Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/2004-05-04-Speech-2-023"

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". Mr President, I would also like to pay a warm tribute to Mr Hume on what was a remarkable valedictory speech. In response to President Cox's point earlier, foreign ministers will meet for detailed discussions on 17 and 18 May. It is our ambition and intention to resolve as many outstanding issues as possible at that meeting. At the last meeting of the General Affairs Council, Minister Cowen made it clear that if, in his view, further work is required, the foreign ministers will meet on 24 May and if necessary again after that. We will also continue to meet partners bilaterally, at both political and official level. The Taoiseach in particular will be using his pre-European Council tour of capitals, which started this week, to tease out Member States' concerns, to assuage those concerns, to answer any outstanding fears and to bring matters to resolution. I do not propose to go into too much detail on the outstanding issues. You are all aware of them: the definition and scope of QMV, the composition of the Commission, and a number of other issues of varying degrees of complexity and sensitivity. However, irrespective of how complex the issues are or how sensitive they are, if there is a political will, a way will be found to resolve those conflicts and sensitive issues. Touching on a number of key issues, we have made clear our view that only a voting system based on a double majority can command a consensus. However, while keeping the need for efficiency, we must also pay due regard to the needs for balance among the Member States and to their specific concerns. It should be possible to reach an outcome which meets the concerns of all, perhaps through some adjustment of the population and the Member State thresholds. As regards the scope of QMV, there is a general desire, shared I know by Parliament, for its extension with a view to promoting efficient decision-making in a larger Union. At the same time, there is also a need to take account of the particular concerns of Member States. I believe that a satisfactory overall outcome, which will involve a further growth in the number of areas subject to QMV and to codecision, will be found. We all agree that the Commission must be effective. We also fully appreciate the concerns of Member States regarding the composition of the Commission. Mr Hume spoke about the institutional framework and its extraordinarily subtle formula. I feel that the two perspectives – the concerns about an efficient Commission and the concerns about the composition of the Commission – could possibly be reconciled through maintaining, for an extended period, a Commission comprising one national from each Member State, moving thereafter to a reduced size on the basis of strict equal rotation. I know that a great many of you hope that it will be possible to conclude the Constitutional Treaty before the European Parliament elections, and indeed, privately, that would be my hope and desire too. As presidency, we would like to be in a position to do so, but at this stage it is more realistic to suggest that the final negotiations will conclude in the June European Council. We should recognise that the vast bulk of the Convention's work has remained unchanged and will not be changed. We should remember that we have agreed a clear set of values and principles to which we can all subscribe and which go to the very heart of what the European Union is and what the European Union is hoping to achieve. These are not in question in the Intergovernmental Conference. It is worth reiterating what we have achieved: we have made tremendous progress in simplifying decision-making, in making clear who is responsible for taking decisions, in making clear to citizens that these decisions will be taken at the appropriate level. We have further enhanced the role of the European Parliament and strengthened, as a result, the democratic scrutiny of the Union. These principles are not in question in the IGC. We should also remember the very substantial progress on the outstanding non-institutional issues made by the Italian presidency, to which I pay tribute. The proposals which we have tabled for discussion at today's focal point meeting owe a great deal to the work of this presidency's predecessors. This new Constitution will be good for the European Union, it will be good for the Member States, and, most importantly of all, it will be good for the citizens of Europe. Of that I am absolutely convinced. As presidency, we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure a successful outcome to the negotiations. Following on from the momentous achievement of the enlargement which has just taken place, the successful conclusion of negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty is the next logical step in our Union's advancement. I am very pleased to be invited to speak to you today in this general debate on the future of the enlarged European Union – Towards a European Constitution. Today's debate is taking place as representatives of all the Member States and of the Parliament are meeting in Dublin. The task that has been set for them is to resolve the outstanding non-institutional issues in the debate on the Constitutional Treaty. As a member of the European Convention, I am very conscious of the hard work and the deep commitment of the representatives of the European Parliament to the Convention process. While we may not have been entirely in agreement on each and every issue, I valued our shared commitment to producing a Constitutional Treaty that will serve this Union well and that will commend itself to the citizens of Europe. While negotiations on the draft Treaty are yet to be concluded, we can take some satisfaction from what has been achieved. I should like to underline that at this point in our discussions we have moved much further, in a much more positive way, than anyone would have believed possible in the dark days of December and the early days of January. The draft that came out of the Convention provided the Intergovernmental Conference with a truly excellent framework on which to build a Constitutional Treaty that will stand the test of time. The draft is presented in language which is more accessible than any previous Treaty. The draft makes it clear who does what in the Union. It elaborates the doctrine of subsidiarity, it clarifies the scope of the European Union's powers, it enhances democratic accountability and simplifies the range of legal instruments through which the Union acts. It seeks to provide the Union of 25 and more Member States with institutions that are workable and capable of meeting the needs of our citizens and of our Union into the future. It enshrines for the first time a Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Union's constitutional order. It equips our Union to act with greater cohesion internally and to project and promote our shared values on the world stage, the very values of which Mr Hume spoke so movingly a few moments ago. This is a formidable document that should commend itself to the people of Europe. When I listen to critics and sceptics I am at a loss to understand what they are talking about. As I said on the BBC last weekend, I earnestly hope that the critics and sceptics – including those in this House – will take just a little time to consider this draft document and what it contains, and to take on board its very many merits. I want to express my thanks to Parliament for its strong support of our efforts to conclude the IGC under the Irish presidency. I can reassure you, Mr President, and the Members of this Parliament again today that we are doing everything in our power to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. The very positive reaction to the Taoiseach's report to the Spring Council and the confirmation that the political will existed to reach agreement by the June European Council is a very encouraging sign of the commitment of partners to finding a final agreement. While we must not underestimate the challenge that lies ahead, we can say with some confidence that we are closer to agreement than we have ever been. We are seeking to make as much progress as possible during May, so as to leave only a very small number of issues for final decision by the Heads of State or Government at the June European Council. In this context, the Taoiseach called on partners take a 'positive and focused approach' to the negotiations and to avoid bringing issues not previously identified to the negotiating table."@en1

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