MEPs debate the Lisbon Treaty and European Council - 11 December 2007

MEPs debated the Lisbon Treaty and the forthcoming European Council, just one day before the Treaty is to be signed. MEPsdebated the work of the Portuguese presidency and the preparations for the European Council which will focus on the Lisbon strategy, the fight against terrorism, the Schengen extension, migration from Africa, progress on the Lisbon Strategy, the outcome of the Bali summit on climate change, maritime policy, Kosovo, the outcome of the EU-Africa summit and Galileo and the EIT.

Council - Mr Lobo Antunes Opening the debate on behalf of the Council, the Portuguese minister for European Affairs, Mr Lobo Antunes, said the summit would welcome the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and witness the signing of the new EU Treaty. He hoped the treaty, which would give the EU a stable framework enabling it to face future challenges such as climate change and globalisation, would be quickly ratified so it could enter into force by 11 January 2009. The summit will also adopt a declaration on globalisation, which Mr Lobo Antunes stressed should be seen as "a source of opportunity, not a threat". In addition it will set up a reflexion group to examine how the EU can best face up to the issues of the next 30 years. Further topics on the summit agenda will include a review of the area of freedom, security and justice, as well as controls on the borders of the new Member States. Migration policy, he emphasised, requires a common approach. Terrorism will also be on the agenda. On the economic front, Mr Lobo Antunes said the summit would discuss the next phase of the Lisbon strategy, including common principles for flexicurity. Energy policy, as agreed at the spring summit, is another subject on the agenda, as is a renewed strategy for sustainable development. In external relations, the EU's crucial role in the negotiations in Kosovo will be addressed. Reviewing his country's presidency of the EU, the minister alluded to the successes of the various summits held, including those with Brazil and Africa, and concluded by saying that the European Council would reflect the fact that the Portuguese presidency's main objectives for the past six months had been accomplished. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso European Commission President said that the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon represented an end to the difficulties that the EU had been facing since 2005. Europe, he said, had to respond to globalisation and the Commission would be producing its strategy for shaping globalisation 2008-2010. "We have now the best figures since the 1980s in terms of job creation. The Lisbon Strategy is helping to position Europe and European citizens to succeed in the age of globalisation. The Lisbon Strategy has given Europe a common, pragmatic economic agenda, fully respecting national defences. " Two weeks ago, together with the President of the European Council, I was in China and India for the summits between the European Union and these two emerging powers. It was fascinating to see the pace of economic development in that part of the world. We need to be attentive to what is going on in Asia. It is true that economic development has helped to take millions of human beings out of poverty. I have no doubts their progress will have a direct impact on future generations of Europeans. So the world is changing and I believe this is also making the need to adapt our common European project to the new challenges more obvious. That is why today there are conditions to accept the declaration on globalisation that European Union leaders will adopt this week. It is more obvious than ever that even the greatest powers of Europe cannot alone tackle the challenges of globalisation. It is obvious that more than ever we need a strong European Union. I believe that the rise of the powers of Asia on one hand and the awareness about the climate change challenge on the other are, in fact, two very important driving forces for the European Union, because they show that there is a challenge called globalisation and there is also an opportunity to grasp. Therefore I think that this week’s European Council will have a very important meaning and a great significance. Some years ago it would have been impossible for European leaders to agree on the declaration on globalisation they are about to support. Now it is quite clear that the goals of the European Union are not just internal: the goals of the European Union are also global. We need to promote our interests and to promote our values in the new global order that is emerging. That is why I think we can take very important decisions this week. We should do that with full confidence in our capacities, above all trusting the ability of European societies to rise to the circumstances. In particular, we should not forget that in Europe we have impressive human skills, great traditions of knowledge and critical knowledge, the capacity to adapt, we have sophisticated scientific and technological knowledge. More importantly, we have free societies organised under the rule of law and this gives us a great advantage in a world that is changing and changing fast. This is the European way of life. To preserve it and to improve it is our best investment. With the right policy agenda, we can face globalisation with confidence. Globalisation poses specific challenges: One of them is mass migration, which is, to some extent, a new phenomenon in Europe – at least with the dimension it has taken recently. Last week the Commission adopted a communication on migration, which will be discussed in the European Council. It stresses the need to see the issue in an overall perspective. It is, of course, central to our border controls and security, but it has also huge economic and social implications, and demands to be a central theme in our relations with partners worldwide. Migration is close to the concerns and interests of citizens. It cannot be tackled by any individual Member State on its own. As I have said several times, also in this House, it is completely absurd in a European Union of 27 Member States, where we have freedom of circulation of people, to have 27 policies of immigration. We need to have a common approach to immigration, we need to recognise that the problems some of our Member States are facing should also be considered as European problems. We need an integrated policy, one which makes sense to European citizens, to immigrants and to international partners. The goal of our document presented to this Council is to spark debate, first at the European Council, but also in European societies, including, of course, this Parliament, and launch a process leading to a comprehensive policy. By addressing an issue that is a central concern of European citizens, just a day after the signature of the Lisbon Treaty, the Union continues its approach, one which is based on concrete results to Europe and concrete results for our citizens. This is the right way to move forward and I think this week’s European summit can take us a step further in our wish and our will to shape globalisation and shape it with our values. Political group speakers On behalf of the EPP-ED group, Joseph DAUL (FR) said the Lisbon treaty would mark "the return of a results-oriented Europe", which would "bring two years of uncertainty to an end" by giving the EU a new working method from January 2009. He described the Charter of Fundamental Rights as "the main innovation", covering two issues, namely "who are we?" and "what are we going to do together?" The key concepts were "shared values" and "unity in diversity". Mr Daul saw the treaty as crucial for democracy, since it gives "more power to the European Parliament and national parliaments, a better voting system in Council and a right of legislative initiative for citizens". The EP, he believed, "must now adopt a higher profile" and his group would be glad to initiate ideas for legislation. The summit would also decide another important issue: "the broadening of the Schengen area to include the Member States who joined the EU in 2004". Lastly, Mr Daul hailed the extension of police and judicial cooperation as a way "to combat the scourges of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings". For the Socialists, Martin SCHULZ (DE), also referred to the issue of mass immigration into Europe and the fact that the EU now had external but not internal frontiers. In connection with Schengen, he said the mistake had been made of speaking about national sovereignty rather than effectiveness. He criticised the fact that some Member States had blocked much-needed legislation, when it was other Member States (in the south) that faced the problems of immigration. Mr Schulz looked forward to deeper integration as a result of the new treaty and welcomed today's formal signing of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which would anchor a number of worker's rights. Hoping that the need for a referendum in Ireland would not block ratification, he described the treaty both as "a lasting covenant" and as "an interim step". The Socialist leader concluded by saying that "without a stable institutional framework the EU will have no way of coping with the challenges ahead". According to the ALDE group speaker, Andrew DUFF (UK), "this is a week of celebration". The treaty would be signed, including "protection of the citizens through the Charter". He envisaged a "dramatic improvement in the quality of democracy". He was "glad that Prime Minister Brown has decided to show up" to sign the treaty, albeit late, but he cautioned the summit leaders to "be careful that Mr Brown signs in pen, rather than pencil". Turning to future problems, Mr Duff spoke first of Kosovo, where "the EU is about to supervise the independence of a country without the approval of the UN Security Council". He hoped those who feared the precedent this might set would simply express their reservations through "constructive abstention". He also believed "the EU should reiterate its refusal to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia before it delivers the war criminals to the International Criminal Court". Lastly, he suggested that the Sarkozy-inspired "groupe des sages" might come up with useful proposals for the future of the Balkans. Brian CROWLEY (IE) for the UEN group said that the only country to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. "I believe if we have a high profile professional campaign the result will be positive." Yes, the citizens of Europe want more Europe. But more Europe to them does not mean what a lot of us inside this room might think. It does not mean new regulations, new laws, new restrictions as they would see it. Secondly, the whole issue of migration was touched on by many members. It is putting enormous pressure on resources, not just in financial terms as regards the cost to countries, especially those in the southern Mediterranean who are forced to expand huge amounts of money towards tackling this problem, but on the social cohesion within those countries as well. Thirdly, and most importantly of all, the whole issue with regard to the kind of development of a European vision that we want to see around the world as is now being played out in Bali at the climate change conference, as will be played out in the future at some other conferences in New York in the next months, and most importantly that we have to tell our citizens and inform our citizens properly of what comes before them. Finally could I say to President Barroso and to President Wallström, as we are having a referendum in Ireland, no tax, no tax, no tax. The treaties do not give you the power to come up with tax proposals. The Commission has to stay away from it. Daniel COHN-BENDIT (Greens/EFA, DE) group said that the Portuguese Presidency had worked well. On the UK and Gordon Brown's attendance in Lisbon, he said "The UK is surreal. Mr Brown has to face 'little committees in the UK' and only turn up for lunch. Britain is surreal, but that is your problem not my problem". On Kosovo, Mr Cohn Bendit said that EU must show that it had real teeth for European issues. The EU should offer 'more Europe' to the Balkans including a 'Trans Balkan network'. On Iran, Mr Cohn Bendit stressed the danger of selling nuclear power stations, as he said that if nuclear power is used for civil purposes, there is the risk it would be used for military purposes. Francis WURTZ (FR) for the GUE/NGL group said that the EU had to be particularly lucent on Africa after the recent EU / Africa summit. On the Treaty, he said: "I think the Union will be committing a big mistake on diagnosis if it considers that the agreement at the summit marks the overcoming of the crisis of confidence between the total breakdown of our society and the actual economic and social direction of the Union. This problem remains, and it would be better to recognise it and respond to it." On the Middle East, Mr Wurtz questioned how the EU could accept the outcome of Anapolis when Israel was ignoring the Roadmap with the affair of East Jerusalem. Jens-Peter BONDE (DK) on behalf of the IND/DEM Group said: "Tomorrow at a 11.30 a.m. the Prime Ministers will sign a final treaty none of them have read. They sign a bundle of amendments they cannot even understand. Yesterday the Danish Parliament refused a referendum on a treaty they have not read. They breached the Danish Constitution and may be brought to court to have a referendum. First they undo two referendums rejecting the Constitution. Then they negotiate in secret and keep the content under a new name. I still offer a good bottle of wine for just one example of a law which can be approved under the constitution and not under the Lisbon Treaty. Even the most experienced legal expert in the Danish Foreign Office has admitted there is not one. The Lisbon Treaty will dissolve the existing EU. Establish a new state with joint citizenship, legal personality, and all the tools of nation states. Most laws will be adopted by civil servants in secret. The democratic deficit will grow. My group proposes to cancel the signature until you have finally read the final text." Jim ALLISTER (NI, UK) said "The 2005 referenda showed Europe to be out of touch, but the lesson learned was not to abandon what the people did not want, but to circumvent their opposition by determining this time not to ask them. Hence the scandal that across this continent national powers will be stripped away, super-state structures will be established, a new EU citizenship will be created, legal personality will be bestowed in the EU and only a handful of citizens will ever be asked. Why? Because in most States, my own included, the leaders fear the verdict of their people adding cowardice to their arrogance. So on a day when there is much talk of human rights, I say give the people of Europe the basic political and human right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this Constitution, the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a referendum." British speaker Regarding the forthcoming European Council, Giles CHICHESTER (EPP-ED, UK) looked forward to hearing about improving Europe’s competitiveness, about progress towards Europe’s ambitious goals for tackling climate change and about Europe’s commitment to working with the developing nations to alleviate poverty. Yet the focus this week, he said, will inevitably be on the signing of the Reform Treaty in Lisbon. "As we British Conservatives have consistently said, there was no substantive requirement for this far-reaching Treaty and, just this week, one of Europe’s leading academic experts published a report on the effects of enlargement of the EU. She has stated clearly what we have been saying for some time, namely that the EU has been operating perfectly well without this Reform Treaty. She says, and I quote, ‘The evidence of practice since May 2004 suggests that the EU’s institutional processes and practice have stood up rather robustly to the impact of enlargement’. This is important bearing in mind all we have been told – that the EU could not cope with enlargement without institutional upheaval or even log-jam. All of this reinforces our view that this Treaty is all about political symbolism rather than any objective assessment of what Europe needs. In addition to challenging the rationale for this Treaty, we have also been very critical of the process that brought us to this stage. It beggars belief to claim that this Treaty is not in substance the selfsame European Constitution that was so emphatically rejected when it was put to the vote in France and the Netherlands. Alone among his fellow leaders, the British Prime Minister persists in perpetuating this myth that the Treaty and the Constitution are different. The British people do not believe him and the vast majority have repeatedly expressed their view that there should be a referendum. Mr Brown has ignored their wishes and this has done much to undermine his Government and the European Union more generally." Council and Commission responses In his reply to the debate for the Council, Mr Lobo Antunes focused on MEPs' concerns about Kosovo. He stressed the crucial role of the troika (EU, USA and Russia) in seeking solutions, the need to look more carefully at some points of the Ahtisaari plan and the importance of a commitment on both sides not to resort to violence. The Kosovo issue would go back to the UN Security Council but if this body could not find a solution, "the international community, especially the EU, will have to take decisions", said the minister. He emphasised that the EU Member States must maintain "a united front" on Kosovo and that the EU "must play a leading role since Kosovo is a European problem". However, "all possible consensuses" must be explored and, last but not least, the EU must hold out the prospect of "a European future" to the Balkans, including Serbia. Commissioner Wallström responded first to MEPs comments on the treaty and the charter. She said that, whatever ratification strategy was chosen by each Member State, "we all have a duty in the area of communication". She highlighted the fact that, with the exception of the special arrangements for two Member States [the UK and Poland], "the charter will be legally binding". Turning to the Reflexion Group, she pointed out that this would not deal with institutional matters but with "the policy challenges of the future" and she expressed the hope that the group's composition would "reflect the diversity of Europe today". On migration, the Commissioner argued that an "integrated approach" between national and European policies was essential. On economic matters, she said "the Lisbon Strategy is delivering" but believed further attention must be devoted to flexicurity, social inclusion and climate change. Lastly, on Kosovo, Mrs Wallström believed the European Council must reaffirm Europe's willingness to playing a leading role in seeking a solution. Like Mr Lobo Antunes, she saw "a European perspective for the whole region" as crucial to any settlement.

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