Ref. :  000010799
Date :  2003-12-16
Language :  English
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IGC - need to move on - not a time for recriminations

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European Council report and Commission statement - European Council (Brussels 12/13 December 2003)

Council & Commission statements - Meeting of heads of state and/or government on the IGC (Brussels, 12/13 December 2003)

Statement by the President-in-Office of the Council on the work of the Italian Presidency


Opening the debate on the IGC and the European Council, President Pat COX reported on some particular issues of concern to Parliament which he had raised at the Summit.

He had welcomed the conclusions regarding EU transatlantic relations, noting that Europe's candid friendship with the USA should not exclude raising concerns regarding matters such as Guantanamo Bay and Kyoto.

On the IGC, he had raised two points in particular:

- regarding the budget procedure, Parliament supported the balanced outcome of the Convention and wholly rejected the undue and unwarranted interference of ECOFIN in these matters. This was an attack on the system dating back to the Budget Treaty of 1975. He noted that the Council had added more funds to the discretionary budget over the years since 1988 than Parliament. Parliament could be trusted to act responsibly, he concluded.

- Parliament should not be used as a last minute bargaining chip. An upper limit on its size must be respected to prevent a loss of effectiveness.

President Cox said the failure to agree was a setback but not a calamity. The collective will to reach an agreement had not been present and we now needed to explore how to move matters forward.

Mr Cox concluded by thanking the Italian Presidency for their cooperation with Parliament over the last months.

Italian Prime Minister and President-in-Office of the Council, Silvio BERLUSCONI began by discussing the lack of agreement at the IGC. He stressed that the Italian Presidency had been committed to reaching a high quality agreement, which did not water down the Convention's consensus and which could be put into force by the time of the next Parliament elections in June 2004. This had not been achieved; it was necessary to reflect on what to do, without recrimination.

He spoke of the open and transparent approach taken by the presidency in organising the work of the IGC, notably through greater involvement of Parliament's representatives than in the past. He stressed that of the over 80 issues of disagreement identified at the beginning of the IGC, almost all had been resolved. A notable success was the area of defence arrangements, where an agreement had been reached which rested on three pillars: operational structures approved by the European Council, an arrangement open to any Member State to join in the future and an autonomous capacity for the EU which would complement NATO's role.

Before the Summit, a number of institutional matters remained unresolved, according to Mr Berlusconi: the composition of Parliament and the Commission, the treatment of more subjects by qualified majority voting (QMV) and the voting method for QMV. Progress was made on all of these except for the voting method. Mr Berlusconi said the European leaders had preferred to end discussions when the realised they would not reach a consensus. A true failure, he said, would have been coming to an agreement which was a step backwards, which did not provide Europe with the structure it needs to take decisions effectively and play its part on the world stage. He noted that there was agreement not to unravel the consensus already achieved, but rather to concentrate future consideration and discussions on the outstanding issues. This was a positive note on which to conclude the summit.

Speaking about the European Council meeting, Mr Berlusconi focussed first on economic issues and steps to complete the internal market and relaunch European growth. EU leaders had agreed the European Growth Initiative put forward by the Italian Presidency, to increase investment in Europe's infrastructure in terms of transport and energy networks, but also in terms of human capital, research, development and technology. The aim was a qualitative leap in the material structures of the enlarged EU, but also to stimulate growth and job creation. The initiative would be financed from both the public sector, including EU and Member State budgets, and the private sector, with a guarantee from the European Investment Bank.

Since eurozone states could no longer devalue their currencies nor run large budget deficits in the medium term, and since, according to Mr Berlusconi, the European Central Bank was unfortunately focussed on controlling inflation not on supporting the economy along the lines of the US Federal Reserve, other measures were needed to stimulate growth. Mr Berlusconi also noted that the summit had agreed on an updating of the Trans European Network projects to reflect the enlarged EU.

Mr Berlusconi stressed the need for structural reform in the EU economy. Painful sacrifices were needed to relaunch the economy. He warmly praised the work of the task force led by Wim KOK on employment policy, which had presented useful detailed proposals for each country. The Italian Prime Minister spoke of his participation in a summit of social partners and progress made on European competitiveness over the last six months. He described the European economy as a "giant Gulliver held down by Lilipution red tape." Faced with strong competition from low tax and low regulation economies in the US and Asia, Europe must focus on competitiveness.

Turning to issues of the security of Europe's citizens, Mr Berlusconi noted progress and agreement in a number of areas. Member States had agreed on a European agency to reinforce the EU's external borders, which should be up and running by the start of 2005. They had also agreed on a programme to tackle maritime migration flows, in particular to deal with the tragic outcome of attempts by migrants to land on EU's coast. At a recent meeting with five EU and five African countries from around the Mediterranean, there was consensus on the need for more measures to be taken by the African states to control migration but also that the EU should contribute to some of the costs they incur in doing so.

EU leaders had also agreed, said Mr Berlusconi, on the need to welcome and integrate legal migrants. While progress had been made on asylum issues, they had not yet reached consensus on minimum procedural standards and a common definition of refugee status.

The European Council had agreed on the introduction of biometric data on visas and residence permits and was looking to include such data in Member States' own passports in the future.

Speaking of a conference held in Rome in October on dialogue between religions, Mr Berlusconi highlighted the need for greater mutual comprehension between Islam and the West, something which emerged in all the bilateral meetings with Arab League countries. He said a minority of the Arab world saw conflict as inevitable, but this was a terrible idea, which should be addressed through permanent dialogue. Mr Berlusconi also noted that the European Council had stressed the EU's total opposition to extremism, intolerance, terrorism and anti-Semitism.
Progress had also been made, he reported, on the Common Foreign and Security Policy based on conflict prevention and crisis management capacity. A new agreement had been reached on setting up an agency to stimulate Europe's military capacity. Also agreed was the previously problematic subject of the site of ten EU agencies, undecided for two years.

Mr Berlusconi asserted that the 2004 enlargement was likely to be a full success, with all the accession countries continuing to transpose the acquis. Bulgaria and Romania had also made considerable progress, he said, and could look forward to potential accession in 2007. Turkey had enacted many vital institutional reforms and was progressing on the Copenhagen criteria. He encouraged Turkey to continue on this path.

On transatlantic relations, the Italian Prime Minister argued that after a difficult period, it was positive that the European Council had agreed on the need for a permanent, equitable EU-US dialogue to help tackle challenges together, defending the common values of the two sides and fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He also stressed the strategic nature of relations with Russia, and hoped for a better integration of Russia into European structures in the future.

Mr Berlusconi concluded with a message of confidence and trust. In the IGC all countries had defended their own positions, but none had doubted that there was an overwhelming common European interest. He believed the Irish Presidency could build on the achievements of the Convention and the agreements reached under the Italian Presidency, to come to a final agreement on a constitutional treaty which would unite Europe, not divide it.

Romano PRODI opened his remarks on the Italian Presidency and the IGC by saying that the six months that were drawing to a close had been full of events and ideas. At the opening sitting on 2 July, he stated that he had listed 13 legislative proposals that the Commission hoped would go through by the end of this year. President Prodi noted with satisfaction that thanks to the efforts of the Italian Presidency, agreement had been reached on five important items on that list. In particular, he mentioned the amended Directive on the traceability of GMOs and the framework agreement with the European Space Agency. The latter would give, he said, a big boost to the EU's space policy. The introduction of the Single European Sky, he said, and the rules on public procurement were other major achievements of these six months and both would be adopted formally early next year. Lastly, clear outlines had now emerged on a political agreement on take-over bids, which Parliament would be considering during this part-session. The Italian Presidency in general, he added, "has carried the flame with a keen sense of responsibility for which the Commission is grateful." For this and for the strenuous efforts they have made, the President expressed his thanks publicly to the Italian Government.

The topic the President was keenest on, was the European Initiative for Growth, which the Council approved unanimously. This Initiative, he said, "is the most visible part of a more general plan to stimulate the EU economy." The economic measures adopted by the Council include action to enhance competitiveness and encourage job creation. Lastly, President Prodi applauded the agreement reached in the Council on the new European Agencies dealing with air, rail and maritime safety, food safety, fisheries control, chemicals and disease prevention and control. There were two reasons, he stated, why the agreement on the Agencies is so important, he said. "First, it provides a more flexible and more efficient model for Community structures, a model that will help bring the Union even closer to the people. Secondly, it is the result of a comprehensive approach that reconciles individual countries' interests, which can hold up or impede progress towards the common interest if they are not brought into harmony."

Turning to the Brussels summit: he stated that he was "sad and disappointed" at the failure to adopt a constitution for the European Union. The Union, he outlined, needed a sounder and better-structured institutional framework. He recalled at Laeken, the Member States agreed on three basic points:

- the need to improve the way our institutions functioned in the wake of that night at Nice;
- the need to rationalise our legislative and institutional procedures. Over the decades they have grown so complex that this has affected the consistency and coherence of the Union's policies and procedures;
- and lastly, to bring the European integration process and people closer.

The Convention, he said, did a good job. After 18 months it presented a draft Constitution that was a good basis for the Intergovernmental Conference to work on. And as the Commission had kept repeating, the text needed just a few amendments on certain points. In certain areas the Convention's work was excellent, pointing to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the arrangements on qualified-majority voting and the allocation of political responsibilities.

Above all, the President made reference to the increased role of the European Parliament, to which the draft Constitution finally gives greater powers of decision over the Union's budget. On the issue of the Commission's make-up, the principle of one Commissioner per Member State was already there in essence. The practical arrangements were not satisfactory, but work to follow up the Intergovernmental Conference sorted this out. "Like every working basis, the Convention's draft was intended to take us forward. But some Member States have used it to take us backwards." Last week, the President pointed out, the European integration project ground to a halt and the EU missed a great chance. "But the consequences will not be dramatic if the EU can keep resolutely to the course set by the Convention. The problems identified in the Laeken declaration still need solving and the basic text is still the Convention's. The deadlock at Brussels means the Council as a wholefailed to reach consensus on a unitary proposal. But sharing the blame is not enough." In line with the Laeken declaration, the President stated that the solution could not lie in a combination of vetoes but in converging interests. The President was convinced that the right solution would be found with time and patience. He hoped that future European Councils would come back to the issue of our Constitution with a realistic timetable and a comprehensive approach that the Union had perhaps lost.

Finally, President Prodi pointed out that only a few days had gone by since the Brussels summit and he said it was too early and could be presumptuous to put forward a full response as yet. But the EU clearly had a duty to give it thought. "Some are thinking about a vanguard of pioneering States breaking new ground in terms of greater cooperation and paving the way for a stronger and more closely integrated Union. Similar solutions are part of the tradition of European integration. And if we cast our minds back, we see that such solutions emerge in particular when times are toughest. Europe is essential and we must see it as beyond a simple conglomeration of nation-states otherwise we risk being left on the edge of history".

Hans-Gert POETTERING (EPP-ED, D) stated that 13 December had been "a bad day for Europe". His group, he said, was determined that there should be a Constitution. With an EU of 450 million people, it was the only way to guarantee peace and a Europe based on law and order. However, he welcomed the 82 areas of agreement reached under the Italian Presidency outlined by Prime Minister Berlusconi. Mr Poettering stated that it was not possible to blame a small number of countries for the failure of the IGC. What was needed now was compromise, a skill that Europe had mastered. He opposed any ideas of multi-speed or core Europe stating that this was not the solution to the Union's difficulties. The EU, he added, needed to focus on unresolved problems and not question its achievements pointing to the success of the euro.

Enrique BARÓN CRESPO (E) for the Socialists stated that he "regretted" the results of the IGC. Europe needed to "decide together" and not focus too much on individual Member State concerns. He was also disappointed at the attitude of Spain saying that had "left the avant-garde and joined the retrograde attitudes in the Union". Mr Barón Crespo also pointed out that 95% of the Constitution had been agreed and that it had now become part of the EU's "acquis." It was only the other 5% where problems remained. He asked Prime Minister Berlusconi to comment on his suggestion that the Convention method would be better than all night negotiations by Heads of State and Government in trying to agree the final 5% of the Constitution.

Graham WATSON (South West), for the Liberals, stated that the Italian Presidency had succeeded in undermining the Stability Pact, wrongly supported Russia's actions in Chechnya and offended Canada. He stated that the results of the IGC were a "personal failure and the Prime Minister was poorly prepared". However, Mr Watson did say that a late agreement was better than a bad agreement. He called for a short IGC given the forthcoming elections in many Member States. He also criticised the "actions of large Member States which were leading the Union into crisis." Mr Watson was disappointed at the Summit conclusions, as they made no reference to Guantanamo Bay or to the OSCE assessment of the recent Russian elections. Mr Watson was also concerned that allowing China to be part of Galileo could risk Europe lifting its arms embargo to China. Overall, he stated that the Italian Presidency had failed to reach its stated aim of a Constitution. Mr Berlusconi therefore, he said, had failed.

Francis WURTZ (EUL/NGL, F) reminded MEPs that he had been highly critical of the Convention's draft constitution, since he saw it as constitutionalising the liberal model of Europe and setting in stone the most restrictive aspects of Maastricht. But, he said, his group was not happy at the IGC's failure to agree. 'Liberal Europe' was still agreed by all the leaders and there had been no real debate on the Union's objectives and values. He was concerned at other bad effects of the deadlock, notably the return of ideas for a 'Core Europe' and threats from rich countries to end their support for poorer ones. This would be the death knell for the European idea, in favour of a simple free trade area. A constitution needs to be a project citizens can support, and this would not emerge from a conclave of Heads of State and Government.

Monica FRASSONI (Greens/EFA, B) said the Italian Presidency had left the EU neither stronger nor more united than it found it. She argued that Mr Berlusconi's comments on Chechnya and the death penalty, and his support for George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon had reduced the credibility of the EU's foreign policy. She attacked Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti for his role in ECOFIN's proposals on the budget procedure. Despite what Mr Berlusconi's television channels would say, the lack of agreement at the IGC was a major failure, she said. At the root of this failure was the simple fact that the old and new Member State governments cannot agree on a good Constitution. Without involving Parliaments and citizens, she said, the Irish Presidency would not succeed either. Her group does not believe in a two speed Europe, they wanted to relaunch a draft for a united, effective Europe.

Cristiana MUSCARDINI (UEN, I) thanked the Italian Presidency for its work and paid tribute to the Italian servicemen killed in Iraq in the cause of liberty and democracy. She highlighted the work undertaken for a strong, free, independent Europe, and argued that combating terrorism needed the involvement of citizens. Her group regretted the lack of agreement at the IGC and she called for the stubborn attitudes preventing agreement to be abandoned.

William ABITBOL (EDD, F) listed the problems of the EU over the last year: a split over Iraq, failure at Cancun, the collapse of the Stability Pact, and now the failure of the IGC. He said Europe's citizens would not regret the lack of a Constitution. The real reason for the failure was not, he said, the Spanish, Polish or French positions, but simply that a Europe of 25 countries was not ready for this sort of integration. We should think again for two centuries, not two months before trying to introduce this Constitution.

Marco PANNELLA (IND, I) argued that the EU which had looked hard at itself was the same EU which had failed to prevent the Balkans crisis in the 1990s and which could not agree a meaningful Middle East position. He said the blame for the lack of agreement lay with the nationalistic bureaucracies. The Italian Presidency had sold out Europe in accepting the egotism of Spain and Poland and the arrogant nationalism of France. We would all pay for this, he said.

Jonathan EVANS (Wales), leader of the British Conservatives, questioned whether the results of the IGC could be fairly described as a failure, or as he put it, reflected the current attitudes of many governments. Mr Evans wondered when it would be possible to reach a final agreement citing Sweden who, he said, had stated that it would not be possible to return to the issue before 2005. He criticised the speech and attitude of Mr Watson saying that he was calling for a referendum on the outcome of the IGC despite his group being opposed to this position. He also reflected Robin Cook's words that the EU should stop its eternal introspection and turn its efforts to matters including: jobs, economic growth, the environment, and human rights - areas which would bring the EU closer to its citizens. Finally, Mr Evans pointed out that citizens would have an opportunity to express their opinion in the European elections in June.

Andrew DUFF (ELDR, Eastern) stated that what was frustrating about the IGC was that governments, except Poland, were close to an agreement. The failure of the IGC, he remarked, made the Convention's proposals "even more attractive". Mr Duff wanted to know what exactly had been agreed in particular with regard to Parliament's powers on the EU's budget, on decision making with regard to justice and home affairs, on qualified majority voting for foreign policy and on blocking proposals by national parliaments.

Richard CORBETT (PES, Yorkshire and the Humber) stated that it was clear that Parliament was now divided into two camps - the optimists and the pessimists. The pessimists, he said, would believe that the Union was in its biggest crisis since the failure of the European Defence Community in 1954. The optimists state that 95% of the Constitution had been agreed, (but not all articles drafted) and only the voting rights in the Council remained a problem. Mr Corbett stated that he was by nature "a cautious optimist" and stated that the Union could not renegotiate every single article of the draft Constitution. He called on the Irish Presidency "to tear up its original plans" and focus on reaching agreement as the current treaties were not satisfactory for an enlarged European Union.

Responding to the debate, Silvio Berlusconi recognised the widespread disappointment that the 60 days available to the Italian Presidency of the IGC had not been enough to achieve the practical results hoped for - that might have needed a miracle. This should not, however, lead to pessimism about the future. There was, he said, no point in recriminations and no merit in dividing Europe into first and second class members. To do so would pour cold water on the enthusiasm for Europe shown in particular by the accession countries.

Mr Berlusconi argued that the work of the Convention should be confirmed and strengthened. He sought to allay fears about the future, pointing out that all 25 present and future Member States had agreed to regard the points of consensus reached so far as an acquis which would not be reopened in the future. This included the outcome of the Naples meeting and the agreement on defence matters.

On the need for decision making by majority, rather than unanimity, Mr Berlusconi argued that this was essential if Europe was to take decisions quickly enough to allow it to play its proper role on the international stage, promoting trade and prosperity, but also exporting democracy and freedom. He explained the numerous compromises on the majority voting system the Italian Presidency had put forward, but said that he understood why this was a difficult issue for many member states.

He concluded by asserting that an agreement could be found in the future and that the IGC had not been a failure. It would be possible, he said, for Europe to have the institutions to play an important role for peace, prosperity and security in the world.

Responding to the debate for the Commission, President Prodi recalled, in an answer to Mrs Frassoni, that the Commission remained committed to the Kyoto protocol entering into force.

As to the debate on the IGC, he welcomed the fact that the debate had focussed on the future rather than on incriminations about so called failure. He also recalled that the Constitution would have to be agreed unanimously pointing to disagreements on Parliament's budget procedure. As he put it "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

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