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Speech by European Commission Vice President Margot Wallström to the Forum on Europe
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Speech by European Commission Vice President Margot Wallström,

to the National Forum on Europe,

Dublin, 28 February 2008

Good morning, everyone! 

I am really delighted to be back in Ireland, in lively cosmopolitan Dublin. It is almost exactly three years since I last addressed the National Forum on Europe – and it gives me great pleasure to stand before you again today.

This forum has been a model of how best to promote public debate on the EU ever since it was up in 2001. I wish all 27 EU member states had such an active EU discussion forum.  Congratulations on all your work! 

One of the most important things you have done is give people the chance to discuss the European issues that concern us all, wherever we live, and the action citizens want the EU to take.

Recent Eurobarometer polls have shown that many of the Irish, and many citizens in other EU Member States, would like to see more EU action in certain areas:

•        Climate change

•        Energy supply and use

•        Crime, terrorism and security issues

•        Globalisation and its impact on jobs

•        Social issues including migration. (Sweden, by the way, has more than one million migrants in its 9 million population – and they play a vital part in our society and our economy).

These challenges are all inter-linked, and they are global in scale.

No one country can tackle them on its own. We need to stand together as the EU and speak with one voice to our global partners – in the UN, the WTO and other forums.

That is the main point of EU membership: it gives us all a stronger voiceon the world stage. And that is especially important for small countries like Ireland, or my own country, Sweden.

But a stronger global voice is not the only thing the EU has given to Ireland. I hope you agree with me that this country has also benefited from:

•        the huge European single market;

•        the single European currency;

•        active and longstanding EU support for the peace process, most recently through our task force on Northern Ireland;

•        creating the conditions for strengthening the economic and the political links across the divisions of the island.

•        massive EU investment in Ireland's infrastructure;

•        tens of billions of euros in EU funding for Irish farmers; and

•        freedom for Irish people to travel, work, study, live and retire anywhere in the EU.

Of course, the phenomenal economic progress that Ireland has made in recent years has a lot to do with national policies, and with peoples' ambition and drive.  But I think that it is fair to say that EU membership over the past thirty-five yearshas helped a bit.

And Irelandhas contributed a great deal to the EU too. I greatly appreciate the outstanding contribution individual Irish men and women have made over the 35 years of Irish membership.

 I'm thinking of Commissioners such as, most recently, Peter Sutherland, Ray McSharry, David Byrne and Charlie McCreevy – all driving forward important areas of European policy.

And of Parliamentarians, such as Pat Cox, who was such a successful President of the European Parliament and who now runs the European Movement.

But I'm also thinking of senior officials like David O'Sullivan and Catherine Day – who have successively held the Commission's top administrative post (Secretary-General) since 2000. I am proud to have been involved in Catherine's appointment as Director General for environmental policy when I was Commissioner for environment.

I even have an Irish spokesmanJoe Hennon.

And since the beginning of last year, we have taken on board the first language of Ireland as a community language.

So I think it's fair to say that the last 35 years, since Ireland joined the Union, we have given new meaning to James Joyce's quote that "If Ireland is to become a new Ireland, she must first become European".

But (there's always a but) … in spite of our best efforts as the Irish and Swedes, let's admit that the EU is not perfect. Almost by definition, its policies and decisions cannot delight everyone because they are necessarily a compromise between the interests of 27 national governments and the whole range of political viewpoints.

The EU is also a very new experiment in trans-national democracy. We need to find ways of making this experiment work better – and better again.

Some EU policies need re-examining. And, of course, the EU's decision-making system needs modernizing.  You can't run a Union of 27 with machinery designed for a Community of six. You can't meet the challenges of the 21st century using methods designed for the 1950s.

That's why we needed the Lisbon Treaty – the Reform Treaty. It is designed to make the EU more efficient, more transparent, more united on the world stage, more secure and – above all – more democratic.

You will be called upon to vote on this Treaty in a few months' time – and today, I would like to make my own small contribution to the lively debate on it here.  A factual contribution – because it's facts that matter.

I usually limit myself to making just three points in a speech – but on this occasion I would like to make twelve points.  To coin a phrase: "Lisbonne: douze points".  So here goes.

1.    First, the Lisbon Treaty will make the EU more democratic.  How?  In the first place,by giving more power to the people. For the first time, EU citizens will have the official right to petition the Commission to launch new initiatives.  This puts real power in the hands of any citizen who can organise the support of just one million people in a significant number of EU countries.

2.     The Lisbon Treaty also gives more power to members of national parliaments –  including the TDs and Senators here. They will have greater powers to challenge any Commission proposal they consider goes against the principle of subsidiarity.

3.    The Treaty also  gives more power to Parliamentarians. The directly elected European Parliament will increase its law-making powers, because "co-decision" will be extended into new policy areas. So European elections will become even more important in deciding the future direction of policy-making.

4.    The Lisbon Treaty will extend the rights of EU citizens by making the EU a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and by giving legal force to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. These include the right to life, to education, to freedom of thought, to equality before the law… and workers' rights such as the right of collective bargaining and collective action.

So I don't see how anyone can claim that the Lisbon Treaty undermines the rights of workers! This is not at all the case, as I see it.

5.    The Lisbon Treaty will make it easier for the EU to make policy in areas that the public wants us to intervene: eg in areas like climate change and energy security. For the first time, these will explicitly become matters of EU responsibility.  EU countries will be able to get their collective act together in cutting greenhouse gas emissions – and in talking with one voice to Russia and our other suppliers of gas and oil.

6.    Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will be able to deliver results more effectively – not only on energy and climate change but in other key policy areas too – because it can take decisions more easily.  This is because majority voting will become the general rule, rather than unanimity.

A Union of 27 countries can literally be paralysed by the unanimity requirement, because there will almost always be one member state opposed to one or another aspect of any given proposal.

7.    However, unanimity will still be required in fields such as taxation– which I know are very sensitive matters for Ireland.In important areas of national sovereignty, the national veto will be kept.

8.    The extension of majority voting into new areas will make Europe more secure – by enabling the EU to deal more efficiently with terrorism, cross-border crime, illegal immigration and human trafficking.  But EU action on these matters will be taken under the democratic control of the European Parliament, which will take the decisions jointly with the Council of Ministers.

9.    The Lisbon Treaty will make EU decision-making more transparent. The Council of Ministers will have to hold its meetings in public when enacting new EU policies or legislation.

I don't know whether these meetings will make exciting television – but at least any interested citizen will be able to watch his or her own Government Minister taking European decisions.

It will no longer be possible to portray "Brussels" as an alien monster grabbing power from national governments!     

On the contrary, people will more clearly see and judge how different Ministers balance their national interests with the interests of the whole of Europe.  

10.      Also for the sake of efficiency, a President of the Council will be elected for up to five years.  This will give the EU a more stable system of leadershipthan the current six-monthly rotation.

11.      The Lisbon Treaty will help the EU to act with greater unity on the world stage. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will also be the European Commissioner for External Relations.This will make it easier to ensure that our aid, trade, development and otherforeign policies all pull in the same direction.  

12.      Finally, the Lisbon Treaty ensures that defence remains a matter of national sovereignty, so that each Government is free to decide what forces, if any, it will commit to any particular operation. The Treaty willtherefore not compromise Ireland's neutrality (nor Sweden's).

Clearly, we live in a dangerous world, and EU governments see the need for a collective response to some security issues. For example, sending EU peacekeeping forces to some of the world's trouble spots.

Chad and Darfur are cases in point, and Ireland has – I believe – taken a very active and honourable role in this EU action.

But Ireland's Constitution states that it cannot join a common European defence arrangement unless it is approved by a separate referendum of the Irish people. So the bogeyman of a "militaristic EU" sweeping young Irish men and women off to war is a complete myth. Nothing in the Lisbon Treaty is going to touch the triple lock on the deployment of Irish peacekeepers.

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have my "douze points" on the Lisbon Treaty.  The Reform Treaty.

Far from paving the way for a"European superstate", this Treatyclearly delimitsthe powers and responsibilities of the European Union.  It lays down that the EU has only those powers that itsmember statesconfer on it.

No-one nowadays, apart from a small minority of federalists, dreams of a "United States of Europe" – and the Lisbon Treaty certainly does not introduce one.

Of course, it's not the "perfect Treaty". But it does make the EU more efficient, more transparent, more secure, more united on the world stage, and more democratic. It will enable the EU to function better now that its membership has expanded from 15 to 27.

Like any democratically-governed system, what the EU does depends on who we all choose to represent us in its institutions: in the Parliament, at our European elections, at the Council by choosing our national governments, and through the Commissioners those national governments nominate.  The real message of the reform Treaty is that The EU is what we make it

When the time comes for the referendum on this Treaty, I sincerely hope the people of Ireland will vote on the basis of facts and knowledge – not on the basis of fear and ignorance.

That's where you, members of the National Forum, have a vital part to play. I am confident that you will give the people of Ireland the full information about this Treaty – because information is power, and I believe in empowering the public.

I want to thank you sincerely for what you are already doing – producing guides to the Treaty, explaining its contents and generating a nation-wide debate, not only on your individual websites and on the Forum's site but also at  public meetings up and down the country.

I urge all of you, from all parts of the political spectrum, to continue fostering that debate in the run-up to the referendum – because debate is the lifeblood of democracy.

The European Commission, and in particular our Representation here in Dublin, is ready to provide information, assist the debate and to give any other assistance we are asked to over the next few months.

I hope also that you will make use of the Commission's "Debate Europe" online forum and discuss the Treaty online with people from all over Europe. I see that the National Forum website also has an online "have your say" section and maybe we can see about interlinking the two.. . 

Finally, I hope the Irish people will vote "YES" to the new Treaty.

•        Not because the EU has been good for Ireland and people feel they ought to vote "Yes".

•        Not because a particular political party or trade union tells them to vote "Yes".

•        But because they know what's in the Treaty and they understandwhat benefits it will bring.

Three years ago, I argued here that Europe's people needed to take ownership of the EU project, in their own way, at their own pace and rhythm. It would take longer but there was no substitute for this if we were all to feel comfortable in it, if it is to feel like our "proper haunt". I believe that the Lisbon Treaty is an important step in the direction of this kind of Europe.

Thank you very much.

Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top