Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen speaking at a plenary session of Parliament
Government Report Concerning the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe
Mr Speaker, Members of Parliament,
The Constitutional Treaty is the result of a long process of preparation. It was thoroughly prepared for over two years, first by the European Convention and then by the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The negotiation process ended with consensus among the Heads of State or Government in Brussels in June 2004, and the solemn signing of the Treaty in Rome in October of that year. The Treaty was to have entered into force during the Finnish Presidency, on 1 November 2006.
In order to enter into force, the Treaty requires the ratification of all Member States, each in accordance with its own constitutional procedures. Just under half of the Member States had completed their internal ratification processes when the referendums held in France and the Netherlands in May and June this year changed the situation fundamentally. After referendums in two of the founding states of the EU ended in a clear majority of 'no' votes it was clear that the Constitutional Treaty could not enter into force according to the original plan.
The European Council in June 2005 decided to take a one-year period of reflection, returning to the matter in early 2006, i.e. during the Austrian Presidency. It was hoped that the period of reflection would be used for extensive discussion on the future of Europe.
Here in Finland, the Government had been preparing to submit to Parliament a proposal for the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty at the start of the autumn session. Following the European Council's decision to introduce a period of reflection, the Finnish Government decided that the proposal of ratification would not be submitted to Parliament under the present circumstances. According to current information, it seems unlikely that the fate of the Constitutional Treaty can be resolved before the elections that will be held in France and the Netherlands in spring 2007. Nevertheless, the Government wanted to give Parliament an opportunity to examine the Constitutional Treaty on the basis of an analysis drawn up by experts, and to form a political opinion on it. As a result, it was decided to submit to Parliament a Government report that contains both an analysis of the content of the Constitutional Treaty and the Government's view on it.
The view of the Finnish Government is unambiguous: the Constitutional Treaty would be a clear improvement on the present treaties of the Union. The Constitutional Treaty is not perfect in every detail nor is it fully in keeping with Finland's wishes, but it is well balanced and on the whole a document that can be approved by Finland. It would reinforce the executive and decision-making power of the union, enabling it to respond to the challenges of the future. Getting the Treaty ratified would be in the best interests both of the Union and Finland.
I hope that Parliament will deal with the report thoroughly and comprehensively and that it will give its views on it before the European Council returns to this matter during the Austrian Presidency. The view of Parliament may be able to contribute to fostering a positive attitude in Europe. During this period of reflection, the Finnish Government and Parliament's political views on this matter will send as clear a message to the outside world as ratification of the Treaty would have done.
The present report is a freer way of dealing with the Constitutional Treaty than a Government proposal to Parliament. Under the circumstances, Members of Parliament will be able to concentrate on the whole content of the Treaty without having to focus on whether there is some section in it that cannot be ratified. It is also better suited as background for civic debate. Further, if the situation should change later on and ratification should become necessary, it can then be carried out in a shorter time because it has been preceded by a thorough processing of this report.
In addition to being thoroughly processed by Parliament, I hope this report will also be helpful in civic debate about the future of the European Union. Here in Finland we are ahead of many other Member States, and in addition to civic organizations, we have heard Finnish citizens from all over the country. Europe Information, the EU information service of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, arranged an extensive series of discussions on the Constitutional Treaty that was held all over Finland last winter and spring. The next time that civic organizations will be heard on the Finnish Presidency and the future of the European Union will be early next year, specifically in February according to present plans.
The referendums in France and the Netherlands have had an impact on general attitudes and popular opinion throughout the Union, including here in Finland. This is entirely natural; when the people voice their opinion with such clarity it must be taken into account. The Union cannot continue as if those referendums never took place. The message they send must be heard and we must respond to it, always keeping in mind that the Union and its Member States exist for their people, not vice versa. Here in Finland, too, itis important that we talk things over and recapitulate on why the Union exists, what it ought to do and, above all, why Finland is a member of it.
Members of Parliament,
The European Union is a community of values, whose fundamental purpose is to ensure peace and stability for Europe. This continues to be an important justification for the existence of the Union; we cannot take peace for granted in Europe in the future, either. Here in Finland, we have quite enough experience of war in our own history. Our place is in this European community of values.
Furthermore, the Union constitutes an economically important common market, within which people and businesses have freedom of movement within a community of 450 million people. With Finland as a member of the Union, the domestic market for Finnish companies is about 90 times the size of Finland's actual domestic market, and in addition to that, Finnish companies can more easily introduce themselves internationally as coming from an EU Member State than from a relatively unknown remote country. The Union is a trade policy power to be reckoned with, and it is much easier for Finland to pursue international negotiations as part of it than alone. Opportunities for young people from Finland to study abroad have improved enormously and there are also record numbers of foreign students at Finnish educational institutions. The transition to the euro has stabilized the money markets.
The Union has considerable influence on our lives in other ways, too, besides the economy. For example, human trafficking and other international crime, as well as terrorism, operates regardless of borders and the authorities should be able to take effective action against it. The world has become so globalized even where crime is concerned, that even Finland is not safe in its remote, northern location. It is in Finland's best interests to be closely involved with justice and home affairs cooperation within the EU in order to avoid becoming what is known as a soft target' for crime and terrorism, a target that is easy to hit. The Union is also taking on increasing importance in contacts with the rest of the world, particularly in terms of crisis management. Together, the EU Member States could take on substantially more responsibility both for their neighbouring areas, such as the Balkans, and for other parts of the world, too.
It is obvious that it is harder to make one's own views and interests heard in a large group than in a small group. Despite this, Finland has so far been rather successful in making its views known in the Union, even though we are a small nation. One good example is the sugar negotiations that ended last week. The original proposal would have put a stop to sugar production on the fringes of the Union, including Finland, while production would have continued in the best production areas in central Europe with Union support. In the negotiations, a solution was found whereby Finland will receive special treatment so as to be able to continue its sugar production.
The Union does not always look out just for the common good, but also for national interests. A good example of this is the processing of the REACH Directive, where representatives of the biggest Member State, Germany, pursued their own country's views single-mindedly both in the Council and the biggest political groups of the European Parliament. In addition to the common good of the Union, we Finns must also ensure that Finland's best interests are also protected. In major national questions, Finns should strive as far as possible to work together within the Union, and not to use the Union as an arena for internal conflicts.
Members of Parliament,
It is my confirmed opinion on the basis of all I have said before that Finland's place is unquestionably as a Member State of the European Union. The Union has changed a great deal from what it was when we joined just under eleven years ago. It no longer has just one core, but instead coalitions change depending on the topic. Finland's activity will have to adapt to the changes within the Union. However, it is still in Finland's best interest to be active in the Union, and to continue to develop the Union so as to ensure that it has the highest possible efficiency and the best possible decision-making power.
Mr Speaker, Members of Parliament,
It is important to discuss the future of the European Union and I hope that discussion will be lively here in Finland, too. However, the Union cannot focus exclusively on its future. The Union and the Member States must now speed up the everyday work and challenges of the Union. The Union will be able to do more and act more efficiently even under the treaties currently in force if the Member States have the political will to do so. The Member States should also see to the issues that lie within their authority in order to attain the goals that have been set together.
The Union must focus its activities more than hitherto in order to succeed in a constantly changing world, where we are facing not only avian influenza but also man-made crises and growing competition. The Union must focus more clearly than hitherto on the essential matters that produce added value, that are clearly more profitable to pursue within the Union than by all Member States separately. These essential matters include the Union's work for justice, freedom and security, the Union's international role and its success in global economic competition.
In the first two areas, the Union has developed recently, because the political will exists for this development work. Finland has been very active in the Union's activities and in developing it in these areas. The Union has enacted a great deal of legislation designed to prevent terrorism and international crime. The European Agency for the Management of the External Borders has started operations under a Finnish Executive Director. European crisis management has also taken long strides forward. A rapid reaction force will start operations as of the beginning of 2007. Finland is to join two different units, one with Germany and the Netherlands, and one with Sweden, Estonia and Norway. The new European Defence Agency has a Finnish Chair for meetings of the Steering Board. The opening of the European market for defence materiel is important for the security of supply.
However, the real challenge focuses on the third area I mentioned above, that is, success in global economic competition. There is work to be done in this area for both the Union and the Member States, but the political will to make actual decisions has been weak. The Union should do more of the things it has the power to do, because as it is, the legislative process is slow and cumbersome in both the Council and the European Parliament. It is important to reach decisions about urgent legislation. Examples include at least the REACH Directive, the Services Directive and the Working Time Directive. Political agreement on the EU Financial Perspectives should also be achieved as soon as possible, preferably during the UK Presidency. Finland must be ready for this agreement, if it means we become net payers. We should, however, ensure that our position as net payers remains reasonable vis-à-vis the other Member States. We should also ensure that this change in payers does not focus on only a few parties within Finland, but that the burden is distributed fairly.
The Member States of the Union should take care of necessary structural and other reforms. This should not, however, be done at the expense of social protection for the people or at the expense of the environment. Finland and the other Nordic countries are good examples of countries with comprehensive social protection and sustainable development that are also successful in terms of competitiveness. Still, even here, there is a great deal of room for improvement.
The governments and parliaments of the Member States should take responsibility for the reforms and explain their content and effects to their citizens. The concerns of citizens should definitely be taken seriously, but the reasons for the concerns should also be studied and any misunderstandings should be set right. The structural changes necessitated by globalization may be drastic, but they are not the fault of the European Union. On the contrary, the Union can help us survive the challenges of globalization, if we allow it to work efficiently. We Europeans should not fear each other but work on our open common market and use it as a strength to help us succeed in international competition.
A few weeks ago at the Informal Meeting of Heads of State or Government at Hampton Court Palace in London, it was expressed on behalf of the UK Presidency that the Union must first gain a new momentum in its own operations and then return to the issue of agreeing on its rules. I agree in the sense that the Union must now make its operations more efficient on the basis of the existing treaties. Improved operations and decision-making within the Union would help lend momentum to the processing of the Constitutional Treaty. The lack of momentum in the Union's operations at present is not caused by the Constitutional Treaty but by internal problems in the Member States, particularly certain large Member States.
Improved efficiency for Union operations and a clearer focus would also help bring the Union closer to the people. From the point of view of the people, it is essential that they see that the Union is useful, that it is capable of rational and efficient action and that it does not do things that ought to be handled on a national or local level. The Union should make a swift decision on the testing of hazardous chemicals, but it should not interfere in the hunting of wolves that come too close to habitation or in the gaming monopolies of individual countries.
When it is next convened in December, the European Council will receive for its information an interim report on the discussion in the various Member States, but it will not otherwise processthe Constitutional Treaty. The Treaty will not be brought up again until the Austrian Presidency. Austria is considering bringing the matter up either at the European Council in June or at a separate meeting of heads of state in May. It is not yet know how the matter will be processed at that time. The Finnish Government is working in close cooperation with Austria. As I said earlier, according to what we know now, there are unlikely to be any final conclusions on the Constitutional Treaty until elections have been held in France and the Netherlands in spring 2007. Even for that reason, close cooperation is very important with Austria and with Germany, which will take over the Presidency from us.
Even before the Finnish Presidency, the Finnish Government will actively look for unprejudiced solutions that would allow the reforms contained in the Constitutional Treaty to the implemented. Here, correct timing is important, together with a realistic assessment of the situation in the other Member States. I would like to emphasize again that it is essential to attain real results and to handle the situation as well as possible from the perspective of the entire Union, not just to underline Finland's own activity and initiative as an end in itself. As a result of this principle, no tangible actions planned by the Government are listed in the report. And for that same reason, I will not list them here, either.
There have been very few suggestions for resolving this situation even from other Member States or Union organs, something which demonstrates the difficulty and indeed the delicacy of this situation. No one wants to make things more difficult with proposals that are impossible or embarrassing for some. Angela Merkel, Germany's new Chancellor, announced last week that her position is that consensus on the Constitutional Treaty as a whole should be attempted during the German Presidency in 2007. Certain committees in the European Parliament have also issued statements, but the actual report from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs will not be published until early next year.
I agree with my German colleague, Angela Merkel, that the Constitutional Treaty is a whole that should not be chopped up, at least not at this stage. No Member State has been completely satisfied with all the articles, but all of them approved it and signed it as a whole. We must explore every possibility of enabling it to enter into force as a whole. Only if this proves completely impossible should we bring other alternative solutions to the table. Should this happen, we will have to consider, among other things, whether parts of the Constitutional Treaty can be accepted and, if so, how this will be done in practice; will we, for instance, need a separate intergovernmental conference. Splitting up the Constitutional Treaty would not be an easy route to take, because the changes arising from that process would also have to ratified by the Member States.
The Union should be developed in as unified a form as possible during this period of reflection and after it. If the Union begins to split into different core groups, this will bring inequality in the long run, and that, in turn, would inevitably undermine the Union spirit and solidarity. The Treaty of Nice does not provide for closer cooperation in all policy sectors and extensive coalition-forming outside the treaty structure of the European Union could damage the Union.
The Constitutional Treaty of the European Union has been prepared in close cooperation with Parliament throughout, so its contents are on the whole, well known at least to members of the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. It will be useful, however, if it can also be discussed in plenary sessions, to allow the whole of Parliament to take part in the discussion. I hope that this report is thoroughly dealt with by Parliament in as many committees as possible.