Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/1999-07-21-Speech-3-001"
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"Ladies and gentlemen, once again, I should like to convey my heartfelt thanks for the trust you showed in me by electing me President of the European Parliament yesterday. To follow the various Presidents who have left their mark on the history of our Parliament ever since it was first elected by direct universal suffrage, and to follow you, José Maria Gil-Robles, who so successfully led Parliament along the path of democratic progress Alas, this building is not without its teething troubles, towards which we and the media must show indulgence. We are bearing the brunt of these but I can assure you that at the end of this week we will compile a detailed list of all the functional problems which have come to our attention and we will do everything possible to remedy the situation before the next part-session. I am aware of the daunting task which awaits us during the two and a half years of my Presidency. Our first duty, as I see it today, will be to demand full recognition of the new responsibilities which the Amsterdam Treaty has assigned to the European Parliament and which must, without delay or hesitation on the part of the other institutions, be translated into deeds. Undoubtedly, interinstitutional co-operation between the Council, the Commission and Parliament is essential and we hope it will be harmonious, but a better balance still needs to be established between the two forms of democratic legitimacy on which the adoption of Community legislation is based: that of the Member States, embodied by the Council, and that of the Assembly which is the product of the direct universal suffrage of all the citizens of the Union. (Applause) A new era is beginning on the threshold of this parliamentary term – the European Parliament is now a parliament in the true sense of the word. Since the Treaty of Maastricht, our prerogatives and influence have continued to grow. They have now been strengthened by the Treaty of Amsterdam. This is the outcome of the efforts which Parliament has unceasingly made at each stage in the process, with a view to making the Union more democratic. This is what happened after the ratification of the Single European Act in 1986, when it took maximum advantage of the new, albeit modest, powers inherent in the co-operation procedure. It is also what happened after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, when it monitored in minute detail the implementation of the co-decision procedure, which was considerably more far-reaching. All those among us, and there are many, who took part in the various delegations to the Conciliation Committee, which brought Parliament and the Council together face to face, accompanied and assisted by the Commission, saw for themselves how far this new procedure increased Parliament's influence during the last parliamentary term. Thus, almost all the disputes which were submitted to it were settled successfully, with all Parliament's major concerns being taken into account. The positive outcome is largely due to the cohesion which I always observed in Parliament's successive delegations to the Conciliation Committees which I had the honour of co-chairing together with Renzo Imbeni and Mr Verde. Adherence to the outcome of parliamentary votes, the internal settling of any differences of opinion, the sense of reasonable compromise and responsibility, the thorough knowledge of the various issues displayed by rapporteurs and committee chairmen were of decisive importance and commanded the Council's respect. I pay tribute to all the colleagues who took part. To make the most of the powers which we have acquired whilst moving towards new democratic achievements has been our constant aim. In this connection, I should like to pay special and sincere tribute to the last four Presidents – Enrique Baron Crespo, Egon Klepsch, Klaus Hänsch and José María Gil-Robles – irrespective of their political allegiance – for their considerable powers of persuasion when dealing with the Heads of State and Government in the European Council meetings in which they took part. It is to a great extent thanks to their diplomacy and moral authority that the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam introduced the new powers for Parliament which we today are able to implement. In future, in fact, there is almost no legislative act in any of the fields covered by the Community's sphere of competence that can be adopted without Parliament's formal agreement. In this connection, I would like to say to the Council that I am convinced that Parliament is determined to do its utmost to ensure that the Council and Parliament reach agreement, whenever possible at the first reading. But I must also say that the Council will have Parliament to reckon with if the concerns of the citizens whom we represent do not find their proper place in the draft Community legislation submitted to us. (Applause) As far as the Commission is concerned, Parliament now first of all approves the appointment of the President proposed by the Heads of State and Government and then all the Commissioners as a body, whilst retaining its subsequent power of censure. I am well aware that this procedure is a very delicate mechanism. The outgoing Commission's last few months in office were marked by the serious crisis which everyone remembers. The climax came in December 1998 when Parliament dared for the first time to refuse to grant the Commission discharge for the budget. The subsequent sequence of events led to the Commission's resignation. (Applause) In the coming weeks, Parliament will hear and then appoint the new Commissioners. This will be the first opportunity for the new Parliament to exercise its responsibilities. In this connection, I must tell you how I feel. It would be inconceivable for us to appoint the Commission without first having read the second report of the Committee of Independent Experts. (Applause) I would like to say to whom it may concern, in other words the chairman of that Committee, that the European Parliament absolutely must have this document before the hearings of the Commission nominees are held. (Applause) I should like to tell the President, Romano Prodi, that we do not want a weakened Commission. On the contrary, we want a strong and creative Commission capable of tackling the great challenges which we have to face together. We hope that the means made available to it will be equal to the responsibilities it has to bear. But, quite apart from its powers, we expect it to be transparent on the basis of a new Code of Conduct and to respect the political and democratic equilibrium desired by the electorate, we expect the procedures for assigning tasks to external bodies to obviate the risk of conflicts of interest and we expect it to be willing to work in close synergy with Parliament. With this in mind, we already appreciate the fact that the Commissioner responsible for relations with Parliament will be one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. Despite some substantial advances, we all know that the Amsterdam Treaty has not achieved all the objectives attributed to it at the outset, the main one being the institutional reform, an essential precondition for enlargement. Our Assembly will therefore need to use all its influence to enhance the Union's institutional equilibrium, and this in several directions. The scope of co-decision must be extended so that it becomes the Community legal procedure to be applied to all items of Union legislation. The European Parliament must be involved in the common external and security policy as regards the operational pillar thereof, the WEU which must be integrated in the Union's institutional structure, as indeed was decided, in principle, in the Amsterdam Treaty. The European Parliament must be totally involved in the preparatory work of the Intergovernmental Conference on the reform of the European institutions. The citizens who have given us our mandate would find it incomprehensible if the European Parliament were to play only a minor role in a reform as sweeping and necessary as that which is to be undertaken. It must be involved at a very early stage, so as to be able to make an active contribution as soon as the preparatory work commences. And we shall be asking the Council to heed the request expressed by the Assembly in approving the reports by Mr Méndez de Vigo and Mr Tsasos, which were adopted by a very large majority, that the method used should be the Community approach, namely a proposal from the Commission to both Council and Parliament. Finally, the Council must be aware that Parliament would not content itself with a minimalist reform, if that were to be the case. (Applause) This entire enterprise must, of course, be carried out while stepping up our co-operation with the national parliaments, as indeed we have been doing in the last few years. Parliament must also be closely involved in the negotiations leading up to Union enlargement, which remains the priority of priorities in the coming years. And it must exercise greater influence over the major budgetary decisions and the defining of the relevant priorities, within the parameters of the Agenda 2000 guidelines. Finally, I strongly believe that our Assembly must ensure that the voice of the European citizens it represents is heard more clearly on the international trade scene. What has just happened in the World Trade Organisation in connection with hormone-treated cattle is not acceptable. calls for modesty rather than pride, in that the honour which I feel gives way immediately to an awareness of the burden which we must bear together and I can assure you, as far as I am concerned, that it will be exciting but also demanding. (Applause) We all remember the contaminated blood tragedy and the dangers to human health posed by mad cow disease. The problem is not to oppose the progress of biotechnology, but to make sure that the demands of public health prevail. We shall endeavour to do so. (Applause) My experience in our Assembly leads me to think that in the course of this Presidency, we must make progress in a number of directions. I shall briefly mention those which seem to me to be worthy of priority, without anticipating the outcome of discussions already under way and which I shall be intent on encouraging. First and foremost, we must draw the political conclusions from the low turnout at the recent European elections and gear our internal reforms to the need to bring ourselves closer to the citizens who elected us. In this connection, we shall also be at pains to press ahead with the proposed uniform procedure for the European elections. Contrary to the image that is being portrayed, the European Parliament works very hard. But it may be that we do not work as rationally as we could or should. Modernising our working methods and procedures is becoming essential if we want to be more efficient and have enough time at our disposal to make ourselves available to our fellow citizens and voters locally. (Applause) Whilst showing due deference to the Treaties, which are our supreme source of law, we must tackle every issue unflinchingly. Our efficiency, both in Brussels and here in Strasbourg, depends upon it. Various avenues of reflection have already been opened up concerning, for example, ways in which voting time in the House could be reduced so as to enable more Members to speak in important debates (Applause) freeing up more time between meetings to enable Members to meet their constituents during the week or on Fridays To those colleagues who voted differently, I must say, in all sincerity, that once he or she has been elected, the President must be everyone"s President. A first among equals. The President is merely the instrument of the smooth operation of parliamentary democracy. To remain faithful to my convictions and to the group which nominated me as President, but also to take up the task with rectitude and impartiality, whilst respecting our political or national differences, is how I see my role and its moral code. As Vice-President during the last few years, that was how I always tried to behave. I shall continue in the same spirit. (Applause) clarification of the respective roles of the Bureau and the Conference of Presidents, with regard to preparation of plenary sittings – in this connection, I propose that the notification of agendas should be improved and that a list of decisions taken should be sent to Members by electronic mail – the problems raised by the diversity of working languages, which will, of course, become even more numerous with the next enlargement of the Union, enhancing the efficiency of Parliament's administrative departments, responding to the increasing volume of requests to visit Parliament from groups of visitors. I do not wish to anticipate the decisions which the Assembly, in its wisdom, will take democratically after weighing up their possible consequences or hazards. I should merely like to say this morning that I personally will do everything in my power to foster an open debate and to encourage efforts to make our parliamentary work more efficient. My second point is that we must carry through to its conclusion the work already begun on establishing a common statute for Members and, additionally, on clarifying the terms and conditions of employment of our parliamentary assistants, on a basis of transparency and equity and having regard to the dignity of the parliamentary function. Today this clarification is essential in a political environment which has changed a great deal since the Treaty of Amsterdam at last accepted it in principle. Our Assembly has already made great strides on this issue, on the basis of the report submitted by Mr Rothley. This work now has to be finished off by seeking the widest possible consensus in Parliament, and as its President I shall be making every effort to achieve this. Finally, it is absolutely essential that we improve our communication strategy, especially in terms of greater decentralisation. The information we send out must go far beyond the inner circles within which it is regrettably often confined and reach out as closely as possible to our citizens. In politics it is not enough to do things, they must be seen to have been done. And there is a huge deficit in this area. ‘Europe is boring' was a phrase used recently by one of the quality dailies. This is the challenge we have to meet and, insofar as I am able to do so in the office that has been conferred upon me, I shall endeavour to meet it, with the assistance of Parliament and that of the journalists, of whom greater numbers will, I hope, take an interest in our work if we succeed in raising our political profile. Our failure to inform cannot be remedied by improvisation. It requires an in-depth political debate. The current situation is somewhat paradoxical. The results of all the surveys show that European integration is gaining favour in people's minds. At the same time, however, the steadily increasing number of people who fail to turn out at the European elections is a reminder of the fact that, for many, Europe remains an abstract concept far removed from their everyday concerns. The life of a democracy, however, cannot be reduced to a mere succession of elections and parliamentary procedures, otherwise, as Churchill famously quipped, it would be ‘the worst form of government except for all the others'. We shall have to accept the political implications of the fact that, for too long, the European Community has been seen by the public, albeit wrongly, as a sort of coldly efficient bureaucratic machine trying to impose standards where there was variety, compromise where there was divergence and uniformity where there were differences. It has been one of the Commission's historic achievements that it created the conditions for the single market. But people cannot be won over to an ideal by Directives and Regulations. If Europe is to be viewed as anything but a constraint, it must give birth to an enterprise which involves much more than setting up an economic and monetary area, even if the necessary social and environmental dimensions are added. (Applause) There is an urgent need today to give new meaning to the Union. I believe that our Assembly, using the appropriate means, a matter which we shall have to debate, should set itself the objective of reversing the dangerous trend towards abstentionism by the time of the next European elections and thus ensure that the European Parliament, in the minds of our fellow citizens, retains to a high degree the democratic legitimacy it derives from the ballot box. The conditions under which the election was held marked a step forward in the democratic workings of the European Parliament. It allowed all Members, whatever the size of their group, to participate openly; it took account of the balance of power established by the citizens who elected us on 13 June; in addition, it allowed each person to express his or her preference, as dictated by conscience. Beyond the confines of the European Union, the international influence of our Parliament is considerable, particularly in all of the countries which have applied for accession and in those which have signed co-operation agreements with the Union. This positive image derives not only from the expectation that the European Parliament will provide support in terms of financial aid to development projects or the conclusion of economic agreements with the Union. The predominant factor is of a spiritual nature. The European Parliament is identified with the success of a civilised democracy on the scale of a large multi-national region of the globe. In all of the international agreements for which Parliament's assent is required, our Assembly has unfailingly insisted, even under the pressure of reasons of State, that its approval was conditional on the partner countries showing respect for a more authentic democracy which respects freedom and human rights. Thus, for all those peoples who throughout the world are afflicted by dictatorship, civil war or underdevelopment, Europe represents an immense source of hope for peace, freedom and progress. I believe that our Assembly should keep sending out signals which mobilise global awareness of the universal nature of the fundamental values of human society. In this context the most burning issue, and that closest to us, is of course the tragedy which has torn Kosovo apart. Today the guns have fallen silent, the horror has ceased, but peace still remains to be built. We each of us somehow sense that this war was about the future of a democratic model which affords protection to all minorities. The war also witnessed the emergence of the European continent as a kind of humanitarian sanctuary. It was not acceptable, and indeed we refused to accept, that in the very heart of Europe human rights should once more be flouted in such a barbaric manner. The united intervention of the 15 Member States of the Union will, I believe, come to be seen as the founding act of a political Europe, and a fitting response to our citizens' expectation that we should be establishing not just a single market, but a humanitarian ideal. A new Europe was born in Pristina, and that Europe has seen the light of day on the threshold of a new century. Now that the arms have been held in check, the country is being rebuilt and one day perhaps reconciliation will come, I think it would be a highly symbolic act if my first external initiative as President were to visit Kosovo on your behalf, as soon as that is feasible. (Applause) I know, of course, that many prominent persons have already been there. But such an initiative, now that peace has returned, will have special significance: to go to the two communities, Albanian and Serbian, to the United Nations High Representative, to the political and religious authorities, to the international peace-keeping force, and convey the message of our determination. The European Parliament will play a full role in the reconstruction of Kosovo and stabilisation of the Balkans. It will do so in particular by exercising its budgetary power, but in many other ways too, of course. Naturally, I shall be counting on you all to play an active part in attaining all these ambitious objectives. The task that awaits us is a tough one, so rather than wishing you a good holiday, I wish you all, I wish us all, good heart. Thank you. (Loud applause) As I said yesterday, I am grateful to Parliament for taking into account another aspect of this democratic equilibrium. During the life of the previous Parliament, 23 % of Members were women. Today, the figure is nearly 30 %. (Applause) Since Simone Veil, who was the first President of the new Parliament elected by direct universal suffrage in 1979, the efforts made over the last 20 years to achieve fairer representation have resulted in the election which has just taken place. I am, of course, happy and proud, but setting myself aside I should like to say to the other women Members of the European Parliament that my promotion is also theirs. Our constituent part-session coincides with the handover of the new building which, after and together with those in Luxembourg and Brussels, will be the location for our parliamentary deliberations. It appropriately bears the name of a great European, Louise Weiss. The official inauguration will take place at a later date, but this coincidence is symbolic of the fact that our Parliament has now acquired deep foundations, both literally and metaphorically. Architecture has always glorified mankind"s projects and it has remained, down the centuries, the tangible and preferred memorial to civilisations. It has great significance here and now. The fact that we now have premises separate from those of the Council of Europe – grateful though we are for the hospitality it afforded us for so many years – marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The Gordian knot which bound the European Parliament when it was merely a consultative assembly has now been definitively cut."@en1
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