Mr President, Esteemed Colleagues from the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Just a few days after a memorable European Council I would like to start by recalling our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome in Berlin in March. On that occasion we reminded ourselves of this: 50 years of the Treaties of Rome, 50 years of peace and freedom, democracy and the rule of law – in the context of history these are no more than the blinking of an eye. And whether they will one day be more than that, we do not know.
At the celebrations in March we made it clear that none of this – neither peace nor freedom, neither democracy nor the rule of law – can be taken for granted. It must all be strengthened and defended again and again. Standstill actually means a step backwards. Confidence takes decades to build up. But it can be shattered overnight – yes, overnight. Any split would have Europe out of step faster than some people would like to believe. In short, European integration has to be striven for and consolidated time and again.
That is why I am very thankful that we were able to do exactly that with the most recent EU Council. We set the course for a new common basis for the European Union. We ended the standstill. When it came down to it, we did not disappoint confidence. We avoided a rift. To put it simply: what was achieved on Saturday night has given Europe a new, shared energy.
I have no wish today to rake over the draining negotiations of the last few weeks and months. We all remember all too well that even the starting position was difficult: on one side, those Member States which fully supported and had already ratified the Constitutional Treaty, and, on the other, those which were demanding substantial changes in response to criticism from their populations.
Let's not pretend. There was always a danger, namely the danger that the paralysis and the risk of division would persist. Of course it would not have been the end of Europe if the EU Council had not succeeded in getting the desired outcome, but it would undoubtedly have had almost indescribable repercussions. For this reason it is absolutely vital that we managed to avoid such a situation.
The agreement reached in Brussels enables us to retain the substance of the Constitutional Treaty. I think ultimately we are all basically agreed on this: the outcome of the European Council is a success, a success for Europe, and also for the European Parliament. You have consistently defended the substance of the Constitutional Treaty. And now the Reform Treaty can enter into force in time for the European elections in 2009. That is crucial for all those who will have to face the citizens.
With the Reform Treaty we are taking account of citizens' fears of an alleged "European superstate", of surrendering too much of the nation-states' identities. I do not share this fear, but I had to respect it. And I did respect it. That is why we decided to refrain from laying down state-like symbols and designations in the Reform Treaty.
At the same time, the Reform Treaty contains major advances for the European Union's capacity to act. Indeed, in some areas we even went further than in the Constitutional Treaty. Climate protection and energy solidarity were included; the national parliaments will be even more closely involved in shaping national policy on Europe; there will be an even clearer delimitation of competences between the EU and the Member States; and the conditions for enhanced cooperation, particularly on justice and home affairs, were made easier.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Reform Treaty turns into reality three essential elements for the future of the European Union.
Firstly, it strengthens the EU's capacity to act, both internally and externally. The Union's single legal personality and the extension of qualified majority decision-making in the Council play a part here.
True, the new rule on the "double majority", which gives greater weight to demographic factors, will not come into effect until 2014 – at the same time as the first slimmed-down Commission – with a transitional period up to 2017, but it will become reality. The importance of this advance for Europe cannot be overestimated. The "President of the European Council" and the "team Presidencies" will also ensure greater continuity in the work of the Council when the new treaties enter into force.
Furthermore, the Reform Treaty brings with it progress in policymaking, for instance as regards the EU's external action. Every day there is a greater need for a coherent foreign policy, every day a greater need to "speak with one voice" in a Europe which wants to assert its interests in the world. We will appoint the "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy". He will head the "Council for Foreign Affairs", will enjoy the support of a European diplomatic service and will be a member of the Commission as Vice-President. This is a political quantum leap for Europe.
Important progress is also being made in the field of justice and home affairs – a field in which people are extremely interested – in the joint efforts to combat cross-border crime, for example. The relevant procedures will be speeded up considerably thanks to the new qualified majority voting system. Furthermore, we will be able to make it clearer that transfers of competence are not a one-way street, with the European Union always acquiring new responsibilities, but that there can also be situations in which competences can be handed back to the nation-states, if necessary. More Europe in a few important fields, but also less Europe in fields which the Member States can manage well themselves – this is a wish often expressed by the citizens. We are taking account of this wish.
Secondly, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Reform Treaty makes it unmistakably clear: Europe will become closer to its citizens. To this end, as envisaged in the Constitutional Treaty, a European citizens' initiative will be introduced. Progress on the social dimension will come into effect; for instance, there will be clearer regulations on general services. In addition, the Intergovernmental Conference will adopt a separate Protocol on services of general economic interest. It will be made clear that the Member States have substantial room for manoeuvre in the non-commercial sphere.
I am very glad – and I think the majority of us here are agreed on this – that we succeeded in finding a solution regarding the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter strengthens the citizens' rights vis-à-vis the institutions. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding, which in my view is entirely fitting for a value-conscious Europe.
We know that the United Kingdom, with its own legal tradition, has decided to go its own way on this. We must respect this. But the alternative would have been to restrict the legally binding nature of the Charter for all. This, however, would have been unacceptable to the majority of Member States. So it is good that it was avoided. I believe that is also the view of the majority of members of this Parliament.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, the third element which reveals the progress embodied in the Reform Treaty: more rights for the parliaments. Thanks to the treaty reform, the European Parliament will normally be an equal co-legislator. In future the European Parliament will elect the President of the European Commission. At the same time it was important to many Member States that greater acknowledgement be made of the role of the national parliaments. This will be done in a new article. We also agreed on strengthening the role of the parliaments in a reinforced control mechanism of subsidiarity. But at the same time we respected the European Commission's right of proposal. There will be no right of veto for individual national parliaments in future either. And that, I think, is absolutely right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, treaty reform was one objective of the German EU Presidency. The other was to reorient the European Union to the things which we can achieve only within the European alliance. Because I am profoundly convinced that only if we act jointly and purposefully can we attain tangible progress for our citizens.
Of course, as we have just seen again with the decisions of the Council, there will always be exceptions, there will always be cases in which individual Member States decide not or not yet to participate in certain measures, while others – though still within the scope allowed by the treaties – move on ahead. But that is not the same as a so-called two-speed Europe. Let me say this quite plainly: I have no truck with that. That must not be the aim of our policy, otherwise we will open up new rifts in Europe and, Ladies and Gentlemen, we will weaken the European Parliament. It is well worth all the trouble and all the effort to try again and again to find a common path for all Member States of the European Union.
There is an African saying: "If you want to move forward fast, then go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe this African saying encapsulates the wisdom underlying the idea of European integration. Only if we act jointly and purposefully can we preserve the unique and wonderful idea which has shaped the process of European integration for over 50 years: peace, freedom and the rule of law for all the citizens of Europe.
Only if we act jointly and purposefully can we strengthen civil rights in the European Union, for example by integrating the Prüm Treaty into the Union's legal framework. This would make possible closer cooperation by the police on fighting cross-border terrorism, crime and illegal immigration in the EU. Only if we act jointly and purposefully will we improve Europe's competitiveness as a location for business. One example of this is the Roaming Regulation, which we signed here. Only if we act jointly and purposefully can we meet one of the major challenges to humanity: the dangers posed by climate change. The decisions taken at the Spring European Council for an integrated energy and climate policy are pathbreaking. By the way, they were also the precondition for reaching agreement at the G8 Summit that we need a Kyoto follow-up under the auspices of the United Nations, and for the fact that all G8 participants committed themselves to this. It would not have been possible without the Spring European Council or without the support of the European Parliament. This is what defending European interests is all about. That is why it is right that we have included climate protection among the goals of the European Union in the new draft treaty.
Only if we act jointly and purposefully do we Europeans have any chance of bringing our interests and goals to bear in the world. This was also demonstrated by the summits we held during our Presidency with our G8 partners which are not EU members: the US, Russia, Japan and Canada. These meetings not only agreed on the climate protection goals, but also reached other agreements of long-term importance: with the US and Canada we agreed on enhanced regulatory cooperation; with Russia we agreed to establish an early warning mechanism for energy crises and to initiate a dialogue on investment; with Japan we agreed to enforce intellectual property rights more effectively.
Ladies and Gentlemen, all institutional progress and the reorientation of the European Union are in the end only possible if we Europeans are conscious of our values, indeed if we make these values the guiding principles for all our actions. I believe these guiding principles can also help to convince the citizens about Europe, if we make it clear that we are acting together in the world on the basis of our values.
Europe does not mean "anything goes". Europe is an obligation to help ensure that our Earth remains a habitable planet, that fewer and fewer people are forced to leave their homes because of war or violence, that diseases such as Aids, malaria and tuberculosis can be fought successfully.
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, the German EU Presidency comes full circle. The Reform Treaty is necessary so that Europe can hold its course. The European Council hopes that the Intergovernmental Conference can be convened before the end of July. So I would like to ask you today to present your statement as soon as possible.
Like the German Presidency, you want to be able to say to people in the 2009 European election campaign: This is the way Europe is going, nowhere else. That is why it is good that the European Parliament repeatedly promotes debate on these matters and seeks a dialogue with civil society – as it will again demonstrate with an agora event in the autumn.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I, at the end of the German Presidency, invoke once again the German author Peter Prange. You may remember that I quoted from his book "Werte. Von Plato bis Pop" in my speech to this house in January at the outset of our Presidency. Prange writes: "Everything we Europeans have ever achieved, we owe to the contradictions within us, the eternal conflict within ourselves, the constant jostling between opinions and conflicting opinions, ideas and opposing ideas, theses and antitheses."
Permit me to add a few words of my own. We owe everything to our ability to withstand these inner contradictions and to our ability, after countless wars and untold suffering, to complete something as marvellous as the work of establishing peace in Europe.
We citizens of Europe have truly united for the better. And my wish is that in 50 years' time, in 2057, the citizens of Europe will say: Back in 2007, after strength-sapping, nerve-wracking discussions, the united Europe at last set the right course; back then, in 2007, the European Union set off on the right route to a prosperous future. That was, is and will remain our mission, our mission for the future. And Germany will remain fully committed to it even after its Presidency ends.