The European Commission at the heart of Europe
European and Global challenges for the 21st Century
I am delighted to accept your invitation to speak to you this morning.
Europe has changed, the world has changed.
The 21st century brings new challenges and new opportunities.
The interaction of economies and peoples worldwide – whether through trade, migration, shared security concerns or cultural exchange – is in constant evolution.
In such a globalised world, Europe needs to be better equipped to secure economic growth and more and better jobs, in order to achieve overall sustainable development.
Climate change calls for a response that must be both global and local.
Demographic change has shifted some of the old certainties and the patterns of how society works.
New security threats call for new strategies and policies.
Tomorrow's prosperity requires new skills, new ways of working, and political, economic and social reforms.
50 Years of the EU
Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome which ushered in an era of peace and prosperity unparalleled in Europe's history.
On aggregate Europe is fifty times more prosperous than in 1957.
The tangible benefits of EU membership are evident to all. Ireland has become economically more affluent and independent.
In 1973 Ireland's export base was largely agricultural and 55% went to the United Kingdom. Ireland is now a leading exporter of technology, pharmaceuticals and financial services and only 18% of exports go to the UK.
Membership of the European Union has not simply provided Ireland with access to new markets.
It has provided Ireland with the tools of change to reorient its economy and upgrade vital infrastructure. Between 1973 and 2006 more than €23.3 billion were allocated to Ireland in structural and cohesion funding. And when we take agricultural and other subsidies into account, Ireland has received over €55 billion in all.
And Ireland has contributed a great deal to the EU too. The outstanding contribution that Irish men and women have made over the 35 years of Irish membership is greatly appreciated. Currently Ireland is actively participating in the EU forces in Chad and Kosovo. Ireland has taken a leadership role in many other ways.
The test for Europe is the delivery of policies which meet the expectations and aspirations of citizens: a vision of a Europe ready to work together to realise a common future.
Looking ahead, we must now respond to the challenges confronting us.
To realise its potential, the European Union needs modernisation and reform.
The delicate balance of the Union's institutional mix still provides the best combination to bring together Europe's strengths.
The "Community method" is the key to the success of the European system. The European Commission has been the engine of the Community for the past 50 years and will continue in this key role under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty.
The Treaty of Lisbon
The Commission actively contributed to this compromise by helping find solutions which balanced political realism with ambition. Compared with the existing Treaties, the changes proposed will leave the European Union with a sound institutional and political basis to meet the expectations of its citizens.
The Lisbon Treaty will therefore amend the EU's two core treaties.
A More Democratic and Transparent Europe
With the Lisbon Treaty, Europe's democratic infrastructure will be refreshed and reinforced. It will offer more open institutions and more opportunities for Europeans to be heard.
So what are the changes in this new treaty for the Commission?
We will see a leaner Commission. The new treaty reduces the number of Commissioners - from 2014, only two thirds of member countries will have a Commissioner (e.g. with 27 countries, there would be 18 Commissioners), but the posts will rotate between all countries equally.
On the global stage the Treaty will usher in the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will be based in the Council of Ministers and be a Vice President of the Commission. He or she will also be resourced with a new External Action service.
This new structure will facilitate collective action on humanitarian aid, peacekeeping missions, crisis response and world diplomacy.
The Commission will retain its right to propose draft legislation, which extends to such areas as Justice and Legislative Affairs.
This is crucial if we are to fight; terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking and organised crime in a 21st Century with few borders.
The Union will have an improved ability to act in areas of major priority for today's Union, in areas including energy policy, public health and civil protection, and new provisions on climate change, services of general interest, research and technological development, territorial cohesion, commercial policy, space, humanitarian aid, sport, tourism, and administrative cooperation.
New mechanisms have been woven into the Lisbon Treaty to ensure that the European Commission is responsive to the needs of citizens.
The Citizens' Initiative will create a possibility for a million citizens from different Member States – out of the Union's population of almost 500 million – to trigger an invitation to the Commission to bring forward a new proposal.
National parliaments will have greater opportunities to be involved in the work of the EU. This includes a two-stage procedure to monitor subsidiarity which will allow national parliaments to draw concerns to the attention of the Commission: the so-called yellow and orange card procedures. This will give a direct voice in European policy making to T.D.s and Senators. A major advance!
A more effective Europe
New voting procedures are designed for swift decision making to tackle people's real concerns.
• Qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers will ensure that common issues can be tackled through common decision-making, fairly reflecting the varying sizes of the EU's Member States.
• A simplified way of calculating qualified majority voting will strengthen the Council's efficiency and provide a clear balance between the number of Member States and the size of their population, once applied in 2014 (or 2017).
• The new post of President of the European Council will, in cooperation with the President of the Commission, ensure a better preparation and continuity in the work of the European Council.
• A streamlined Commission, with reinforced authority for its President, will continue to play its central role in EU decision-making and to reflect different parts of the Union through a system of equal rotation.
• Arrangements for conducting external policy will reflect the existing balance between the Member States and the institutions, while enabling the EU as a whole to better promote and protect European interests and values at the global level.
A Europe of rights and values, solidarity and security
The Lisbon Treaty will reinforce the imperatives of solidarity and security in the Union. These bind together the Union, the Member States and Europe's citizens and encapsulate a Union of mutual support and mutual protection.
• The Union's values and objectives will be set down more clearly than ever before. They will serve as a point of reference for European citizens, and will encapsulate what Europe has to offer to partners worldwide. They show how the European Union balances different goals for Europe, pursuing sustainable development while promoting political, economic and social objectives.
• The Charter of Fundamental Rights will offer Europeans guarantees with the same legal status as the treaties themselves, bringing together civil, political, economic and social rights which the Union's action must respect. Its provisions will also apply in full to acts of implementation of Union law, even if not in all Member States.
• The Union will be able to join the unique system of human rights protection established by the European Convention of Human Rights.
• The new solidarity clause will give force to the obligation of Member States to support each other in the event of terrorist attack, natural or man-made disaster.
• The new horizontal social clause will give prominence to the Union's commitment to employment and social protection, and the role of the regions and the social partners will be confirmed as part of the political, economic and social fabric of the Union.
Europe as an actor on the global stage
One of the particular challenges for the European Union is its ability to harness its economic, political and diplomatic strengths to promote European interests and values worldwide.
With the ascendancy of the new economic powers such as China, India and Brazil, Europe needs the capability to negotiate on an equal footing.
This is illustrated in the current Doha round of WTO talks where we are seeking collectively to achieve the goal of greater trade liberalisation.
This is not only good for Europe but for the developing world as well. However, let me make it clear that Europe will insist on a balanced outcome to these negotiations that will not sell out key European interests.
The Lisbon Treaty will develop the Union's capacity to act by bringing together Europe's external policy tools, both in policy development and policy delivery.
It will give Europe a clear voice in relations with our partners worldwide, and sharpen the impact and visibility of our message.
It will also bring more coherence between the different strands of EU external policy – such as diplomacy, security, trade, development, humanitarian aid, and international negotiations on a range of global issues.
This will mean an EU able to play a more responsive and effective part in global affairs.
The Lisbon Treaty will underpin some of the most deep-seated aspirations of European citizens. It will reinforce core values; it will clarify key issues; it will reassure persistent concerns.
Above all, it will give the Union the capacity to deliver change, to make Europeans more secure and prosperous, to open up their opportunities to shape globalisation.
The European Commission considers that the Lisbon Treaty will facilitate the European Union in adapting to the needs of the 21st century.
The Commission believes that Europe needs a Lisbon Treaty to be agreed and ratified ahead of the June 2009 European elections.