Brussels, 9 May 2006
President Barroso at the Joint Parliamentary Meeting on the “Future of Europe”
May 9 is a very important day in our calendar. Each year, it gives us a chance to stand back
from the daily rush of making Europe work. It gives us a chance to think again about the
vision and foresight of Europe’s founding fathers – and of what has been achieved in fifty
years of peace and cooperation.
There can be no better day to turn our eyes towards the future of Europe. And no better forum
than this, a meeting of parliamentarians from all over Europe.
Tomorrow, the European Commission will adopt its contribution to the debate. We hope that
this will be a good basis for the European Council in June. It has been an interesting process
for the Commission. When we launched our “Plan D” exercise last year, we made clear that
this was not about “selling Europe”. It was about listening, and debating. And Plan D has
taught us some useful lessons.
The end of the period of reflection
We all know that June will see the end of a one year “period of reflection”. The referenda in
France and the Netherlands raised serious issues which deserve serious answers.
The Constitutional Treaty was based on the right principles and the right values. It was
designed to make Europe more democratic and more effective. It flowed from a Convention
where parliamentarians were the majority voice.
So I would dearly have liked to have been able to stand here today and chart the next steps for
the Constitution. But it is clear that there is as yet no consensus on the institutional settlement.
Of course, the questions the Constitution tried to answer are still there. But if they cannot be
settled today, this does not mean that we should be inactive. We should not just stand aside
and hope that the issue will somehow resolve itself.
The Plan D exercise has been particularly useful in this respect. It has shown that at this stage,
citizens give action a higher priority than the institutional debate. But there is a very strong
appetite for action. Citizens want to see the European Union focusing on delivering its
Yes, it would be easier to act if more streamlined institutions were in place and if we had the
democratic guarantees of more co-decision. But we have shown over the past six months that
we can be, and are, active. Agreement on the Financial Perspectives, a new impetus for
growth and jobs, the revised Stability and Growth Pact, political agreement on services and
chemicals, doubling development aid. All difficult, sensitive dossiers. All now moving ahead.
Answering the expectations of our citizens is surely the best way to create a climate in which
the institutional issues can be tackled. We need to move step by step. An active policy agenda
gives the confidence to citizens that Europe is united and focused on their key goals.
Such a policy agenda must not avoid the tough issues. Citizens expect the European Union to
help to tackle unemployment, make Europe secure and promote a strong voice in the world.
There is an instinctive sense that globalisation demands a European response. So we should
What we have to do is to centre policies more clearly on the citizens’ needs – whether as
workers, consumers, or private citizens. Yes, Europe’s policies have brought open markets
and new freedoms for individuals. But we cannot pretend that we have reached all our goals
in these areas, or that we have always kept pace with the changes in the technologies, the
cultures and the societies around us. Yes, enlargement has enriched Europe hugely and
brought it new strength. But we must recognise some very real public concern, and show that
Europe is not enlarging by default, but through our own deliberate choice.
The four subjects you have been discussing in the working groups seem to me to cover very
well some of the key issues we have to tackle.
The Union has clearly fallen short of its potential in terms of external relations. We need a
more coherent and focused approach to reaching our objectives worldwide. We also need to
show how we are having a real debate on the value added of enlargement and our capacity to
absorb new members.
Facing up to globalisation and the modernisation of European economic and social models
has been the central theme of my Commission, and goes to the heart of where citizens expect
a European response. Modernisation and reform are essential if we are to promote our values
Freedom, security and justice in Europe have come a long way. But to give Europeans
security and to help them to exercise freedom, we need to make use of all the options
available to work more closely together. I will return to this subject later.
As for the financing of the Union, we have successfully concluded negotiations on the next
Financial Perspective. But we all agreed on the need to step back and take a cool look at
whether we have got the focus right. The European Council asked the Commission to take
forward this fundamental review in 2008/9, to ensure the right budget structures for the future.
This will be a crucial task for this Commission, and this Parliament. . The EU budget is a
critical tool to ensure that policies are delivered in the best way possible – it must be used to
leverage the best results.
We do not have to have all the answers now. But we do have to show to our citizens that we
will devote our energies to moving ahead in these areas.
These are complex issues requiring ambitious policies. They cannot be delivered piecemeal.
The current Treaties set up an institutional system to deliver EU action. The mix of European
Parliament, Council and Commission is unique, and has stood the test of time. But to fully
achieve our goals, it needs to be based on two foundation stones. First, there has to be a broad
political consensus about what Europe is trying to achieve – a consensus which must be in
tune with citizens’ key goals. Second, it needs the support of partners working at every level
in every part of Europe.
Partnership and national parliaments
Partnership is a two way street. We need a real commitment from political actors across the
Union – from national governments, from regional and local authorities, from the social
partners, and of course from parliamentarians. The other side of the coin is that the EU
institutions must continue to make the way the EU works more accessible and more effective.
The work of the institutions must be based on key democratic principles – accountability,
transparency, and trust. We must respect the principle of subsidiarity. We must minimise
bureaucracy. We must take further steps to open up. The steps taken on better regulation have
pushed this process further.
Simplifying legislation and looking at alternatives, proper consultation and careful impact
assessment is not a technical but political exercise, to respond to popular concerns about an
excessively bureaucratic Europe. Further steps are needed. All the EU institutions have a
responsibility to show that the European Union is here to serve its citizens, and to be
accountable for the results.
This meeting itself shows how national parliaments have become more involved in EU
affairs. The European Parliament and national parliaments now come together to discuss the
key themes facing Europe, like the Lisbon strategy or the Financial Perspectives. This brings
real added value. But we must do more.
The Constitution gave particular attention to one issue, the examination of proposals against a
subsidiarity test. Clearly, the early warning system proposed needs the force of a Treaty to
come into being.
However, for too long national parliaments have been seen as semi-detached players on the
This must change. The involvement of national parliaments can help make European policies
more attuned to diverse circumstances and more effectively implemented.
We do not need to wait for an institutional settlement to improve and facilitate the scrutiny by
national parliaments of EU legislation. So, today, I announce to you that:
First, the Commission wishes to transmit directly all new proposals and consultation papers to
national parliaments, inviting them to react so as to improve the process of policy
Second that the Commission step up its political engagement with national parliaments. This
is already happening. Last year Commissioners made more than 100 visits to national
parliaments. I was honoured to address the plenary of a number of national parliaments,
including Slovenia and France. I will be visiting the Austrian Parliaments and the Danish
Parliament during the coming two weeks and more such visits are being planned. I make a
personal commitment today to visit all national parliaments during this Commission, should
they so wish.
A commitment to move ahead
There are other steps we can take today which can make us more effective and more
democratic, even with the existing Treaties.
The Amsterdam Treaty gave the European Union the power to bring police and judicial
cooperation in criminal matters under Community rules. Similar steps could be taken for legal
Yes, these changes need unanimous agreement and support in national parliaments as well as
in the Council. But I believe that the case can be made, for two reasons.
First, this is not a marginal area for EU policy. It is an area where the citizens have an
instinctive sense that European action is needed. And where they expect the EU to deliver.
We owe it to them to avoid unnecessary obstacles to proper decision-making.
But just as importantly, this is an area where we must improve democratic accountability. We
must ensure democratic control inside normal Community procedures, with European
Parliament scrutiny. Equally, we must ensure national legislative control by national
parliaments. We intend to look at this area, case by case, and make a proposal to use the
powers we have to make these policies more effective and more democratic.
The discussions over the past two days have provided essential input into the debate. The
voice of national and European parliamentarians is grounded in your democratic mandate and
your personal experience. When our proposals are published tomorrow, you will find echoes
of much of what has been said here today and yesterday. I look forward to moving together
into the next phase of Europe delivering tangible results in citizens’ agenda for Europe.
Thank you for your attention.