Internal Policies and EU Institutions

'The role of the European Parliament in the 21st Century and the role of the European Civil Service' - EP President Buzek opens the academic year of the École Nationale d'Administration

Strasbourg -
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dear Professors,
Dear Students,

I would like to first start by wishing you all a happy new year. I hope you managed to get home for the holiday seasons, and the weather that hit Europe in December did not stop you from getting back to your loved ones.

I was asked to make a few remarks on two distinct topics today, the role of the European Parliament and the role of Europe's civil service in the 21st century. Let me start with the Parliament.

We have now operated under the new Lisbon Treaty for over a year. Although there are still many aspects which are in the process of being defined, we can make some observations on how this new Treaty functions in practise.
First of all, we have to understand that the Treaty has rebalanced the institutional framework in Brussels by making the European Parliament a full co-legislator. It has also involved citizens far more through the citizens initiative, and involved national parliaments directly in the legislative process.

I am personally convinced that these two innovations will have a positive effect on the way people see European laws. Because it gives them a sense of ownership of EU legislation.

European laws are no longer decided in a far off place like Brussels, they will be much closer to our citizens because every one is now a stakeholder.

However, there has been a further important change. The creation of the European Council has ended that famous institutional triangle which has guided the Community for many years. We now have a square, or as I like to describe it, a table. But this table still has unequal legs.

Both the European Council and the European Parliament have increased their share of the decision making power. The Council and the Commission have remained relatively stable. This is why our table is not balanced, at least not yet.

We have a strong inter governmental side to this table today; we need to rebalance the community side of the table. This is what I believe we need to do over the course of the next five years, because I believe that the community method continues to be the right model for us.

My second point is that the European Parliament itself is also changing.

With the new Treaty we are gradually entering into areas of competence we previously did not have. Remember we started as a Parliament that could only give its opinion, and we only dealt with the single market. Today we are a full co-legislator, and we deal with all issues. Let me give you two recent examples to illustrate this.

We now have the right to be involved in all treaties signed by the Union. This sometimes leads to differences of opinion. What the European Parliament is defending is not always what the member states are defending, even though we share the same citizens.

The recent, so-called SWIFT agreement, between the EU and the US which deals with bank transfer information is an interesting case. The Parliament felt that the original agreement did not go far enough in defending the privacy rights of 500 million citizens.

We voted against it and forced the Council to modify the agreement to better reflect our views. The final agreement was much better. Even the American side agreed with this.

Another example is our involvement in foreign affairs. This is an area we have no direct Treaty competences, but through our support of Parliamentary democracy and our own parliamentary diplomacy, we express our views.

In the December elections in Belarus, observers, including many members of the European Parliament reported that the elections were not free, nor fair. I hope that the initial concerns expressed by Parliament will be taken aboard in the resolutions of the Council at the end of the month.

Today we are also involved in helping pro-democracy forces in Tunisia after the "jasmine" revolution. We will provide parliamentary assistance in the run up to the elections, and we will also be present throughout the process by helping to monitor the elections.

But our involvement does not end there. As the budgetary authority of the Union we have the right to set the guidelines on how EU money, especially in development and aid is used.  We will insist that money goes towards helping civil society and democratic forces.

This is our neighbourhood, and it is our own strategic interest to help these countries move towards being fully-fledged democracies where fundamental human rights are protected. It is in the interests of all our citizens. This is why the Parliament will have a say in all areas which may affect our citizens.

Dear Students,
My third and last point is what does this new context mean for both national and European civil servants in the future? And how in this changing Europe should a national administration and a European administration function?

As a former Prime Minister, and currently President of the European Parliament, I have worked with both and I can say first of all the following - the values of loyalty, neutrality and the non-political nature of administration are the same with both.  

With the innovations which the Lisbon Treaty brought in by making the distance between the national and the EU level closer, it also has to make our administrations closer.

Why? Because we need to think and act European, at all levels of government. This is why I am convinced that we will move away from the old division of national versus European administration.

I see us as one football team, we may have different positions, we may even wear different coloured jerseys but we are on the same team playing for the same flag.

The laws we pass on the EU level have to be administered and implemented by you, the future national civil servants. This is not competition but rather cooperation and we need to find new ways to exchange views and experiences in order to strengthen this cooperation.

One idea could be to strengthen the number of National Experts which are in the EU administration. They come for a few years before returning to their own administration. We need more of this kind of exchanges, and this should be a two way street, where our experts can also be detached to national administration.

Understanding often comes through personal experience. Having the chance to experience both cultures will help to clear up any misunderstandings which may arise.

Perhaps we can imagine that future administrations will take the new European External Action Service as a possible model where 2/3 are EU civil servants and 1/3 are from the national administration?

Whatever the model we chose, we have to find a way of creating a public service that is truly European, no matter what position you have on the field. Because at the end of the day we are not playing for ourselves, but for the public we serve.

The EU is changing. The Parliament is changing with it. The role of administration is to be part of this change, not matter if it is on the EU or the national level.

Thank you, and good luck for the rest of your studies.