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Speech by Romano Prodi President of the European Commission The State of the Union in 2001 European Parliament Strasbourg, 13 February 2001
... Our work since the Lisbon Summit and in preparing for Stockholm has one constant aim: to create and preserve the conditions in which we can leave to our children a dynamic, just and prosperous Europe.
I want to conclude today by returning to the issue I raised earlier the debate on Europes future.
The Treaty of Nice has, to my mind, two great merits.
As I said to you last month, and in line with the Declaration annexed to the Treaty, the first stage of this process will be one of open reflection.
This will enable the December European Council to initiate a second stage, which I have termed structured reflection, leading ultimately to a brief and decisive Inter-Governmental Conference.
I am convinced this is the right approach, and there seems to be widespread agreement on it.
It is chiefly the first stage the open reflection stage that I want to speak about today, because it will definitely occupy us in 2001.
This stage has already begun and there are three reasons why I consider it crucial:
Since 1981, first the Community and then the Union have been going through a continual process of adjustment, restructuring, enlargement and adaptation. For almost a generation, a constant seismic shock has been shaking our institutions and sweeping away the old, familiar landmarks.
As a result, the general public is no longer sure what Europe is all about or whether it is headed in the right direction.
But we have recently taken historic decisions that will reunite our continent. It would be not only paradoxical but actually dangerous if this unity were to be constructed around a vague agreement, fuzzy undertakings and conflicting hidden agendas.
So, what public debate are we talking about?
It has to be a no-holds-barred constitutional debate on the fundamental nature of the Union.
I am not among those who think that such a debate, once opened, can only lead to stalemate.
On the contrary: I trust the judgement of our citizens and their elected representatives provided the discussion is pitched at the right level.
This is not about the curvature of cucumbers! It is not about euromyths and distortions. It is about real issues and the questions actually asked by people in Europe most of whom want the Union to do more, not less.
The questions people actually ask are certainly not about cucumbers.
But nor are they about the institutional issues we have been discussing ad nauseam since Maastricht and which we chased in circles at Nice!
Ladies and gentlemen,
I think the real problem is that, somewhere along the way, we lost the thread of the agreement among our Member States about where we were all going. Behind our subtle protocols and our increasingly complex formulae, our disagreements are less and less easily hidden.
These disagreements arise partly, I think because the debate has been poorly conducted in recent years. Too often it has been an argument purely about power.
What we need instead is a frank and open discussion about the substance of our Union.
There are bound to be some disagreements on the ultimate purpose of the Union. And quite rightly so: after all, Europe is by nature diverse. But I hope, and believe, we can at least agree on the essentials.
This brings us to the heart of the matter to the fundamental questions I want publicly discussed. For example :
Another question : how much social and economic solidarity are we prepared to show one another? Not just to prevent monetary shocks or to prevent the internal market breaking up but because we believe that our peoples should help one another, taking part in a joint enterprise.
Some more questions. Are we prepared to show the same solidarity when it comes to internal security? External security?
And what sort of environment shall we leave to future generations?
Finally, what are the most effective ways and means for European peoples to protect and affirm the values of democracy, solidarity and justice?
To my mind, these are the questions to ask first. They are eminently political, not institutional, and they determine the level at which we wish to cohabit and co-operate.
By opening this great debate, and choosing these subjects, I am not asking you and the people you represent to start redesigning Europe from scratch. It is not a case of back to the drawing board!
We are talking about a Europe that has accomplished an immense amount of useful things during the 50 years since the Community was founded. We are talking about a Europe that has achieved peace and prosperity and most recently of all established its own currency.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These are the questions that you and the citizens you represent, together with our national parliaments and governments, should now start asking and answering.
Let me be clear on this. I am not confusing the public debate which must be wide open to civil society with democratic representation.
European and national parliaments have the legitimacy of being elected. When the time comes for a structured reflection leading to concrete results, the method we follow must take account of that fact.
We shall then be entering the second stage of the discussions the stage following Laeken. No-one now imagines that this stage can proceed without European and national parliaments being closely involved.
Why? First, because Europe is not just a matter of co-operation between States: it is also about relations between peoples and has long been so.
But also because the vision and imagination needed for a fundamental rethink of Europe cannot come from simply getting nationalistic thinkers to put their heads together.
It seems to me that, after Laeken, and once suitable preparations have been made, the structured reflection should take place in a forum where all the players are represented : the European Parliament, the national parliaments, Europes governments ands the Commission. Laeken and the subsequent European Councils in 2002 could give this forum increasingly precise terms of reference.
The right questions could thus emerge from this ongoing dialogue between the European Council and the Convention - or Conference, or whatever we choose to call it. (Lets not get into the dangerous territory of terminology!) And, finally, institutional implications could be drawn from it.
Clearly, then, there can be no question of limiting the scope of this exercise to the four topics listed at Nice. I fully endorse what Michel Barnier said to your Constitutional Committee that what must emerge from the post-Nice debate is a coherent and durable design for our enlarged Union.
The Commission will, of course, contribute its share of the work and take a number of initiatives.
Madam President, ladies and gentlemen;
It is sometimes said and I tend to agree that the European project was the most important development of the second half of the 20th century.
And with dependable regularity, at every stage of Europes construction, certain commentators have decried the project as an untenable and even laughable utopian dream.
When the single currency was first conceived, those same commentators greeted the idea with predictable scorn and the kind of comments I shall refrain from reminding you of.
But at the end of 2001 we shall see coins and banknotes being issued in that very currency.
We have got to where we are, and we should be proud of it!