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President Prodi's Speech at EP - With Italy for a strong, united Europe

Summary: July 2, 2003: Speech by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission : « With Italy for a strong, united Europe"at the European Parliament (Strasbourg)

President Cox,
President-in-Office of the Council,
Honourable Members,

The Italian Presidency is beginning at a critical point in the life of the Union. It has the tough but exhilarating task of carrying through the revision of the Union’s founding Treaties and delivering the first European Constitution.

The six months of the Italian Presidency will see the start of the Intergovernmental Conference. It will work on the basis -- the “good basis” to quote the Thessaloniki Council Conclusions -- of the draft Constitutional Treaty drawn up by the Convention.

The Convention is Europe’s first experience of a constitution-building process. We should not underestimate the impact of the word “constitution” on the EU institutions.

This has made it possible to achieve results that looked quite unattainablea while ago:

But I have never pretended I was happy that certain reforms I consider indispensable -- and which many have called for -- have been tackled too timidly or not at all.

In September when the Intergovernmental Conference opens, the Commission will accordingly be putting the key issues still unresolved on the negotiating table with its opinion (under Article 48):Lastly, a more democratic and efficient institutional framework, which should come out of the Intergovernmental Conference, is vital for an economic and social policy and a foreign policy with more clout.

The Commission has the political will, the arguments and -- let me be so bold as to say -- the enthusiasm to press these points forcefully and wholeheartedly.


The other great challenge of the next six months is to press ahead with the unification of Europe and the new proximity strategy.

As we push on with enlargement, we also need to fully implement the pre-accession strategy for the candidate countries. The Commission is working actively on this.

The Commission wants this process to work -- and work well -- for the sake of our fellow citizens and the Member States, both current and acceding.

With the momentum provided by the Thessaloniki Council we can also continue to forge an ever-closer partnership with the Balkans. Otherwise, this phase of the enlargement process can never be considered complete.

At Thessaloniki we agreed on an agenda to take the Balkan countries to full membership of the Union. I am sure the Italian Presidency will do its utmost to keep this region at the top of the Union’s priorities.

I am pleased that the strategy I proposed, the development of a ring of friendly countries, is starting to produce the anticipated results, and I welcome the unanimous support of the heads of State and government for this long-term EU policy.

Moving to the practical phase of the new proximity strategy is vital. It involves specific action plans and new assistance instruments. We are preparing proposals along these lines for Parliament and the Council to consider under your Presidency.

In particular, as regards the Mediterranean region, I hope the Euro-Mediterranean Bank and the Foundation for intercultural dialogue will be in place by the end of the year.

The European Union contributed significantly to the drafting of the Road Map, alongside the United States, Russia and the United Nations, and it must also play a key role in its implementation.

We will continue to pay close attention to transatlantic relations. The recent EU-US Summit in Washington marked an important point in our relations with the United States. Quite apart from the matters discussed -- and the discussions turned to be amongst our meatiest in recent years -- the most important point was perhaps the firm determination shown on both sides to re-establish a climate of cooperation and solidarity.

I am not saying there are no differences in our viewpoints and approaches to particular issues. But even where this is so, the strength of our relationship cannot be called into question. As I said at the Summit, our goals are the same, even if we seek at times to achieve them in different ways.

Perhaps the clearest example of this fact is the relationship between the United States and the European Union in the field of international trade. Both sides want fewer barriers and better access to markets, fairer trade and clearer rules that are also more intelligently attuned to encouraging the neediest countries.

On some of these topics, our practical approaches are different. But this does not stop us having a close, continuing relationship that allows us to handle our differences. And it does not stop us working together to achieve a positive outcome in the multilateral talks within the World Trade Organisation.

I want to make it very clear that all this is possible because the Union speaks and negotiates with a single voice in trade matters. This makes it a reliable and influential partner, which it is not in areas where competence is divided and fragmentary.

Honourable Members,

The toughest challenge we face is to restore conditions for vigorous, balanced and enduring economic growth in the Union.

The situation is difficult: economic growth has slowed significantly, although I believe there is no reason to speak of deflation.

At the same time, we must tackle the reform of Europe’s social security system too. Competition from our trading partners and the ageing of our population make such reforms urgent.

Before us there is also a great opportunity: an integrated Single Market of almost half a billion people.

So it is crucial to give practical thought to instruments for strengthening coordination of the Union’s economic and fiscal policies, in order to tackle the difficulties together and exploit together the enormous advantages the Union offers.

The Commission is well aware how serious these challenges are. In the last few months it has put forward two proposals, which the European Council strongly supported.

First, we proposed -- and our proposal was taken up -- to utilise all the flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact so each country can adapt its fiscal policy to the situation, without losing sight of the stability objectives and without overshooting the 3% limit laid down in the Pact.

As I have said on several occasions, this was necessary but not sufficient. We need to move towards closer coordination, and tax policies in the Member States -- particularly those with the highest public debts -- need to become more sustainable in the long term.

Secondly, at the Brussels European Council last March, in the Commission’s name I raised the issue of the need to give fresh impetus to completing the infrastructure necessary for European development and to supporting research, increasing spending to reach our target of 3% of the Union’s GDP in line with the goals we set at Lisbon.

I also voiced my concern that investment in research in the Member States has actually declined compared with last year, while Europe’s major firms are transferring a growing proportion of their research outside Europe. Hundreds of thousands of our brightest talents are leaving to work -- and stay -- in the United States.

That is why the Commission has decided to react. In conjunction with the European Investment Bank, it is finalising an initiative to contribute to increasing overall investment and private-sector participation in two key areas --trans-European networks and research and development projects -- with a view to achieving the Lisbon targets.

We want to mobilise and coordinate all current sources of funding within the Union and explore all options, without jeopardising Member States’ budget stability.

The Commission is pleased to note that the Italian Government has recently given its strong support for this strategy of ours.

Lastly, we need to speed up the approval of proposals prepared by the Greek Presidency but not yet approved. Approval in the course of the Italian Presidency will contribute to improving the Union’s economic and social outlook. In particular, the proposed legislation concerns the following fields:President,

I am confident that, with the help of the Italian Presidency and your own, we will be able to speedily adopt the practical decisions needed to achieve these goals.

Economic recovery is not just about reforms. It also calls for confidence that proposals can be put into effect quickly.

President Cox,
Honourable Members,

These are the main challenges we must meet in the coming months. The foundations of the new Europe are being laid, and these foundations are political and economic -- not just constitutional.

The Commission is working to maintain and consolidate a strong and prosperous Europe that is also just and caring. The greatness of the European project lies precisely in its capacity to nurture and foster peace, democracy, justice, prosperity and solidarity.

The Commission has also started wide-ranging internal discussions on the post-2006 Financial Perspective.

In the autumn we will be presenting our political project for the enlarged and reformed Union for discussion at the December European Council under the Italian Presidency.

The forthcoming Financial Perspective represents a crucial turning point for the European project. By 2007 the Union will have a new constitutional framework, in all likelihood 27 members and a population of almost 500 million.

Honourable Members,

We are at a critical time in the Union’s history. A time that calls for unity and a strong determination to cooperate throughout the EU institutions and across the governments of the Member States. I am convinced we will respond in the right way to the great issues facing Europe today.

This calls for vision and conviction.

For vision, because we are laying the foundations for the Union of decades to come. So we cannot accept solutions that are limited or tied to the short-term.

For conviction, because a stronger, more united Europe is not just one of several options. A united Europe is the only way forward: for if Europe is not stronger and more united, our own countries and societies will be irretrievably relegated to a marginal role.

Italy has been there since the start of the European integration project and has always played a foremost role. Think of the Treaty of Rome, think of the preparation of the Single European Act, think of the enthusiasm and conviction Italy has put into helping to achieve the great goals of European integration -- here in this House too, with members like Altiero Spinelli and Emilio Colombo. We all trust and expect Italy to keep unhesitatingly to that path.

Thank you.

  • Ref: SP03-238EN
  • EU source: European Commission
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 2/7/2003

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