President Tarja Halonen: An expanding and evolving European Union - Three theses on its future

Lecture by President of the Republic, Tarja Halonen, at the Warsaw School of Economics 25 April, 2001

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be able to speak at such a respected forum as the Warsaw School of Economics. I believe you Poles are already interested in the future of the European Union.

The much-discussed Treaty of Nice will probably not go down in the history books as a great triumph of diplomacy, but it is better than its reputation. By far its most important achievement is that it opens the door to enlargement. The decisions on flexibility, qualified-majority voting and the composition of the Commission are likewise welcome.

No single Intergovernmental Conference produces a great upheaval. In this respect Nice was no different from the past – the EU will continue to develop step-by-step. After ratification of the treaty the Union will be ready to admit new members from the beginning of 2003 onwards.

This brings me to my first premise: We all bear responsibility for the success of enlargement. It sounds self-evident. After all, enlargement is the European Union’s primary goal and an important step in the integration of post-Cold War Europe. It is true that after Nice the implementation of enlargement is more in the hands of the applicant countries than it was earlier. Yet it does not mean that the existing members can, as it were, relax their efforts. Effective implementation of decisions already reached within the EU is a demanding task in itself. For example, our single currency the euro will come into use already at the beginning of next year.

The Union must continue to concentrate also on structural changes, making the work of the Council more efficient and streamlining the way the institutions are run. This does not require amendment of the Basic Treaties.

The accession negotiations have proceeded at a good tempo so far. The candidate countries are working to meet the criteria for accession, as is the community. I am convinced that the Union will continue to insist that the political, economic and legislation- and administration-related conditions must be met by the candidates.

I have been following the EU debate in Poland with interest. Although all candidate countries are treated equally, I must say that Poland’s size and geographical location give her candidacy a special weight. This status also brings responsibility for the success of both her own effort to join and that of enlargement in general. Much is expected of Poland. A self-evident candidate is not a self-evident member.

So far, nearly all of the negotiation chapters have been opened with Poland and fifteen have been conditionally closed. Yet the most difficult talks still lie ahead. Negotiations concerning such matters as agriculture, environmental protection, structural policy and free mobility of labour have not yet gotten properly under way. Besides that, the results achieved in the negotiations will have to be complemented in practice as well.

Negotiating on agricultural policy is not easy. The importance of agriculture is great in Poland. It is a sector that employs a quarter of the labour force, although its share of gross domestic product is only eight per cent. One indication of the importance we attach to farming is the inclusion in our delegation of Mr. Esa Härmälä, the chairperson of the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners in Finland. He is an expert on EU agricultural policy.

Opinion polls on enlargement have shown a slightly worrying trend in both candidate countries and existing members. This is often due to the misconceptions and prejudices that typically arise in times of great change. However, not everything can be ascribed to prejudices. Implementing the necessary changes is often difficult. It is important that EU membership is seen as a cause for the nation as a whole. It is the entire country and its citizens that join the EU, not just the government or urban male academic citizens. Our common task is to ensure that public opinion keeps up with developments in both the candidate countries and the existing members. This will succeed only through open and constructive dialogue. We need is to find common solutions to common problems.

I personally hope that as many applicants as possible will be able to join by 2005 at the latest; in other words, before the appointment of the next Commission. Each candidate will achieve membership on its own merits. No one will be allowed in on special grounds nor prematurely. To do that would not be in the best interests of either the Union or the candidates.

My second premise today – we must make the future together – relates to both enlargement and the ongoing discourse on the future of the Union. It was agreed in Nice that a new Intergovernmental Conference will be held in 2004.

The declaration on the future of the Union formulated in Nice states that the process should address, inter alia, questions relating to the delimitation of powers, the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, simplification of the treaties and the role of national parliaments in the European architecture. The unifying theme in the discourse on the future is the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the institutions.

It has been clear since Nice that the pressures on the next conference are growing. This applies both to the agenda and, especially, the procedures followed in preparing for the conference. Many have voiced the opinion that the present procedures have outlived their purpose and that now something more broadly-based is now needed. I have said that myself. In my view, preparations for the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 must be founded on an open and broadly based public debate in both the member states and the candidate countries.

The gap between decision making and citizens in the EU has been growing in recent years. This is partly due to the fact that institutional questions, details of decision making and the relationship between the institutions have been in the foreground. The contents-related issues that matters for citizens more have not received as much attention. This is another reason why a broader discussion is now called for. Questions relating to the contents of EU activities could very well acquire greater gravity.

The debate on the future of the EU will be conducted in three stages. The first stage – in 2001 – involves the arrangement of a broad public debate. The discussion has gotten off to an impressive start during the Swedish Presidency. One example of this was the broadly-based seminar on the future of the Union that took place here in Warsaw yesterday.

The preparations for the next Intergovernmental Conference could perhaps be made by some kind of committee, a convention composed of representatives of governments, national parliaments and EU institutions. Its sessions must be open and civil society must be heard in conjunction with them. The candidate countries must be involved in this process.

The final phase will begin and end with the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. I hope it will be so well prepared that it can be brief and to-the-point, without forced last-minute compromises. Final responsibility for treaty changes will still remain with the governments and the national parliaments that will have to ratify them at the end of the process.

My third and final premise – although flexibility can be provided for, a core-Europe is not being built – relates to common responsibility and enlargement. Flexibility, or the possibility or enhanced cooperation where everyone need not take part, has always been a sensitive question in the EU discourse. That is because flexibility does not mean the same thing to everyone.

For some, flexibility represents a Darwinian approach to integration; in other words, a chance to exclude some member state or other from cooperation. For others, it is an instrument by means of which deeper cooperation can be achieved. And there are also those who see it as giving them the option of voluntarily not to participate in cooperation.

When I was taking part, as foreign minister, in negotiating the Treaty of Amsterdam in spring 1996, I proposed the so-called ten Commandments for flexibility. These conditions were written into the Treaty and explicated in Nice. They will ensure that cooperation remains inside the Union and is based on commonly-agreed rules.

Some people have put forward the idea of a hard core for the EU, a kind of avant garde or pioneer group to take integration forward. Some voices have even gone as far as proposing new separate institutions and secretariats for the group. In my view, thinking like this is old-fashioned, a kind of nostalgia. The EU does not today contain a single core group that could successfully deepen cooperation within itself. We must build a shared Europe, not new dividing lines.

The changes made in Nice with the purpose of adding flexibility to the decision-making system made certain that no closed core will develop either within the European Union or outside it. It is quite possible that the future will see the emergence of various cooperation groups, with varying memberships, within the Union, but there will be no single core group. In the future, enhanced cooperation will take place within the Union, on the basis of collectively-agreed rules. I hope and believe that Poland will prove both capable and willing to participate in this cooperation.

Enhanced cooperation has been seen as being especially suitable for various kinds of policy alternatives, such as EMU and the Schengen Agreement. In the future we can expect to see more regional cooperation as well. The Mediterranean countries’ cooperation within the framework of the Barcelona Process has already become a classical example of this. The development of the Northern Dimension has also gotten well under way.

Many of the comments made after Nice expressed a belief that the course of the future development of the Union had been determined in the French city. A triumph of intergovernmentality was proclaimed and the community-centred approach was regarded as having suffered its final defeat in Nice. I believe, however, that such a conclusion is somewhat superficial and exaggerated.

It should be stressed that some central fundamental matters, changes in the Founding Treaties – especially institutional arrangements and defining the Union’s competence – will continue to be considered intergovernmental; they will be worked out at conferences between the member states. Where the Union’s other development and operations are concerned, however, the situation is a different one.

Many factors indicate that the defining feature of the EU’s future work and development is more likely to be a community-centred approach in everyday work: an endeavour to reach decisions in a genuinely communal way, and even to strengthen the institutions.

Now, after Nice, we must concentrate on making the Union work more efficiently. In only a few years from now, the number of member states will have significantly increased.

The single currency will strengthen the Union’s role as an actor on the international scene. Twelve of the member states will adopt the euro at the beginning of next year.

Through common external relations and a growing capacity for crisis management, the Union can become a more significant actor, but this will require intense internal work and efficient decision making.

Internal cooperation within the Union is being intensified through a variety of processes and the cooperation in home and legal affairs that began at the European Council in Tampere during the Finnish Presidency will gain further momentum.

Cooperation in Europe is our shared future, and Poland has her role in all of this.