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". Mr President, my esteemed ladies and gentlemen, first of all let me congratulate the new President once again on his recent election, and I am delighted to see the Members elected in all the Member States meeting at last in Parliament in an enlarged plenary. For the first time, one can reach out in this House and touch the new Europe, and this is an exciting and significant event. In the area of justice and home affairs, the action plan for the fight against terrorism has seen plenty of progress but also some uncertainties. We are still moving forwards on the Tampere programme, which now, however, must enter a new phase of implementation. The Council has also asked the Member States to finalise the implementation of measures associated with the Lisbon strategy. This is a complicated item on which the steps taken and the progress made have been insufficient and, above all, do not meet the expectations we had in Lisbon when we approved this chapter. Finally, I congratulate the Irish Presidency on having achieved agreement on the name of José Manuel Durão Barroso, who gained absolutely unanimous support in the Council; to me this agreement was a tour de force of democracy and politics. I also congratulate it on the decision to appoint Javier Solana as the Union’s Foreign Minister once the Constitution has come into force. To José Manuel Durão Barroso and Javier Solana I offer my most sincere felicitations, and to Bertie Ahern and his colleagues my very warmest thanks. Our Union now needs the tools for making decisions and taking action. This links in with what the has just said about the successes of the Irish Presidency and especially the outcome of the European Council. I congratulate the Irish Presidency, and Bertie Ahern in particular, together with his colleagues, on their diplomatic skills, political sense and great commitment to the European cause. First, the Intergovernmental Conference closed during the last term with agreement on the European Constitution. As everyone knows, the last stretch on the road to a constitution is always the hardest, and the Irish Presidency directed the Conference with respect for everyone’s positions and attention to every detail. It proposed innovative solutions without losing the overall balance, and it convinced all parties that this is both a strong document and a serious and realistic compromise. In other words, this Constitutional Treaty is today the best possible agreement. We must not underestimate the work of the who made a great personal effort to overcome the obstacles on the most sensitive issues. If we look back at the last five years, we cannot fail to see the extraordinary developments in our Union. When I addressed this House for the first time on 5 May 1999, the Treaty of Amsterdam had only just come into force. Nobody imagined at that time that we might be having a new Constitution. Now, however, it seems obvious to us that not only does it exist but it is also needed, and the reason is simple: the Constitution enables the Union to operate more efficiently in the interests of our citizens. The Constitution strengthens democracy, transparency and the sense of responsibility. It contains our values and our principles, and it provides a solid legal basis for our policies. I want to underline the fact that above all it includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights and introduces the double majority principle for Council decisions made by qualified majority. Nobody is pretending that this is a perfect Constitution. The Commission, as you well know, would have preferred stronger powers for the Union in certain areas, particularly economic governance. In this respect, I welcome the recent European Court of Justice decision clarifying certain rules in the Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact. Unanimity is still required in areas such as taxation, own resources, the financial perspective and, in part, social policy and foreign policy. Even so, the Constitution is clearly a great step forwards along the road to European integration, and in the near future we must all work together and focus on the ratification process. Voters will be called upon to give their views on the Constitution in many countries in referendums. Whether there is a popular referendum or parliamentary ratification, this is the moment when positions must be made clear. Over the next few months, we must therefore explain to the voters what the Union is and what it is not, why we have to make it work properly and what the new rules are. We must launch a thorough debate on the Constitution and what it means for the future of Europe. We must ensure that the referendums or parliamentary votes are not just a reflection of the political situation in each Member State but provide an informed and considered response to the real issues at European level. The real issue, as I was saying, is Europe itself, because rejecting the Constitution would be an enormous setback to the integration process. My fear, in effect, is that national questions will overshadow the real issues in the European debate and that short-term vested interests will end up jeopardising the step forwards that the Constitution will enable us to take. That means that first of all we have to raise the right questions in the national debates in each country. In particular I want to reply to a criticism that has been circulating for some time, according to which the Constitution is a step backwards in the European social dimension. I must say that that is not the case. The Constitution retains the Union’s common policies substantially unchanged, but creates a frame of reference within which the institutions can act for the common interest with greater focus. This applies both to measures involving the internal market and to social policy. Ladies and gentlemen, I remind you that the Constitution also takes some steps forward. Full employment and social progress have become the Union’s goals, while gender equality and minority rights are recognised as common values of the Member States. It also lays down that the Union must promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, as well as solidarity among the Member States; that the Union recognises and formally promotes the role of both sides of industry at European level and facilitates their dialogue while fully respecting their autonomy; and that the Union’s commercial policy must not hinder the organisation of social, educational and health services. Lastly, it recognises the value of public services and their role in promoting social and territorial cohesion. Overall, therefore, the Constitution is more ambitious, more coherent and more comprehensive than the current Treaties even in the social sphere. These are essentially political rather than technical points, and we must continue our political work in order to make progress in this direction. Our citizens always take more notice of Europe’s social dimension, and a more political Union will thus help to consolidate it. I therefore beg all Members to ensure that the citizens know what the real issues on the table are when we have to ratify the Constitution. Voting for the Constitution also means voting for this diverse European social framework. The Constitution is certainly an achievement of historic dimensions, but it is not the only decision taken by the last European Council. Among the other items, I recall the recognition of Croatia as a candidate country. This decision confirms the Union’s willingness to hold out the prospect of accession to the tormented countries in that part of our continent. Now that the Council believes that Croatia meets the Copenhagen criteria, negotiations can begin early in 2005. The Macedonian Government has also now submitted its own application to join and is working hard for its request to be accepted."@en1

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