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The increasing role of the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty - Buzek's Speech at the RETE-IHEE/ Institute of Higher Studies, University of Strasbourg

Strasbourg -
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dear Professors,
Dear Colleagues,
Dear Students,

I was asked to make a few remarks on the increasing role of the EU after Lisbon. I propose to give you the perspective from the institution I have the honour to Preside - the European 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.

For me this is a milestone in the building of European democracy. We now have a direct link between citizens and European institutions. As of last month, 0,2% of the population of the EU can ask the institutions to act on specific legislation. Only one million signatures!

The Lisbon Treaty has also involved national parliaments directly in the legislative process by giving them the right to wave a yellow card when they feel national sovereignty is being affected.

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.

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.

Today is an important moment for Europe to express its concerns, and hopes. For example, in the defence of persecuted citizens of Belarus. Or the support of the democratic rights of our Southern neighbours living through revolutionary times.

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.

I will raise this issue at this Friday's extraordinary EU Summit.

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 Friends,
My last point is to try and answer the main theme of this evening - where is the EU going after Lisbon?

I would say we can sumarise it into three ideas -
We are becoming more united; we have more solidarity; and we are becoming more democratic.

We have succeeded to unite our continent and we continue to enlarge the EU to the Balkans and perhaps to Iceland. This brings greater prosperity and greater stability, not only to the region but also to the EU.

We have shown greater solidarity - as we have seen with Ireland and Greece and other countries hit by the financial crisis.

We are also becoming more democratic by creating a system of checks and balances which Lisbon introduces.

All of this benefits what is the most important in the EU - our citizens.  

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