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Statement by the Prime Minister to Parliament on the preparations for the meeting of the European Council in Nice

Government Communications Department 28.11.2000 22.00
Prime Minister's Announcement -

Madame Speaker,

Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen

The meeting of the European Council in Nice from 7th to 9th December will conclude the Intergovernmental Conference on amending the Union's Treaties which have been going on for almost a year. The Treaty of Nice will approve the reforms in the Union's institutional system and decision-making, the purpose of which is to prepare the Union for its most extensive enlargement so far. If approved, the Treaty of Nice will implement the historic decisions taken by the Union a year ago in Helsinki. Once the Treaty of Nice has been ratified by national parliaments, the Union will, in turn, be ready to adopt new Member States as and from the end of the year 2002.

We must reach for an ambitious result in Nice. The enlargement must not be obstructed due to the Member States' inability to agree on sufficiently far-reaching reforms. The operations of the Union must be intensified so that they can better meet the expectations of the citizens and the challenges set by the world around it. The enlarged number of decision-makers and the increased multiplicity of the Union that the enlargement brings with it call for far-reaching reforms and especially, an extension of the scope of qualified majority voting.

Madame Speaker,

The principal issues subject to negotiations concerning changing the Treaties at the Nice European Council are related to the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes of the Member States in the Council and the increased use of qualified majority voting, as well as regulations on closer co-operation or flexibility.

In the discussion on the size and composition of the Commission Finland has emphasised the need for a strong and independent Commission. The composition of the Commission is highly important in terms of the legitimacy and trust in it among the Member States. It is vital, therefore, that the Commission should then be represented by one commissioner from each Member State even after this IGC. A solution can be found in Nice allowing the enlargement of the Union to proceed very far. The problems related to the increased size and practical work of the Commission must be openly addressed, but the foreseeable enlargement, as it is perceived at the moment does not necessitate dismissing the principle of each member State having the right to nominate one Commissioner.

The collegial efforts taken by the Commission based on equal participation and responsibility can be intensified by granting the President of the Commission increased powers in arranging the work of the Commission. Finland is also prepared to consider increasing the number of Vice-Presidents on the Commission. Room can be made for new countries and ground can be prepared for nominating Commissioners from these newly joined countries by deciding that those Member States which have the right to nominate two Commissioners give up their second seat upon enlargement. Member States giving up their second seat could be compensated by means of adjusting the weighting of votes in the Council.

The changes to be made to the weighting of votes have been perhaps the toughest issue negotiated prior to this IGC, and a solution acceptable to all will probably be found only after long negotiations in Nice. Finland will take a stand on the various options according to the following principles. Firstly, decisions must be supported by at least half of the Member States and at least half of the total population of the Union. Secondly, Member States that give up their second Commissioner's seat will be compensated by adjustments in the weighting of votes. Due to this compensation the current system must be adapted so as to suit to a Union consisting of 28 Member States, in other words, it takes into account the enlargement process based on current decisions.

Thirdly, it must be ensured that reforming the system of the weighting of votes will pose no threat to effective decision-making. Hence the present threshold for attaining a qualified majority or the population threshold should not be raised. Fourthly, the system for the weighting of votes must be simple and applicable as such to the enlargement process involving those 13 countries to which the Union committed itself in Helsinki.

Perhaps the most crucial test for the success of this Intergovernmental Conference is the extension of qualified majority voting. We have already seen in the present Union of 15 Member States, how failure to attain the unanimity required has blocked the reaching of decisions on issues such as the minimum level of capital and environmental taxation, and the establishment of European Companies. The entry of new Member States and with it an increased number of special interests poses an additional threat to the Union's decision-making process and functionality. Finland will pursue the significant increase of decision-making based on qualified majority voting throughout the negotiations.

The issue of extending qualified majority voting concerns not just the number of Articles no longer requiring unanimity. Above all the issue is about strengthening the Union's capability to function in matters such as environmental taxation, co-operation in legal and internal affairs, social policy, and common trade policy.

The ambitious programme for intensifying the co-operation in legal and internal affairs adopted by the Member States in The Tampere European Council now needs the support of an efficient decision-making system. Hence Finland's target is that once the Treaty of Nice has entered into force, the Union can, without a transitional period, make decisions by qualified majority voting on visa, asylum and immigration issues, as well as on the guarding of external borders.

Furthermore, the Union must be able to strengthen its position as an international player in trade policy. Changes in the global operating environment and international trade have rendered the situation unbearable as the special interests of individual Member States' hinder the Union's operations in defence of our common interests. Finland has made an initiative at the IGC on how the field of common trade policy could be expanded to cover services, investments and intellectual property. In order to accommodate the viewpoints related to the extension of qualified majority voting insofar as certain sensitive fields are concerned, the starting point of Finland's proposition is that such nationally sensitive fields as culture, education, vocational training, and public health, would be excluded from the Article, whereas unanimity would be required in some other areas, such as social policy.

Since Finland is a small country dependent on functional internal markets and open world trade, the common trade policy is one of the main benefits involved in the country's membership in the Union. It is now even more important in Nice to reach a decision on strengthening the credibility of the Union's external actions, and consequently serve the best interests of the larger Union.

The fourth principal issue under negotiation in the IGC concerns the rules of closer co-operation, or flexibility. During the autumn an agreement that the rules of closer co-operation must be simplified has been reached. Finland is in favour of this, so that even in the expanding Union closer co-operation, based on common rules and institutions, would make the Union more attractive within. The Member States are ready for the decision to start closer co-operation in the first and third pillar to be made by qualified majority. Finland is prepared to lower the number of Member States required for starting co-operation to one-third, so that the minimum number of Member States would be eight.

At the final stage, the possible contents of the flexibility of the second pillar will have to be discussed. We have had support for clearly stating the principle that regarding Common Foreign and Security Policy, closer co-operation must be practised in implementation only. Policy-making, like designing the contents of common strategies must be exercised in the name of the whole Union. Finland is prepared to consider enabling closer co-operation in European Security and Defence Policy. Co-operation regarding defence materials has, so far, been mentioned as a concrete and possibly relevant example. Specific propositions on how flexibility in security and defence co-operation would be recorded are still being expected from the President.

Madame Speaker,

The IGC negotiations will have the main role in the Nice European Council. Other issues will, however, also be handled in Nice, such as enlargement, security and defence policy, food safety, social agenda, and safety at sea; foreign affairs to be discussed include at least the situation in the Middle East, the Western Balkans, as well as the Union's relations to Russia.

Regarding enlargement, we consider it important that the conclusions will state the Union's preparedness to enlarge once the Treaty of Nice has been ratified, will take notice of the progress reports drawn up by the Commission, and will give support to the swift advancement of the enlargement negotiations during the Swedish Presidency.

Regarding security and defence policy, the Nice meeting will state the results of the capabilities commitment conference held last week and also receive the EU President's report on the development of the Union's military and civilian crisis management during the French Presidency. Documents on the Union's permanent structures concerning security and defence policy, resource goals, civilian crisis management, relations between the EU and NATO, and the involvement of the third countries will be attached to the report.

The Nice meeting will approve, as a political declaration, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union, mainly based on existing treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter. Nevertheless, the Charter of Fundamental Rights also includes elements from varying national constitutional traditions and the Union's Treaties. With regard to these, the principles of good governance and environmental protection are also recorded therein.

The work of the convention which prepared the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has been already presented at the Biarritz European Council deserves great commendation. The strengthening of the status of fundamental rights is an essential element in building the citizens' Europe, and the Charter will clarify the principles on the implementation of which the Union's operation is based. A common declaration of the European Parliament, Council and Commission about the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be given in Nice. No decisions on developing the document into a legally binding one will be made, but it is likely that the Charter of Fundamental Rights shall soon gain legal significance, as the European Court of Justice shall draw on it when resolving legal cases. This is another reason to investigate the strengthening of the legal status of fundamental rights in the future.

Madame Speaker,

The Union reforms will not end upon the adoption of the Treaty of Nice and the forthcoming enlargement. As soon as the Nice meeting opens, there will be discussions on the further development of the Union and especially about the way in which work on the Union's future would be started and arranged.

Discussion concerning the future demands initiative. This role suits Finland. Hence we propose that by the time the IGC has ended with the decisions necessary for enlargement finalised in Nice, a decision would also be made to start the Union's work for the future. It should be particularly emphasised that no uncertainty must be caused in the Nice meeting about the Union's readiness for enlargement after the Treaty of Nice has been approved and ratified.

The need for clarifying the purpose and operations of the Union is obvious. The Union is often too slow in responding to global changes and its own citizens' expectations. The Union has developed step by step, but over the past decade at an accelerating pace, into a multi-layered structure, where disputes between institutions sometimes have taken the focus away from that of political content. At the same time institutional weaknesses restrict the proper functioning of the Union. The Treaties have grown into a vague collection of paperwork that does not help citizens to understand the Union's tasks and importance.

The work regarding the future must clarify the division of labour between the Union, its Member States and those regional public actors that exercise power at different levels. This work cannot be based on the old top-down approach. An extensive and thorough discussion must be commenced in the Union's current and forthcoming Member States on the purpose of the Union and what it has to do in order to produce the added value required at both European and global level to ensure the citizens' well-being and security.

A clear political commitment to the future project must be recorded in the Nice conclusions, without anticipating its results in any way. There are different models for arranging the project that have been utilised in the Union's previous reforms. We are, however, dealing with questions that are both fundamental and concern the sovereignty of the Member States so the preparatory phase should be as broad as possible.

A model, the specific form of which is not yet being decided upon, could be a preparatory committee made out of government and parliamentary representatives that would take citizens' society opinions strongly into account in its work. The participation of those countries that have applied for Union membership also must be counted upon.

The Nice meeting should agree on the drawing up of the schedule and its operating procedures which are to be submitted for preparation by the next Presidents, Sweden and Belgium. The preparatory committee should start its work as soon as possible once unanimity over operating procedures has been reached. When the preparatory phase eventually ends, a new Intergovernmental Conference would be convened to negotiate and finish the work required for amending the Treaties.

The most valuable achievement of integration has been and will be, as enlargement continues, the removal of the borders that criss-cross Europe. The fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are now strengthened with more determination than ever before. The schedule for the Union's enlargement is beginning to take shape. After the Nice meeting the "window" for enlargement will be open in such a way that the first countries could join the Union between the years 2003 and 2005.

When preparing for enlargement, the Union must be strengthened by emphasising communital decision-making and common rules, clarifying the definition of competence, and improving the functioning of the institutions that promote common European interests. Thus, the enlarging Union can stand up for the equal opportunities and rights of all citizens and Member States in the building up of a common Europe.

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