: the truth that they are part of human nature and essential to human dignity; the truth that a supreme being, not a mere human institution, gave these rights to us – all of us without exception. In Ireland we have had governments which have neglected or even denied our rights, but under the shelter of our constitution, even the most vulnerable of us can demand them.

The EU Constitution expounds the false position that the EU creates all rights, even fundamental rights. Here, the EU is not the guardian of rights, but the giver.

I would not dream of supporting this Constitution. It has not grasped the simple and important truth of fundamental human rights. History tells us that when human institutions become the giver of rights, rights become gifts. They can be bestowed selectively, denied, or even take back. I will support the truth that the fundamental rights of the human person are from God. I will defend the Irish constitution against usurpation.

 
  
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  Demetriou (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, first of all I believe that we need to express our gratitude to the members of the Convention on the Future of Europe who prepared this Constitution and, at the same time, to congratulate the heads of the Member States who signed the Constitution on 29 October 2004. Nor should we forget the chairman of the Convention, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, whom we need to thank.

I do not intend to repeat everything that has been said in favour of the Constitution or everything that has been written in the rapporteurs' report or everything said by the rapporteurs. I fully endorse everything that has been said and I congratulate them on the excellent report which they have submitted. I sincerely congratulate both Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigο.

Τhe text of the Constitution which we are debating is not by any means perfect, as everyone has said. However, it is the best which there could be under current political circumstances. It creates a more democratic and more operational Union and makes it more credible and valid both at home and abroad. The European Union is going down in global history as a union of states which aims to serve values. Man, the European citizen, the individual, stands at the epicentre of the constitutional arrangements. Humanitarian solidarity is also transferred to state level with the provision on the defence of a Member State in the event of attack against it. It is precisely this solidarity which I emphasise in the amendment which I have tabled and I call on you to vote for it.

The adoption of the Constitution for Europe is a huge step forward. It is a milestone on the road to the future. Those who do not believe in the European Union will naturally find clever legal excuses for political pretexts to deride the Constitution and they have every right to do so. However, they should respect one thing: that their governments, all the governments have signed this Constitution. That is why, irrespective of the reservations and the individual objections which we have, we all need to act and work for the approval of this Constitution, for its ratification by all the Member States

 
  
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  Pahor, (PSE). (SL) Supporting this truly excellent report gives the European Parliament both a great opportunity and a great responsibility to encourage our European fellow citizens to support the European Constitutional Treaty. Our message to the citizens whom we represent here is that the acceptance of the European Constitutional Treaty is a truly exceptional step forward in the development of our common European home and that it is indeed a prerequisite for its progress in all areas.

It is but a step from European diplomacy to European democracy. If the worst were to happen, and for these or other reasons the agreement were not to be ratified, this would not simply be a case of Europe running in place; it would be a significant and a dangerous step backwards.

It would endanger our efforts to bring about a future that seeks not only peace, but economic and social progress; a future in which a democratic Europe will remain an active and influential player on the international political stage.

Today, therefore, we have the opportunity to send out the encouraging message that the European Constitutional Treaty is of the utmost importance for a more democratic, a more successful and a more united community of citizens and states, a community that, for the first time in history, has peacefully brought together almost half a billion people and also has a place for smaller nations – such as my own country, Slovenia – enabling them to develop their identity and, in an environment of diversity, to join forces with others to achieve our collective goals for building our European future together.

 
  
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  Wallis (ALDE). Mr President, I also wish to congratulate the rapporteurs. However, I would like to ask for more noise and excitement over the small clause, under 'participatory democracy', that deals with the citizens' right of initiative. This, above all, makes a reality of bringing Europe closer to its citizens. It builds on the right to petition, but much more than that it is a positive right that allows our citizens to begin to set the agenda.

In my own country, in comparison, citizens have no right of initiative, petitions languish on shelves, legislative initiatives rely on parliamentarians winning a ballot – it is a sort of game of chance – and even then the initiative will probably be talked out by colleagues, with the citizens having no real place. I am very proud that this nascent EU right offers much more: a real opportunity for our citizens to participate in and to move Europe. Let us therefore have a loud fanfare for this step towards direct democracy, European-style.

 
  
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  Wierzejski (IND/DEM).   (PL) Mr President, we are all aware that the Constitutional Treaty is bad news. It is legal nonsense, it is overly complex and it is riddled with ideology. The thick tomes of several hundred pages are incomprehensible to the average citizen of an EU Member State. They are written in the spirit of the French Revolution – an enlightened, revolutionary and secular spirit. There is no room in the Treaty for God or traditional, European, Christian, Roman, Greek and Latin values. There is no room either for the values that are dear to us, such as the nation, the family, human life, faith and traditions. These values have been replaced by secular, socialist, stupid and bizarre values, such as the worship of Mother Earth, or rather Gaia, rights for homosexuals and power for Brussels bureaucrats. This is something we cannot consent to and never will.

The report we are debating is misleading, biased and deceptive. It is pure propaganda, and only has positive things to say about the Treaty. Where is the truth in all of this? You should be ashamed of yourselves! A biased report full of propaganda has been produced and distributed at the expense of the citizens of the Member States, and it is a stain on the conscience of the European Parliament. We should be ashamed of ourselves. The revolution must truly have gone a long way for the truth to be abused in such a fashion. Fortunately, Poland will reject this Treaty, and I hope other countries will follow suit. The League of Polish Families and the Independence and Democracy Group will vote against the report. ‘No’ to the Constitutional Treaty!

(Applause)

 
  
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  Schwab (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, I should like to begin by saying that I cannot agree with the previous speaker. I should like to express my sincere thanks to all the members of the European Convention. The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats made a particularly valuable contribution to this Convention, something which as a young MEP I was particularly glad to see. Mr Teufel, Mr Brok and Mr Wuermeling are names that deserve mention in this connection, but I should like to thank each and every one of the participants for the work they carried out during a period of such crucial importance for the future of Europe.

I found it all the more regrettable that the Council, not long after the Convention had completed its democratic work, used an urgent procedure to revise its outcome to bring it into line with its wishes. It is unfortunate that the democratic nature of the Convention’s work was somewhat tarnished as a result of this. Nevertheless, I support the Constitution and do not believe that it requires detailed explanations, as the previous speaker said, but that it creates a clear, transparent and more citizen-friendly Europe.

If I may go into detail on one point, I believe that one aspect of the Constitution which represents major progress is the fact that cooperation between the European Parliament, on the one hand, and the national parliaments, on the other, will improve our contacts with the national parliaments, and enable us to gain a more detailed idea of how the legislation for which we often merely lay down the framework is transposed directly in the nation states. Particularly helpful in this regard is the fact that we have a clear delineation of competences between national and European levels, and the early-warning system for subsidiarity monitoring will also have a positive impact.

I therefore hope that regulation of a clearer and more transparent structure of competences, and the early-warning system for subsidiarity monitoring, will allow us to achieve more effective and better cooperation with our national colleagues, in order to make legislation in Europe even more transparent.

 
  
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  Carnero González (PSE). (ES) Mr President, any community in which the separation of powers is not stipulated and the security of rights is not guaranteed needs a Constitution. That was stated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789.

We have wished to follow the path which more than two centuries ago led to the freedom of people and peoples and, therefore, through this Constitution we will have more and better Europe. Thanks in particular to the work of the Convention and, finally, to the agreement of the Intergovernmental Conference, we will have a Constitution which will represent a legal recasting and, above all, a political relaunch of the Union, and, as a result, the Union will be able to respond to the three great challenges of the twenty-first century: to intervene in globalisation in order to make it more democratic, to contribute to the construction of a fair and democratic international order and, of course, to respond to people’s demands.

Through this Constitution we are restoring the impetus of the Maastricht Treaty, we are overcoming the failure of the Treaty of Nice and we are bringing enlargement and further Europeanisation together, in real time.

Naturally, through this Constitution, the Union will have more legitimacy, more values, more rights, more democracy and more efficiency in terms of the Common Foreign and Security Policy; the European Security and Defence Policy; the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice; and also social Europe. I would like to stress the support of the European Confederation of Trade Unions for the European Constitution, which I believe to be truly essential and fundamental.

This Constitution will have to be improved and, of course, applied and developed ambitiously when the time comes. No Constitution is perfect, but no Constitution can be improved unless it enters into force. We must therefore achieve its ratification on time and correctly. And we will do all of this with sufficient majorities to continue moving forward.

This is a citizen’s Constitution which must be perceived as such. In Spain, on 20 February, we have a date with a referendum, with two good friends: a Constitution and Europe. We will be there.

 
  
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  Ludford (ALDE). Mr President, we face many myths and red herrings as we try to promote the debate on the EU Constitution. Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo have done an excellent job in their clear and straightforward explanation and advocacy of its merits. Mr Corbett, I shall probably borrow your wording for a pamphlet in my constituency, but this is in a common good cause.

One of the red herrings put around is whether to call the document a 'Constitutional Treaty' or a 'constitution', but, as the authors say, this is a sterile debate. It is a treaty in form, but a constitution in substance. Why are so many people, at least in my own country, Britain, so frightened of the word constitution? Every club, every society has one. In fact the UK itself has one, even though it has never been written down all in one place – unfortunately!

The greatest benefits of the new Constitution are that, on the one hand, it constrains the EU, but on the other, it liberates it. The powers of the European Union will be constrained by strengthened rules on limits to competence, on parliamentary scrutiny, on democratic accountability and the definition of citizens' rights vis-à-vis the administration. But the Union will also be freed up to act more effectively on the domestic and external challenges we face. Domestically, this is most striking in the case of justice and home affairs. We will be able to act more decisively to manage our borders and immigration and to tackle serious crime, as our citizens want us to do.

We will also be able to act more effectively abroad. What an impact it would have made on our public opinion, as well as on the disaster effort, if it had been, for example, a French aircraft carrier with German helicopters and British marines assisting in Aceh in Indonesia, and not just American ones.

Some claim to see in the Charter of Fundamental Rights – which will become legally binding – a threat. I see it as an opportunity. The anti-Europeans have to understand that it will sometimes act in the sense of constraining the EU institutions and giving redress against abuse of powers by them. There is therefore no reason for people to fear and every reason to welcome the Constitution – and indeed this report.

 
  
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  Sudre (PPE-DE). (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the draft European Constitution makes the European citizen a major player in the construction of a united Europe. The draft Constitution will be subject to the approval of our countries. Hungary and Lithuania have already said yes to it, and that is something about which we are delighted.

In the form of a single document that is more easily readable than the current treaties, the Constitution reaffirms the double legitimacy of a Union of states and of citizens. The Council of Ministers will reach its decisions on a qualified majority basis in a greater number of areas. The Presidency of the European Council will be stabilised with a two-and-a-half-year term of office. The Commission will see the number of its members reduced and its coordination strengthened. Externally, the appointment of a European Foreign Minister will finally enable Europe to speak with a single voice outside our common borders. The drama of the tidal wave in South-East Asia illustrates once again the importance of such visibility and of the increased coordination of European action in the world.

The President-in-Office of the Council, together with the Commissioner, have detailed the democratic progress represented by the draft European Constitution. The Constitution will also enable Europeans overseas to assert their particular assets and to contribute to the emergence of an active new European frontier, a showcase for progress in solidarity and diversity.

Europeans have everything to gain from approving the ratification of the European Constitution. They will become its major proponents and enable the European Union to function better and with more clarity and transparency, while at the same time establishing a balanced and stable distribution of powers at the different levels of decision-making: European, national and regional.

 
  
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  Hutchinson (PSE). (FR) Mr President, following the example of our group, the Belgian Socialist delegation will vote in favour of this report, which gives its support to a document that constitutes an important stage on the road to European integration.

Parliament’s decision will be crucial, democratically and politically, to the debates that will be conducted within the framework of the processes of ratification.

Our own decision will be one in favour, even though our ‘yes’ vote will be designed to ring up the curtain, not to ring it down. In other words, it will be a combative ‘yes’, which should signal a beginning and not an end. It will be a decision in the affirmative because, as many of us have pointed out, this Treaty presents significant advances. How, indeed, can there not be delight about the fact that the Constitutional Treaty grants our Parliament new and increased powers, thereby imposing a democratic debate within the only European institution endowed with the legitimacy of universal suffrage? How, too, can there not be agreement to integrating the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the body of the Constitutional Treaty? Our decision will be ‘yes’, but a ‘yes’ designed to start the ball rolling and with a price attached.

When it comes to decisions taken by the Council of Ministers, it will not have escaped the attentive reader that, although the double majority rule has been extended, the unanimity rule has been maintained for a number of crucial decisions, including those relating to the social sphere and to taxation. In the same way, a number of us are alarmed that a Constitution should include, embedded within its wording, a part that is programmatic in nature and with which we cannot all agree.

The document is not perfect. It will be difficult to progress matters in certain social or fiscal areas, but no more difficult than at present. What is important is to become aware of the fact that this Constitution is only a stage in European integration. It is meaningful only if it heralds an ambitious future project in which all European citizens, beginning with the least affluent, can glimpse, and hope for, an improvement in their conditions of life. More than in terms of the Constitution, the EU will be judged in terms of the subsequent actions that it will, or will not, promote and in terms of the strength and political will with which it responds, or does not respond, to Europeans’ hopes of bringing about, or not bringing about, the social Europe, or the Europe of the people. For us, that must remain the priority.

 
  
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  Stubb (PPE-DE). Mr President, this is a day of celebration for Europe and for the European Parliament. It has taken over 20 years to construct this Constitution but we are getting very close.

I will vote for this report and for the Constitution for three simple reasons. Firstly, this Constitution was prepared in an open and democratic way. I have been a civil servant for ten years and I have been involved in negotiating three intergovernmental conferences, including the Amsterdam Treaty, the Nice Treaty and this one. I can guarantee that had this been an intergovernmental conference from beginning to end, we would never have had this Constitution. But because we had a Convention, we most certainly got one.

Secondly, this Constitution is a good thing. There are 448 reasons for it, all of which are in the Treaty as articles. There are three key issues: firstly, it makes the European Union more democratic; secondly, it makes it more effective and, thirdly, it makes it much more understandable.

Thirdly, I will vote for this report because it is very good. I urge anyone who has not read it from beginning to end to have a look at it, because it simplifies and clarifies the Treaty in a magnificent way. I wish to congratulate Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo, who are both at present speaking on their mobile phones – I hope they are Nokias! – on their excellent report.

If I were to bring up just one thing from the Treaty, it would be on external relations. Just reflecting on what happened in Asia, if we had had a president, a foreign minister, a common security policy, a defence system, a better crisis management system, then together we would have got much further.

Finally, I would urge each and every Member to go home and defend this Treaty. That is most certainly what I will do.

 
  
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  Beňová (PSE). (SK) Mr President, Commissioner Wallström, honoured guests in the gallery, ladies and gentlemen. Today’s debate is in my view the most important debate not only of this session but in the history of the Union as a whole. The Constitutional Treaty is a historic milestone and a particularly emancipating moment for the European Community.

The very fact that, in this plenary session, there are representatives of twenty-five nation-states holding discussions in their own languages is clear proof of an ability to coexist in equality and to respect common values. On 1 May of last year, you welcomed us, or the great majority of us, here together, and we, or the great majority of us, felt sincerely honoured. Today, we are all deciding together on the adoption of a common primary unified legal framework respecting just those values which have allowed us to enlarge your assembly.

I respect the fact that you waited for us and I personally feel honoured that I am able to cast my vote, because I perceive the Constitutional Treaty as an ethical and moral framework for Europeans, reinforcing our common historical identity, but I also respect the position of individual nation-states and the patriotism of their citizens. What more important document could we give our citizens? Indeed, through the Constitution we are also strengthening their influence on political decision-making and making it possible for them to exert closer control.

I have listened carefully to the reservations of the opponents and I should like to say most sincerely that the Constitution is a compromise, but the adoption of compromises is a great feature of all sensible, responsible and tolerant people. The European Constitutional Treaty opens up new horizons for us and also significantly emancipates the European Union within the framework of international politics. I believe that, by voting for the Constitutional Treaty, we are sending a clear and positive signal not only to the citizens of the nation-states within Europe, but also to the whole world, a signal of our resolve to live together in peace and solidarity.

 
  
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  Andrikienė (PPE-DE).(LT) In this Parliament I represent citizens of a state, which has already ratified the European Union Constitution. On 11 November last year, barely two weeks after its signing in Rome, Lithuania ratified this document, the first European Union Member State to do so. It is true, the decision was made not in a citizens' referendum, but in one of the last sittings of Parliament before the end of its term. It is also true that the European Union Constitution was ratified in Lithuania without comprehensive discussions on the provisions of this document, which ought to be known by, or at least familiar to Lithuania's citizens, above all so that they are able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the European Union Constitution. Why do I believe that it is necessary to vote for the ratification of this Constitution in the European Parliament?

Firstly. Yes, until 2009 we can live according to the Treaty of Nice, but it has been clear for a while that the enlarged European Union cannot work effectively without necessary institutional changes, without a new and effective division of function responsibilities amongst the institutions of the European Union, as well as amongst the European Union and Member States, amongst the European Parliament and national parliaments. The European Union cannot work well without an effective mechanism for the enactment of resolutions, without more active participation by citizens, and without clear and transparent accountability to citizens. This is as obvious as what is written in the motto of the report by Mr Méndez de Vigo and Mr Corbett – a grown man cannot wear children's clothes which he grew out of long ago.

Secondly. The European Union is striving to become one of the most competitive regions with the most dynamic development in the world. I believe that while striving for this goal it is important not only to properly set out the priorities of European Union expansion and to ensure that these receive the necessary funding, but also to see that there is order in the European Union above all from the standpoint of its institutions.

I am about to finish, Mr President. I would also like a provision about the Christian roots of the European Union to be included in the preamble of the European Union Constitution. Despite the fact that there is no such provision, I will vote for the ratification of this document which is imperfect, but sufficiently good. Thank you.

 
  
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  Rouček (PSE). (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the European Constitutional Treaty is another important step in the development of European integration. It creates the prerequisites for the European Union, following enlargement, to be able to act as a decisive factor in European development, and, of course, for it also to be able effectively to influence developments in the world.

I see the benefit of the European Constitutional Treaty as being, among other things, that it brings the EU closer to its citizens, extends the rights of EU citizens, enshrines the Charter of Fundamental Rights in primary law, simplifies the legal system and replaces the main European Treaties currently in force with a single text. The Constitution also reinforces the democratic nature of the Union and strengthens the role of the European Parliament and that of parliaments in the Member States. It creates the conditions for effective decision-making by the European Union, and also clarifies the powers of the European Union with respect to the Member States. In addition, it strengthens the EU’s ability to act as a cohesive and unified power in the international community, which is very important in the light of the events in South-East Asia.

For all these and many other reasons, which are too numerous to mention here, social democracies, including the Czech social democracy which I represent here, unequivocally support the draft Constitutional Treaty. As regards my home country, the Czech Republic, the situation with respect to ratification of the European Constitution is not going to be simple. The European Constitution is opposed not only by the communists, but also by the conservative right, represented here in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats.

I should therefore like to invite Mr Poettering and the other leaders of the Group of the European People’s Party, for example Mr Karas, whom I can see in the Chamber, to come to the Czech Republic and urge the pro-European Czech forces to ratify the European Constitution. The Civic Democratic Party, which you have accepted into your ranks, will not do this work for you. I thank you.

 
  
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  Esteves (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the real world in which we live is far from being a fair world and changes are therefore required to traditional political models.

What is new and fascinating in the European Constitution is the connection between the recognition of a common system of values, democratic values and human rights, and the recognition of a common system of authority. This notable connection between a project of justice and a method of political sharing is exactly how the great philosopher Immanuel Kant envisaged it.

The European Constitution is therefore an act of both political transformation and moral transformation. This is because, rather than merely recognising common fundamental values, it was decided to share those values in legislative acts; because the Constitution prioritises norms over permanent negotiation; because it affirms the sovereignty of acts and the inalienable dignity of man as a reason for, and an objective of, European policies; because it articulates a programme of global justice that transcends national interests and complements the effectiveness of Member States’ internal constitutions; because it brings together modern European political identity in a system of universal values incorporating all of the other identities; because it represents the sense of belonging to a cosmopolitan and anthropocentric world; because it is the starting point for a league of nations in a more rational and more balanced world; because it is the constitutional homeland with which all homelands identify in this Europe, with a view to creating a new Europe.

I am sending a letter today to the President of Parliament and to you, Commissioner for institutional relations, suggesting that we set up a TV station constantly broadcasting the work of Parliament and the Council’s future public works to all EU countries.

Lastly, I wish to pay tribute to the rapporteurs, Mr Méndez de Vigo and Mr Corbett.

 
  
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  Kristensen (PSE). (DA) Mr President, the decisions made by the Heads of State or Government at the Laeken Summit have proved to be of still greater significance than anyone had foreseen at that time. The whole of today’s debate has shown this quite clearly. What was it that drove the Heads of State or Government at the Laeken Summit? It was, in reality, two things. Firstly, they wanted an EU that functioned more efficiently and, secondly, they wanted an EU that could ensure that we too could operate once enlargement had become a reality. Whenever we have altered the methods of European cooperation, this has normally happened as a sealed-off process behind closed doors, following which the population of Europe has woken up one morning to find that leading politicians have once more changed the conditions of cooperation. That was not, however, the way in which matters proceeded this time. A Convention was set up, in which I myself had the pleasure of participating. I think the Convention did some exciting work, but it also set a new objective for how we are to effect changes in Europe in the future. In future, changes are to be made as part of an open process.

We are now, therefore, presented with a new draft Constitutional Treaty which we need to discuss with the people. That being said, the following are crucial points I should like to emphasise. Firstly, an integral feature of the new Constitutional Treaty is that it provides us with values concerning not merely democracy and human rights, but also the environment and social responsibility. Secondly, the new Constitutional Treaty provides us with an assurance that the principles of openness and democracy, which a modern-day form of cooperation can be expected to respect, are also applied in European cooperation. As a Member of the Council of Ministers, I have often wondered at the fact that the population of Europe was not to know how I voted as a minister when we reached the point of taking decisions. Now, we are acquiring a modern, and open, Constitutional Treaty. Finally, we are ensuring that, via the European Parliament, the elected representatives of the people are given greater influence. All in all, it is a good product that we have debated today and that we are to recommend to the population of Europe.

 
  
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  Dionisi (PPE-DE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the challenge that Europe must face over the coming months is vital for European integration. Citizens and members of parliaments all across the continent are being called on to adopt a single fundamental Charter which sanctions and strengthens the values upon which this Union is founded: peace, prosperity, democracy, justice, freedom and solidarity.

The new Constitutional Treaty is certainly not everything we had hoped it would be, but its very existence constitutes an unprecedented political and historical event, which was inconceivable until a few years ago.

The text we are to adopt strengthens the democratic legitimacy of the European Institutions and brings them closer to the 450 million men and women who belong to the Union. Indeed, the Constitution confers greater powers on national parliaments and on the European Parliament, in both legislative and political terms: our citizens will also have a greater say in the democratic process thanks to the closer bond between Community institutions and local communities, the social partners and associations.

Our duty, as elected representatives, is to make this participation real, productive and tangible. Europe will thereby consolidate its role as a global player.

This is the main challenge: it is our duty and responsibility to build a Union which can speak with one voice on international issues. Lastly, cultural identity: despite our regret that there is no reference to the Christian roots upon which our Union is undeniably founded, we, as representatives of the Union of Christian Democrats, strenuously support ratification of this text.

The Italian Parliament will ratify the Treaty in the coming weeks; it will be a positive vote, a vote of encouragement for other countries where the value of Europe is not felt as deeply as it is in Italy. Our country, our government, our party – preserving the legacy of those men who left their mark on and founded Europe – will contribute towards a positive outcome of the ratification process, in order to give full effect to the ideals in which we Christian Democrats have always believed.

 
  
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  De Rossa (PSE). Mr President, I wish to begin by congratulating the rapporteurs on this report, which adds clarity and weight to the debate. I was one of the 200 parliamentarians who participated in the Convention and produced the Convention text, which the IGC subsequently took on board to a very large degree.

I doubt whether any Member State constitution has ever been prepared in such an open and democratic way. I doubt that there is a constitution in any of the Member States which achieved the kind of consensus that the Convention achieved. Of the 200 parliamentarians participating in that Convention, only eight signed an alternative text, basically arguing for the disintegration of Europe. We have heard that case being put here this morning, with Mr Allister of Northern Ireland arguing for a reversion to 19th century absolute sovereignty. If Sinn Féin had participated in the debate this morning they would – although they are the direct political opposites in Northern Ireland – have been making exactly the same case. Perhaps it is a kind of progress that they agree on 19th century absolute sovereignty, although it is unfortunate that they continue to fall out over the outcome of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690!

The fact is that this is a world in which the response to natural disasters and to man-made problems clearly requires transnational governance. Uniquely in the world, Europe is developing a democratic form of transnational governance. This Constitution will give us more democracy, more rights and more potential for a prosperous society in Europe, and indeed for solidarity with the rest of the world.

To conclude, those outcomes will not happen of their own accord. We have to work for them, using this Constitution as the basis for our work.

 
  
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  Rack (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, 2004 was a particularly noteworthy year in the history of European integration, and it had both high and low points. There can be no doubt that the high points included the enlargement of the Community from 15 to 25 Member States, and the indications given in December 2004 that further enlargements would follow. Another high point was the signing of the Constitution on 29 October in Rome. It is generally acknowledged, however, that the European elections were a low point, both in terms of their date and their outcome.

Turnout for the European elections was lower than ever before, and further evidence for this can be seen in the fragmentation the results caused in this House. Proof of this fragmentation can be found not least in the many colourful flags I see around me, and by no means only in front of the building.

In 2005, therefore, we must ensure that the public become involved again in the European project, and I do not believe that to be actually such a hard task. It is, however, an issue of communication. The product we have – the new European Constitution – is a very good one, and we must win people over to it. We do not need propaganda campaigns; instead, we need reliable information, in particular with regard to claims that the Constitution will benefit people. We should not promise people the moon, but tell them what benefits the Constitution will and can bring.

Mr Méndez de Vigo and Mr Corbett have summarised this in four key points. The Constitution will bring greater clarity and greater effectiveness to the European Union, as well as more democracy and accountability and more rights for citizens by means of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Providing information is not the same thing as refraining from criticism, but the first task for such criticism must be to make it clear that our product is, in principle, a good one.

Finally, it has repeatedly been claimed that the public is not interested in a Constitution. When we held a publicity event at the University of Graz, however, the Constitution met with more interest than toadstools or dream interpretation. This should be an incentive for us to promote the Constitution to the public.

 
  
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  Bresso (PSE). (IT) Mr President, I would like to declare that the Italian socialist delegation will be voting for the Corbett-Méndez de Vigo draft report, and I would extend my congratulations to the rapporteurs on the quality of the report, in particular the explanatory statement.

Today the European Parliament has certainly reached an historic milestone, which brings to mind 14 February 1984 when Altiero Spinelli’s draft Treaty, of which the Constitution is in some ways the ideal continuation, was adopted.

It matters little if in strictly legal terms the text is a treaty, but what does matter is the substance: today we are all prepared to call it the Constitution, a term which until just a few years ago was often considered unmentionable. Those like Altiero Spinelli and the Federalist Movement, to which I am honoured to belong, who believed and still believe that it is vital to create a true federal state with few but essential competences that will ensure a role for the European Union in the world, would have wished for a bolder text. Nevertheless, this Constitution contains in essence certain fundamental passages which constitute a stable, lasting framework, on the basis of which we must now move forward so that the Union can effectively do what its citizens expect.

I will only quote a few examples which I consider to be a priority and which in certain cases arise from the link with my region, a cross-border region. Firstly, I would like to mention the establishment of the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is the European Union’s voice on the international stage and who guides its foreign policy. The procedures which make him, as a member of the Commission, accountable to Parliament are a prerequisite for the existence of a foreign policy. Following the many – too many – conflicts which have characterised recent years, the citizens of Europe are asking us and themselves what Europe is doing.

Secondly, the EU must be a model of development, a tangible testament to the fact that it is possible to combine development and solidarity. Lastly, I would like to point out that the principle of subsidiarity is now a constitutional principle and this strengthens and guarantees it. That is another reason why I believe we must vote for this report.

 
  
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  Busuttil (PPE-DE). (MT) I support this constitution, however, in my opinion, it is a good thing that in this Parliament we have Members that are against it. Let me say why this is so. Not because I agree with the arguments that they are putting forward, on the contrary I think that many of their arguments are based on mistaken, or even false premises. But because without anyone opposing it, we will end up having a monotonous debate where everyone would be in favour and where we would have a lack of objective analysis. There is no better way by which one can win an argument about Europe as when one has the courage to compare the arguments in favour with those against. We have to take seriously the arguments of whoever is against and treat them with respect. But we should not be afraid or run away from the arguments of whoever is against, let alone ignore them.

We should not expect to win the argument if we do not expose ourselves to an open debate, otherwise we will end up saying that we have won the game when in fact only one team would have come to play. After all, when one compares the arguments in favour of this constitution with the arguments against, one will not take long to conclude that the constitution has much more that is good in it than bad and it merits the support of the European citizens. There is no doubt that if we explain to the people what the constitution means, the people will be more in favour than against it, because they understand how logical is the unification of Europe, that it makes sense and that it is in their interest. Therefore it is of utmost importance that whoever is in this room, whoever in this Parliament is in favour of this constitution, has to commit himself or herself directly with the people to see that they understand it and support it. This support will be based on the comparison of the arguments and therefore it will be on a more open, more balanced and a more democratic debate.

 
  
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  Reynaud (PSE). (FR) Mr President, a Constitution for Europe is necessary: it is a democratic requirement. Profoundly attached to the unity of the party, the French Socialists will conduct the national debate without in any way giving up our progressive values and ideas. I consider that approval of the report is the condition for establishing Parliament’s authority in respect of the Constitutional Treaty, but I am sorry that amendments tabled by a number of us have been rejected.

Nonetheless, we shall be part of this long and treacherous process that is the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty. We state that this Constitutional Treaty is stable but capable of being modified. That is the case with all constitutions, and with this Treaty no less than with others. We also regret the fact that a large majority of the opinions issued by other parliamentary committees that have identified a host of shortcomings in the Constitutional Treaty have been left out of this report. We are also keen to state clearly that a special unit, established under the Dutch Presidency, will continue with its work under the future Presidencies and will carefully scrutinise all the possible consequences of the Constitution’s being rejected.

I want Parliament, legitimised in its role following this vote, to get to grips with the difficulties of implementing the Constitutional Treaty and to use its parliamentary right of initiative. That is what we are called upon to do, and it is what Amendment No 17 is all about.

Yes, it is incumbent upon ourselves as MEPs and elected representatives of the European people to take a proactive role in implementing the Constitutional Treaty, which governs the corporate life of more than 450 million Europeans. The difficulties revealed by the opinions of the other committees will resurface sooner or later. We must therefore be prepared to correct the imperfections bequeathed by the Intergovernmental Conference when it altered the delicate balance achieved wisely and equitably by the Convention.

Let us prepare ourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for a new round. It is, indeed, going to be necessary to defend our popular legitimacy in respect of the Constitutional Treaty, whose shortcomings we have an absolute duty to correct when the time is right. A number of my colleagues in the French delegation will abstain from voting on this report.

 
  
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  Van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). (NL) Mr President, this Constitutional Treaty is worth upholding. As a Christian Democrat, I am pleased that the subsidiarity principle has just been further worked out, deepened and anchored. The European Union has now also recognised and enshrined the task of the regional dimension, namely local and regional authorities.

There is a need for a better balance to be struck between what happens at the centre and away from it, in Brussels, in the nation states and in regions and municipalities. As a governor at regional level, I noticed for years that EU information remained at Council level for too long and that regions and towns were involved in the debate and decision-making too late.

As a representative of the European organisations, I was also able to attend hearings of the Convention, particularly those about subsidiarity. The Treaty text reinforces the position of regions and towns, which are close to the citizens and where important tasks are carried out in many areas.

In that way, the democratic loophole, which Mr Prodi mentioned in his report on good governance, is closed once more. It is an important step that the European Parliament supports this and remains critical about the way in which this Treaty will be fleshed out at local or regional level in the next few years.

I would also suggest that we in this House from time to time ask the Council and the Committee of the Regions whether, among other things, our national states have now learned to communicate openly about European policy, and whether, in the subsidiarity test, national parliaments take the opinions of regions and towns into consideration.

I know that the Committee of the Regions is developing a similar test. In short, this Treaty is well worth upholding. Consequently, we will labour for this cause at national level, certainly if referendums are on the agenda.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR SARYUSZ-WOLSKI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Lambrinidis (PSE).(EL) Mr President, the major risks from this Constitution are three in number. The first is, are we to become a federation, a federation both on foreign affairs and in defence and elsewhere, or are we to be a Europe of a loose federation of dissimilar partners, especially after enlargement?

The second is, are we to be a Europe of social awareness or are we to be a Europe of the open, uncontrolled market?

The third is, are we to be a Europe without a democratic deficit, with power in the hands of the citizens, or are we to be a Europe in which European elections are held and we have abstentions of 70, 60 or 50%?

In my opinion, this Constitution answers all these questions most positively, in all events much more positively than they are addressed under current treaties. Anyone against this Constitution, allegedly for reasons of social sensitivity, needs to answer the question of whether the existing treaties help the poor and the weak in Europe more than this Constitution helps them. Allow me an element of minor national pride as a Greek and as a socialist: it was during the Greek Presidency, in June 2003, that the initial negotiations on this Constitution were concluded, and I am proud of that.

Of course, it now remains to be applied and this is where the MEPs and the governments have a huge responsibility. We need to ensure that the seeds of social awareness sown in the Constitution do not remain pretty words and are put into practice. The famous social mainstreaming clause setting out the Union's obligation to ensure that its every policy promotes the objectives of high employment, environmental protection, public health, education and equality between men and women can only be applied under good laws. Similarly, I must tell you that, for any MEPs striving for a socially fairer Europe, this is a particularly painstaking and particularly welcome challenge.

 
  
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  Brejc, Mihael (PPE-DE). (SL) For many people, the institutions in Brussels seem remote. They see them as centres of power where decisions are made over which they have no influence. The Constitutional Treaty is not a miracle cure for all the problems of the European Union, but it is an opportunity to reduce democratic shortcomings and to speed up Europe's development.

Why? Because it replaces numerous agreements and amendments, thereby reducing the lack of transparency in key European Union documents; because in a single document it brings together the key constitutional and legal foundations and policies of the European Union; because it is the basis for more effective functioning of European institutions; because it contributes to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy; because it removes the problems that would arise were the current agreements to continue to be used in the future.

The Constitutional Treaty is a compromise that does not completely satisfy anyone, but it nonetheless most represents what we have been able to achieve in the convention. We need the Constitutional Treaty because without it we cannot expect any effective reforms or effective functioning in the enlarged Europe. Although the chapter on policies has frequently been criticised, as a shadow rapporteur I must express my satisfaction that in the area of social policy and employment very concrete commitments have been set out for the Commission and the governments of the Member States, including the establishment of a Committee for Social Protection and European Social Harmony. By accepting the report on the Constitutional Treaty, the European Parliament is sending a clear signal to the people of Europe that the time has come for a transparent and wholesale rearrangement of our constitutional and legal foundations, thereby ensuring that Europe becomes a continent of peace, prosperity, solidarity and security.

Finally I should mention that the Slovenian parliament will ratify the Constitutional Treaty this month. I am convinced that it will do so by a large majority.

 
  
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  Záborská (PPE-DE). (SK) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I reject totalitarian regimes. My grandmother’s family died in the Nazi gas chambers. My father was incarcerated by the communist regime. We have paid in blood for our commitment to the freedom of conscience, which was embodied for us by Europe as a hope for democracy, freedom of thought, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

I believe that none of you would consider me to be anti-European if I were to pose a few questions. Why is the European Parliament pronouncing on the Constitutional Treaty before the citizens of the individual states? Do we need Europe to be governed by a constitution? The sovereignty of Member States should not be threatened. If, however, the Constitution strengthens the role of Parliament, but does not define the competences of the European Court of Justice, will the balance between institutions thus be upset? Decisions of the Court will be directly imposed on Union bodies and Member States without any right of appeal. The European Court of Justice will be free from any criticism.

Can we pretend that this will not happen? The draft Constitution contains no guarantees that the European Court of Justice will not appropriate some of the exclusive competences of the sovereign states, even contrary to national constitutions. Even if the majority in this Parliament changes after the elections and the composition of the Council changes, a double unanimity will be required in order to change policies. And I just wonder: will such a Union be capable of development if its direction is set by this Constitution? Our civilisation has developed from Christian roots. If the Constitution fails to acknowledge this historical fact, unrest will be introduced into the life of society. A new ideology will rise up under a mask of tolerance. Are we to build the European home on a distortion of history? Is it true that, without this Constitution, the concept of a united Europe will die? I think not. My voters have put their faith in me and I wish to proceed in Europe so that everyone, including the smallest, weakest and poorest, are accepted into it and can find their places in it. Ladies and gentlemen, in a democratic Europe, I ask that we respect the freedom of conscience when voting.

 
  
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  Lehtinen (PSE). (FI) Mr President, despite all the differences of opinion which the debate surrounding this issue has produced, we are once again making European history. As such, this Treaty is an important step in the right direction. I am certain that the founders of the movement for European integration would be proud and pleased if they were now witnessing just how many fundamental issues have resulted in such compromises that Parliament is now debating and voting on them.

It is unfortunate that in some countries the debate on the Treaty has been taken out of context and used to fuel an internal and party political row. The worst features of Europeanisation, intolerance and jingoism, are all too often visible and audible at such times, although attempts are made to conceal them in the form of lies disguised as loftier aspirations. When this Treaty has come into force, there is no chance that it will lead to the creation of a European superstate: on the contrary, its spirit and text will effectively block any self-seeking aspirations on the part of states, groups of states or extremist movements.

The Treaty will still allow the economy to play the role best suited to it in cooperation within the continent. The dynamics of mutual economic activity and the single monetary policy are also preconditions of political cooperation. Without democracy there is no social dimension, and there is no democracy without a market economy. I am also proud that in my own country, Finland, we have been able to agree that Parliament can decide on the ratification of the Treaty at national level.

 
  
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  Paleckis (PSE). – (LT) While approving the report submitted, I would like to reiterate once more that Lithuania, on the decision of its Parliament, was the first to ratify this Constitution. After the recent elections, Lithuania's social democrats, who were and remain in power, took an active part in the task of preparing the Constitutional Treaty. When countries were invited to set down in legal terms the things which after deliberation all generally agreed on, we did this without delay. We had good grounds for this. In a referendum held a year and a half ago, Lithuanians gave the clearest ‘Yes’ to European Union membership of all the new Members. Support in Lithuania for European Union membership continues to grow and has reached 82%. People see that the hopes associated with the European Union are being fulfilled, and so they want to strengthen it. The failure of a referendum on the Constitution in any country of the European Union would, I believe, be a painful blow to the hopes of the majority of Europeans, among them Lithuanians.

Today the European Union ship already contains 25 states, but is sailing with far too weak an engine for such a cargo – the Treaty of Nice. If it is not replaced with a much more powerful one – the engine of the Constitutional Treaty – our common ship will reduce speed and may begin to drift. With the old Nice engine we will never achieve the goals defined in the Lisbon strategy, and we will be unable to implement new neighbour policies effectively. This is particularly relevant to the new European Union countries.

A strong democratic European Union moving forward – this is essential, not just in the interest of our country. The Constitutional Treaty – no matter how complicated a compromise it might be – contributes to this. Lithuania ratified it with resolve, so that the energy and optimism of the new countries might be passed on to the European Union's old-timers. Thank you.

 
  
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  Wuermeling (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted that this substantial report by Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo has been tabled. As a former substitute member of the Convention, I must admit that I might recommend to some people that they read this report rather than the Constitution itself, as it is supremely readable and extremely convincing on the issue.

Today I should like to address my comments to those Members of this House who have taken a critical approach to the Constitution. They have warned against the creation of a European superstate and denounced shortcomings, and they have come out in opposition to mistakes made in the past. I believe we should make it very clear to them that this European Constitution is in fact a way of addressing these shortcomings.

The European Constitution remedies many of the problems that all of us have experienced with Europe as it exists today. It lays down a system of competences and grants national parliaments the right of participation, thus making Europe less centralist and less bureaucratic. The Constitution gives the European Parliament a full say, and Europe will therefore become more democratic than it has been to date. It also strengthens citizens’ rights, above all by means of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as citizens will be able to invoke the Constitution directly when appealing against European decisions. Finally, the Constitution provides this Europe of ours with a basis of values, and is thus a way of countering the technocratic approach to political problems. The Eurosceptics should therefore really be in favour of this Constitution, as it is the only way of changing the things we all wish to change.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Alexander Hamilton, one of the fathers of the American Constitution, whose picture can today be found on ten-dollar notes. As I look at the fathers and mothers of the European Constitution in this House, I hope that they will also be remembered as gratefully in 200 years’ time.

 
  
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  Mikko (PSE). (ET) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would first of all like to congratulate the rapporteurs on a very thorough report. This document summarises exceptionally well the most essential points of the European Constitution.

At the same time, I would like to see a slightly different emphasis regarding the publicising of the Constitution.

In its conclusions, today’s report concentrates on printed materials about the Constitution. However, public surveys and common logic tell us that European citizens primarily look for and receive information via television, including information about the EU.

Today’s report stresses the need to clearly distinguish every point in the Constitutional Treaty that differs from existing treaties. This, however, is more a topic for academic research rather than information to be relayed to every European citizen. The 300-page Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe is voluminous enough as it is, and consequently also more complex than the constitutions of the Member States.

There is no common European public opinion yet, but in my home country Estonia, for example, support for the EU has grown with every month since Estonia’s accession. At the same time support is falling in many Member States. Nevertheless, the same rule applies both in journalism and in public information throughout Europe: people must be given what they want.

In old and new Member States, in cities and in the country, people are primarily interested in what effect the European Constitution will have on their everyday life. I believe that in presenting the Constitution, we should concentrate on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. For instance, what does the right to good administration stipulated in the Charter mean for each citizen? To what extent will such a requirement force bureaucrats or politicians to justify their decisions, or to be open? Answers to questions such as these should be an integral part of public information about the Constitution.

Also, in conclusion, I would say that there can be no talk of informing the citizens of Europe if television is not included. The Parliament’s Directorate-General for Information should take this into account in its efforts to publicise the Constitution. I wish them and all the European television networks success in translating the Constitution’s complex wording into a palatable format for the public. Thank you.

 
  
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  Varvitsiotis (PPE-DE).(EL) Mr President, tomorrow's vote is of historic importance. The significant progress being made with the European Constitution and the advantages which derive from its positive provisions have already been presented both in the full report by my honourable friends Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo and today in this Chamber. As, therefore, almost all the issues have been exhausted, I shall confine myself to one vital problem.

A new marathon starts from tomorrow for ratification by the Member States. But what will happen if there is some problem with ratification by some Member State? The Constitution does not contain a specific provision to deal with this eventuality. Nonetheless, the declarations relating to the provisions of the Constitution state that, if two years after signature of the Constitution, 4/5 of the Member States have ratified the Constitution in question and one or more Member States are facing difficulties in connection with ratification, the matter will be submitted to the European Council. Do you, however, think that this arrangement is satisfactory? I believe that there should be a much clearer provision. Unfortunately, however, this arrangement also emerged from the series of compromises which were necessary in order for us to get where we are today. Therefore, it is not enough for us to talk and to support the ratification of the Constitution unreservedly. All the governments and all of us need to work to avoid such an unfortunate development if we want to enter a new era for our continent.

 
  
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  Sousa Pinto (PSE).(PT) Mr President, by adopting the report by Mr Corbett and Mr Mèndez de Vigo, Parliament will be making its last major contribution towards the adoption of a constitutional Treaty for Europe. The existence of such a Treaty will enshrine the historic transition from a Community of peoples and countries progressively united by ever-closer economic ties to an actual political Community united by the desire for a common future.

Fifty years of a policy of small, prudent steps has paved the way for a new reality based on shared values, civilised values that express a shared European identity based on peace, democracy, human rights and economic and social progress.

Europe is not being built at variance with the secular reality of the nations on our continent. Europe is founded upon the free and informed desire to ensure that the past does not repeat itself and to provide its peoples with guarantees that they will remain masters of their own destiny in a future laden with challenges.

The champions of sovereignty, who accuse Europe of eroding national sovereignty and who see in this Constitution their nightmare of a superstate coming true, are profoundly mistaken in their analysis. Economic, financial and technological globalisation, the current or potential emergence of new global, political and economic potentates, have forced Europe to seek responses at national level to defend, deepen and export the humanist project initiated in the last century by the post-war social state under the rule of law.

In a world that is characterised by uncertainty, disorder and deregulation, it is increasingly necessary for Europe to speak out and to play an active role, both for us and for those others who look to us to set an example and to take action on matters of major international importance. The champions of sovereignty are not the only opponents of this Treaty. Others have loudly criticised it for not going far enough, for the fact that results have been meagre or for its lack of ambition. Such people refuse to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made, because they persist with the pointless exercise of comparing the constitutional Treaty before us to the idealised versions of their dreams instead of comparing it to the current Treaties and the Nice process, in particular.

 
  
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  Nicholson (PPE-DE). Mr President, while the European Parliament has no formal role in the ratification procedure, I am pleased that, as the elected representatives of 25 Member States of the European Union, we are having this debate today, at a point in time when the ratification procedure has just got under way at parliamentary level and is just about to get under way at referendum level.

On the day when heads of state and government signed the Constitution in Rome, I happened to be in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I was privileged to participate in the opening of the House of Europe. That was the first opening of a House of Europe in one of the new Member States. It was followed by the opening in December of a House of Europe in Prague.

Procedures for establishing Houses of Europe in all Member States are under way. The principal function of these Houses of Europe is to bring the European Union closer to its citizens. They offer citizens a point of information that is centrally and visibly located in their own Member State. The concept offers education on the European Union and, by providing accommodation for the political groups, it ensures that the views of this Parliament can be conveyed to the citizens.

It is my belief that if the European Union is to work, we have to strengthen and deepen the relationships between this Parliament and the national parliaments. There is no other way in which we can achieve that cooperation in the longer term. It should not be an 'us and them' situation; it should be about everyone working together for the betterment of all people in the 25 Member States – or perhaps the 27 Member States, should that come about. That is the challenge for the future; that is the challenge that we, as democrats, have to take on board.

It takes two sides to make a debate. Because people do not necessarily agree with every word that others say, this does not mean that they have no right to say it. I believe in the rights of everyone, I believe in democracy. I believe that those who disagree with me have a right to their views. The majority will ultimately win, but those who disagree can make this a better debate, and they should be encouraged to do so and should not be disenfranchised from their position.

 
  
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  Obiols i Germà (PSE). (ES) Mr President, as this report demonstrates very well, there are three basic aspects to the draft Constitution: firstly, the Union’s values and objectives, the unity and equality of its peoples, as well as the protection of the diversity of its cultures, identities and languages; secondly, the rights, interests and duties of the citizens; and, thirdly, the rules for the institutions and for European political life.

The first two aspects – values and rights – define the European democracy we want, based on the diversity and freedom of the peoples, their progress and equality. The third aspect – this should be made clear: the rules of play – is the result of compromises between Left and Right, between federalists and intergovernmentalists; it should be made clear that it refers to those rules, not to the policies to be implemented.

In this respect, the Constitution is not a final destination, but a departure point, with a view to overcoming Europe’s socio-economic lethargy, its lack of capacity for innovation, research and development and its insufficient weight on the international stage.

We must move forward towards a European Government, moving beyond the currently predominant method of intergovernmental coordination with all its impotence, as demonstrated by the failure to implement the Lisbon strategy and the divisions over the invasion of Iraq.

With this view towards future progress, we shall call for a vote in favour of the European Constitution.

 
  
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  Jeggle (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, a long-standing dream of this Parliament, and one shared by many of Europe’s citizens, is becoming reality. We have worked long and hard for this Constitution, but we can be proud of what has now been achieved, and I should like to take this opportunity today to thank Mr Méndez de Vigo and Mr Corbett.

As shadow rapporteur for my group in the Committee on Agriculture, I can say that we are in favour of this draft Constitution, which undoubtedly represents a gain for the committee. When the common agricultural policy was established in 1958, this House was merely a consultative body, and it was only with the Treaty of Amsterdam that we were given the right of codecision in the fields of the environment, consumer protection and food safety. The democracy deficit, having persisted in spite of everything, will now be overcome by means of an extension of the codecision procedure to include all decisions of principle on agricultural policy.

There are however also negative sides to the Constitution. In future the Council will be able to take autonomous decisions on the setting of quotas, prices and quantitative restrictions, as the draft Constitution takes no account of the new goals of the common agricultural policy following the EU agricultural reform. This is a step backwards from the current situation, and it will mean much work for us in the future.

As a representative of the German Federal Land of Baden-Württemberg, too, I believe that a number of extremely important goals have been achieved; the national constitutions have been strengthened, regions and local authorities have been accorded greater significance, and the principle of subsidiarity has been adhered to. The draft Constitution lays the foundations for common economic activities, and we will gain a common basis of values shared by all of us, something I see as particularly important. We have before us a document which places an obligation on all those who bear responsibility for Europe.

 
  
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  Kreissl-Dörfler (PSE). (DE) Mr President, I am very much in favour of the European Constitution, and would like to congratulate the rapporteurs on their outstanding report. The Constitution, which above all strengthens the area of freedom, security and justice, marks a milestone on the road to a more secure and just Europe. We have taken a giant step towards a Europe of citizens with this Constitution, as by enshrining in it the Charter of Fundamental Rights, by EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and by simplified access to justice, citizens’ rights have been given an enormous boost. In addition, we now have increased opportunities to coordinate our efforts in the fight against such evils as crime, racism and xenophobia in Europe.

I welcome the fact that the members of the CSU in this House will vote in favour of this report. Unfortunately, many members of the CSU in the German Bundestag, which has yet to ratify the Treaty, appear to have no inkling of the significance and implications of the Constitution, as they have announced their intention to vote against it. This is yet another example of the double game which the CSU is so fond of playing, which involves being progressive here in Europe and flying the flag for the benefit of the outside world, but speaking out in opposition at home, just in case. This is, however, one of their traditions, for it was the CSU that, in 1949, voted against Germany’s Basic Law.

 
  
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  Novak (PPE-DE). (SL) Ladies and gentlemen: the trappings of the European Union have become too small, and no longer suit it in its new, expanded form. Therefore it is fitting that the new Constitution will replace agreements that are currently in force and will lead to more effective functioning of the European Union. It will also strengthen the role of the European Parliament and the national parliaments, and thereby the voice of the citizens of the European Union.

As a member of the Committee on Culture and Education, I particularly support the articles of the Constitution that relate to those areas. I believe that it is important that the preamble emphasises the significance of Europe's cultural tradition, Europe's humanistic legacy and the values that define the essence of Europe and its citizens. One of our greatest objectives is respect for our rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and concern for the protection and development of the European cultural legacy.

The Constitution guarantees freedom for art and science, the right to education and professional training, equal rights for men and women, and the right of the handicapped to be full members of society. Article 92 guarantees the safety of young people at work, and Article 93 states that the family should enjoy legal, economic and social security.

The articles as written form a good basis for their implementation, but in spite of this the European Union must do much more than simply accept and ratify the Constitution. Above all, it must create the conditions under which the family is recognised as something precious and young married couples have the opportunity to create and nurture a family. If we use immigration as the principal means of solving demographic problems, this will jeopardise our cultural legacy, the languages of Europe, our culture, our faith, the European Union and European civilisation in general – in short, all the values that we wish to preserve and strengthen through the Constitution. Because we in the 25 Member States have opted for this community, it is also fitting that we do everything we can to ensure that it functions as well and effectively as possible.

 
  
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  Moreno Sánchez (PSE). (ES) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteurs for their excellent work and express my full support for the report we are debating today.

Tomorrow this House will express its support for the text which concludes a process of creating a constitution which has been ongoing for several decades. However, our work cannot stop here. We still have to face the most difficult challenge: its approval and ratification by the European citizens. Without their support, the Constitution makes no sense.

As the honourable Members are well aware, we Spanish have a particular responsibility within this process, since the first referendum amongst European citizens will be held in my country on 20 February.

We all, therefore, have the responsibility of explaining the constitutional text to the European citizens, which in my case includes those Spaniards living outside of Spain and even outside of the European Union. I am, therefore, pleased that in my country the majority of political parties, unions and other representatives of civil society agree with us and are fully involved in this task of creating awareness of the content and scope of the Constitution, which is the only way to ensure broad participation and a positive response to this historic task.

 
  
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  Caspary (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, the road to this Constitutional Treaty was a long and rocky one, and a number of good proposals fell by the wayside. Now, though, we need this Constitution, and ratification by the Member States must progress quickly.

The founding fathers, including Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer, laid the foundations for the European house. Their successors built the walls, bought the shelves and filled these shelves with files. The contents of this house are now piling up to the roof, and we face the immense task of clearing out this house and making it fit for the future. This is what the European Constitution will help us to do, and it represents a compromise which will mean greater openness and tangible improvements for the European public.

Existing Community legislation will be set out in a Treaty, which will make Europe easier to understand. The common trade policy will play an exemplary role in future in representing our internal market to the outside world, and the enlarged Union’s capacity to act will be strengthened by a smaller Commission and by a new EU Foreign Minister. Citizens will gain more rights, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as drafted by Roman Herzog, will be enshrined in the Constitution. The European Parliament’s role will be strengthened; it will elect the President of the Commission. It is to be hoped that in future leading politicians from European parties will stand for this post.

The Constitutional Convention allowed us too to bring our influence to bear on the Constitution, and Europe will not become a centralist monster state, but will instead be constructed according to the principle of subsidiarity. The characteristic approach and principles of the largest group in this House, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, can also be seen in the Constitution, although unfortunately we did not succeed in pushing through all of our amendments, for some of which we fought bitterly. To give but two examples, I regret deeply that no reference to God has been included, and that the formulas for qualified majority voting in the Council are so complicated.

I would however hope for all our sakes that this Convention is a foundation upon which we can continue to build Europe, and that this Europe will be one of peace, freedom and prosperity.

 
  
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  Pīks (PPE-DE). (LV) – Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should first like to express my gratitude towards the honourable Members Mr de Vigo and Mr Corbett for an excellently prepared document, quite simply it is clear and highlights the most significant issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, the drafting of the Constitution is in line with the situation which has developed historically in modern-day Europe and which currently exists in the world. Irrespective of our will, globalisation processes are occurring throughout the world, but initially in goods and capital movements, that is to say, in the realm of material values. The exchange of spiritual and moral values is taking place far more slowly. I believe that one of the reasons for conflicts in many places throughout the world today is largely due to the great disproportion and imbalance between the global exchange of material and spiritual values. The new Constitutional Treaty is a step towards reducing this disproportion. This Treaty will not only help us understand more clearly who we are and where we are going, but will also provide greater clarity to our partners throughout the world as to our aims and the values which guide our actions. Therefore, I repeat that this Constitution is well timed and necessary, despite certain shortcomings. One such shortcoming, which Mr Poettering and other honourable Members have already referred to, is that it contains no reference to Christian values.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may or may not admit it, but we are Christians, atheists, Muslims or of other faiths. What we call common European values have evolved for centuries and are based on Christian values.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of us, including those who have participated in the drafting of the Constitution and those who have participated in the analysis and discussions, have an obligation to explain the significance of this document to the citizens of our countries, as we cannot expect every European Union citizen to have read it. Unfortunately I should like to warn against the trend seen in the Member States, whereby the Treaty is often used for short-term discussions on domestic policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us refrain from this temptation and discourage our party members from doing likewise. This is a long-term document, which we, our children and also our neighbours need.

 
  
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  De Poli (PPE-DE). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that today the Constitutional Treaty – the European Constitution – is becoming a reality. The result of the Convention’s work, on which we are to vote tomorrow, shows the will to introduce more democracy, transparency and efficiency into the European Institutions, strengthening them and making the decision-making process more efficient. The citizens are the real winners, since the Constitution consolidates our common values and principles.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the European Union has also published in miniature version – just like all of the most precious books in history – has been incorporated into the Constitutional Treaty. In my opinion, this is a fundamental sign of the transparency, solidarity and democracy of rights: the rights of the individual, of children, the elderly and disabled people. This time these principles are being adopted precisely to bring our institution closer to the people, to put it amidst the people, so that we can provide the answers they particularly need precisely at this time. I therefore think that removing society’s barriers to ensure that citizens can participate fully in our united Europe is the most important aspect of our current activities.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Hannan (PPE-DE). Mr President, the last thing I want to do is to spoil a party. Over the next 48 hours this Parliament will spend hundreds of thousands of euro on celebrating the Constitution. We shall have balloons, a laser display, an orchestra; but I cannot help feeling that all this is a touch premature. In at least ten countries there must be a referendum before ratification. We cannot call the result of those polls with certainty. Not a single ballot has yet been cast. If it were only the party that was premature, it would be rather curmudgeonly of me to object, but we are anticipating the Constitution in other more important ways. We are, for example, pushing ahead with the creation of an EU diplomatic service, a proposal which, pending formal ratification, has no legal basis. In the field of justice and home affairs we have gone even further, pre-empting many of the Constitution's clauses, in particular those to do with the creation of a pan-European legal system and a European public prosecutor. Before the Constitution had even been signed, let alone ratified, the European Court of Justice had indicated that it would treat the Charter of Fundamental Rights as justiciable.

Asked formally by this House what parts of the Constitution they intended to implement without waiting for official ratification, only five of the current Commissioners answered that it would be wrong to anticipate the results of the national referendums. The other 20 all replied in one way or another that they intended to forge ahead at once without waiting for the outcome of the national ballots.

This is meant to be a democratic chamber, but its attitude sometimes recalls Bertolt Brecht's famous couplet 'Let us dismiss the people and elect another in their place'. I hope my country will vote 'no' to the Constitution and I am campaigning to that end, but if I lose, I shall accept the result with good grace. I would urge those of you who support the Constitution to display a similar respect for the democratic process and not to try to implement large parts of this Constitution even if one or more Member States has voted against it. No means no.

 
  
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  Karas (PPE-DE). (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I should like to start by addressing the citizens of Europe, and urging them to care about the Constitution. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the European public accepts this Constitution, because it will make Europe clearer and more citizen-friendly, transparent and democratic.

My impression is that we are all in far too much of a hurry to get down to business as usual. The Constitution is on the table, but it has not yet been ratified. It is a political milestone for the European Union, and for a more citizen-friendly, transparent and democratic European Union.

So far, though, the Constitution has been a PR disaster, and I should therefore like to warn that we need an information and communication plan for all the European institutions, the Member States and the national parliaments, and we need a European Constitution Week in all the Member States. We also need to abolish unanimity in the Council, thus strengthening the common, transparent and democratic Europe as provided for in the Constitutional Treaty.

I would call on the Heads of States or Government to ensure that it is the spirit of the Convention and of the signing ceremony in Rome which sets the tone of domestic political debate, and not a lack of criticism and discussion, or aloofness and indifference. What we need is for the debate on the Constitution to be Europeanised, not for the ratification process to be nationalised. The Constitution is not merely a code of practice for the EU institutions; it affects all Europe’s citizens.

We should however be fully aware that work will begin afresh with tomorrow’s vote. All that this vote must therefore do is to send out a clear signal.

 
  
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  Ventre (PPE-DE). (IT) Mr President, I should like to thank Mr Corbett and Mr Méndez de Vigo, who really have produced a masterpiece, making the Constitution more readable.

The ancient Roman jurists used to say: ‘ex facto oritur ius’ (the law arises out of the fact). Well, from the first day that Europe’s founding fathers began to dream, began to imagine this common entity – a single entity drawing together millennia of history, geography, society and common values – well, from that moment the founding fathers themselves thought of having common rules: what we today call the Constitution.

This is why I am extremely disappointed this morning to hear prominent fellow Members, whose freedom of expression I clearly respect, stating their opposition to the draft Constitution. People may oppose this form of Constitution or the content of the Constitutional Treaty, but not common rules, since the establishment of these rules strengthens sovereignty.

Today we have to reach an agreement in a world undergoing fundamental changes, including with regard to its systems and new semantics: those whose idea of sovereignty is as it was conceived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are mistaken. Today the new concept of sovereignty lies in subsidiarity: it is the sovereignty of local identities, the sovereignty of citizens, the sovereignty of those who must help construct a legal system to interpret in the best possible way the ever more varied and complex needs of an evolving society. We cannot conceive of using the terminology which the jurists taught us: federal state, confederal state, sovereign state: Europe is a new entity, a Union, precisely, with which we must all identify.

Lastly, I would like to express my regret at the lack of a reference, not just to our Christian roots, but also to Periclean democracy – the origin of the very essence of democracy – to the Roman Empire and to Carolingian Europe. Let us hope that during the process of European integration these things will be remembered.

 
  
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  Casa (PPE-DE). (MT) Almost 50 years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, that established the European Economic Union, finally Europe is going to have its own constitution. For the first time, 450 million citizens and 20 nations are going to be united by this document that defines the values and principles of this European Union.

The ratification of this constitution will lead us to a more democratic Europe. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was introduced in this constitution and thus the rights of each person are listed and every citizen may invoke this charter whenever he or she thinks that his or her rights have been broken.

The social rights are also a priority and are so by a legal decree, the right to education, the right that every citizen can have access to information, protection in the case of an unjust expulsion and the right that the requests for a review in the case of discrimination on the basis of class can be sanctioned, all have been defined and can be implemented.

The role of the European Parliament has therefore been greatly strengthened and the Parliament together with the Council is going to be responsible to ratify almost all the documents.

The role of the national Parliaments will be strengthened as well, and this is because it will be responsible to oversee that any agreement between the European Union and the Member States is respected, and therefore the national Parliaments will have enough power to put pressure on the European Commission so that it can revise its proposals.

In other words, the European Constitution will help so that we can have a more efficient Europe. Europe, that has been built in stages, and that is based on Treaties that have been agreed upon along the years; from now onwards we will really have one Europe. The integration of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the clear recognition of European values and objectives are now giving us the opportunity, as European citizens, to call this document 'The European Constitution'. I am going to vote in favour. I appeal my colleagues to do likewise for the good of European citizens.

 
  
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  Corbett (PSE), rapporteur. Mr President, in responding to this debate I wish to begin by thanking all those who paid tribute to the work of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the report it produced.

It is clear that this Constitution has very broad support across the political spectrum and across Member States. I am hopeful that in the vote tomorrow there will be at least a two-thirds majority in favour of it, with more than 400 votes in favour in this Parliament, and that will send a powerful signal.

Let me also respond to the criticisms that have been made of the Constitution. They seem to be twofold. Firstly, there are those who say they oppose the Constitution because it does not go far enough. They say it will certainly make the EU more democratic, social and so on, but not enough so. My answer to them is that the choice at the moment is between the new Constitution and the old one – our current Treaties. If the new Constitution contains improvements, then it is better to take the new Constitution rather than carry on living with the old one.

That is an argument I would also put to those who complain that there is no reference to Christianity in the new Constitution. There is no such reference in the current Treaties, although they were drafted by Saint Schuman. However, the new Constitution contains a reference to our religious heritage and other heritages, and its values are Christian values and also the values of many others. They are values that Christians, non-Christians, people of other religions and of no religion share.

Many opponents of this Constitution conjure up fears of a superstate; many are opposed to the very existence of the European Union. That is illustrated by those who oppose the supremacy of Union law over the law of Member States, which is after all the current situation. What is the point of agreeing common laws across Europe if one does not want those laws to be applied across Europe? That is the whole point of agreeing common European legislation in the areas we want it, such as the environment and the common market. There is no point in having that legislation if you are against it in the first place. To those people I would say: be honest and campaign for what you really believe in, which is your country leaving the European Union, and do not hide behind attacking the Constitution. What nonsense to say that this new Constitution will create a centralised superstate! Centralised, the European Union? When it is based on a Constitution that confers powers on the European Union with the agreement of every single Member State on the ratification of treaties? That is the only power the Union has. Even in exercising its powers, the Council – i.e. the Member States – has a central role in taking decisions, while the central administration – the European Commission – has fewer employees than the City of Leeds, in my constituency. Some superstate!

Let me conclude by saying that this debate is partly one of myth against reality. I am sure that by broadcasting the facts and enabling a true analysis of the Treaty we will contribute to an honest debate which will persuade people that this Constitution is worth having.

 
  
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  Schmit, Council. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should firstly very much like to thank Parliament for this constructive and largely positive debate. I am able broadly to concur with what has just been said by one of the rapporteurs concerning both the quality of this debate and the conclusions that must be drawn from it. Moreover, it was this Parliament that instigated this constitutional process. As someone pointed out this morning, it was in this House that the constitutional process began, and I should like to pay tribute, on behalf of the Presidency, to Altiero Spinelli who, with his draft European Constitution of 1984, initiated this process and set it going by introducing a first stage, known as the Single Act, negotiated moreover under the Luxembourg Presidency.

I should also like to say to those who have attacked and criticised this draft Constitution that, in a democratic debate, we obviously respect their position. It is not, however, with nineteenth century discourses that a vision is offered to the peoples, European and others, of today’s twenty-first century world. To turn in upon ourselves and return to outmoded concepts of sovereignty are inadequate responses in a globalised world. They offer no solution at all in terms of prosperity, democracy and peace, neither to Europeans nor to others.

I should also like to say to those who draw a subtle distinction between a pro-European ‘no’ and an anti-European ‘no’ that there is only a ‘no’ pure and simple, since a rejection of the Constitution is simply a defeat for Europe – a defeat for a stronger, more open, more transparent and more democratic Europe with perspectives to offer both within and beyond its own borders. I therefore believe in the need not to become entangled in subtleties of this kind. Admittedly, not everything is perfect in this Constitution, as the rapporteur said. We should all have liked to have seen improvements regarding this or that point. Is not, however, imperfection in a sense the very essence of democracy, since democracy thrives on compromise; and must we not therefore be capable now of accepting a compromise that represents progress in order to make further progress in the future?

As several speakers have said, the Constitution provides a sound basis for our shared values. It supplies a democratic framework enabling the European Union to take more effective action where action is necessary, account having been taken of the principle of subsidiarity. As has been said, the EU’s motto, ‘United in diversity’ characterises the essence of this Europe. A balance between large and small Member States, equality between citizens and the respect for national identities mentioned by several speakers are the very essence of our EU, reflected very well in this constitutional document.

Advances have been made. They are perhaps insufficient. We should have liked to have gone further in the Justice and Home Affairs or external policy spheres, but I believe that the draft Constitution is an extremely important first stage. Nor should revisions be considered just at this time. Admittedly, every constitution needs to provide for revision mechanisms, as this one does; in fact, it provides for various types of mechanism. Improvements will come as the years go by, on condition that this Constitution is adopted and that we are capable of applying it and using it to construct a genuine European democracy.

This document has been prepared with the broad participation not only of MEPs and of parliamentarians and other representatives from the Member States but also of representatives of civil society. There has been a debate, albeit an inadequate one, in civil society. This debate must be encouraged and supported, particularly through the ratification procedures that, as has been emphasised, have already been completed in two countries and that are to begin in other countries too. In this respect, Article 1.47, relating to participatory democracy, is an innovation, so much so that it is scarcely referred to in our national Constitutions. It needs to be brought alive and given practical content. The debate on the adoption of the Constitution has therefore begun, and it must be extended. Citizens must be fully involved in it, whether or not there are referendums.

I entirely agree with what the Vice-President of the Commission said on the subject of communication, explanation and the efforts that must be made in order to make Europe better understood. The Presidency concurs with this assertion. I emphasise that this work must firstly be done in the Member States, for it is there that the people are building Europe. It requires everyone’s involvement: firstly, that of governments and parliamentarians but also, I repeat, that of the representatives of civil society. In the course of the next few months, the Presidency will contribute everywhere it can, and everywhere it must, to this process and will encourage this debate.

 
  
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  Wallström, Vice-president of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank you all for this long but stimulating debate. The vast majority of the comments have rightly paid tribute to this excellent report and to the work of the co-rapporteurs. Hopefully, it will receive the overwhelming support of this House tomorrow.

I am conscious that this report and the Constitution need to be put into historical perspective. This is the first time that the European Parliament has not had a list of regrets about the result of an Intergovernmental Conference, and we can ask one of the veterans in this kind of work about this. If I compare this report to the Planas, Méndez de Vigo and Tsatsos reports, for example, it is the most positive assessment of the outcome of an Intergovernmental Conference.

I share the views of those calling for a wide and honest debate. Without debate we do not have a democracy and, without debate, we do not get closer to the truth. It is therefore our responsibility to provide examples of how the Constitution will affect the daily lives of European citizens.

The word 'perfect' has been mentioned. I have been a Commissioner for only five years and I have not yet seen the 'perfect' document. If you look around, how could we find a perfect document? We will have to continue to compromise because we are 25 Member States with different traditions, languages, political decision-making procedures and views. We will have to show the will and the capability to compromise. This is a compromise and it will have to be a compromise.

The words used this morning are worth recalling. Most of them are politically loaded – positively or negatively. Many have mentioned rights, democracy, openness, effectiveness and values. Mr Méndez de Vigo reminded us this morning that the Constitution is the unique opportunity to guarantee the values of the Union. We are united in our diversity but with a set of fundamental and social rights that brings us together. These are the values we guarantee not just for us but for our children.

Others have attempted to describe the Constitution as resulting in a European superstate, a loss of national sovereignty, or a weakening of the role of the national parliaments. They have already received a reply from Mr Corbett.

While I expect that we should have to provide concrete facts and examples of the benefits of the Constitution as compared to the Treaty of Nice, I also expect that those talking about national sovereignty or national parliaments should provide some facts. Has the role of national parliaments been weakened? Is it possible to sneak through a European law without supervision by the Member States or national parliaments? We have to be able to respond to those questions. Let us work on the basis of facts and the text of the Constitution. This should be made accessible to our citizens in all the Member States, not just scare stories or misconceptions.

We also have to ensure that we are ready for the entry into force of the Constitution when it is ratified by all Member States. We will shoulder our responsibilities and so must the Member States. It is not enough to hope that adoption in one Member State will lead to automatic acceptance in the next country. That is why in the Council I have pushed so strongly for proper national strategies to be developed.

As Mr Brok has indicated, preparatory work has already begun on the entry into force of the Constitution and the European external action service that will assist the European Minister for Foreign Affairs. We are not exactly jumping ahead, but we have to start to be prepared. We cannot simply wait and let another two years go by before we can implement the provisions. We will have to prepared in the best possible way and find the right balance. I agree that we must ensure respect for the text of the Constitution.

The speeches this morning from Members in the new Member States have illustrated the historic value of the European project and the principles and values that it guarantees. Whether we need a bigger boat, a larger bus or a larger dress size, we all recognise that we have a sense of responsibility. I look forward to joining you in that debate.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 12 noon.

 
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