Prime Minister's Statement to Parliament on the Intergovernmental Conference

Government Communications Department 17.12.2003 22.00
Prime Minister's Announcement -

Mr Speaker, Members of Parliament

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen

The Intergovernmental Conference, that took place in conjunction with the European Council meeting in Brussels on 12 and 13 December, did not reach agreement on the new Constitutional Treaty. Though the failure was regrettable it was not entirely unexpected. I personally estimated in advance that the meeting could reach unanimity on the broad institutional questions if there was adequate political will. Such political will did not, however, emerge last weekend.

Had the political will existed, the IGC conducted at the level of the Heads of State or Government would, nevertheless, have faced an extensive challenge. As the meeting began on Friday, 12 December 2003, the Constitutional Treaty remained open with regard to many significant issues. In addition to the institutional issues, that are pivotal in the determination of powers, there also remained tens of unresolved amendment proposals regarding the Union’s different policy sectors. It would have been a gigantic task to try to address the institutional issues and all the other problems during one weekend and it is more than likely that at least some of them would have needed to be dealt with in a later phase.

The IGC did not, however, even begin the discussion on the policy sectors. Nor did the present and future Member States have enough time to jointly hold a thorough discussion on the institutional issues. The discussion that took place in the meeting room was short and preliminary in nature. Most of the time available was devoted to the Presidency's bilateral discussions with the Member States. With the means of these discussions, the Presidency aimed to resolve the question that had proved the most problematic in the course of the IGC ? the weighting of votes in the Council. As the President failed to establish consensus on this issue, he draw the conclusion that an agreement on the whole package could not be reached either and the meeting was ended on Saturday afternoon, 13 December 2003.

We Finns did not agree with the tactics of the Italian Presidency to skip civil servant preparation and bring all issues directly to the attention of Ministers. We would have preferred detailed civil servant preparation prior to ministerial meetings and genuine dialogue among the Ministers. In this manner, we could have avoided the situation whereby all issues remained unresolved at the dawn of the IGC meeting at the level of the Heads of State or Government. This would not, however, have helped last weekend as the Member States lacked a genuine will to find a solution that would have been acceptable to all as regards the reform of the Member States' power relations in the Council’s decision-making. The Presidency cannot be held guilty for the failure of the IGC.

The unwillingness of certain Member States to compromise, as regards the voting procedures in the Council, may be connected with some other IGC issues which the meeting did not even have time to address. The ideas, that were put forward after the meeting, on a Europe that would proceed at two different speeds, or on the so-called core group, where some Member States would advance faster than the others in economic and social policy, justice and home affairs and defence issues, point to this direction. This idea of two different speeds has been already tested in Economic and Monetary Union and in the Schengen acquis which do not encompass all Member States. Under the current Treaty provisions, those Member States that are prepared to advance faster than the other EU members can already engage in so-called closer cooperation.

Whether some Member States will take action to create such faster advancing core groups within the Union is a question that remains to be seen in the future. I do not want to rule out the possibility, or even the need, for flexible integration in the enlarging Union but I would be cautious about making hasty and far-reaching conclusions on the basis of the disappointing result of the ICG in Brussels. The Union's strength has always been in its integration development. The search for common solutions must not be lightly abandoned. The dispute was primarily about the division of powers not about the content of the Union's policies.

Mr Speaker,

Although the meeting last weekend failed, the Intergovernmental Conference was not broken up; it has merely been interrupted. I am of the opinion that we must continue from where we finished during the Italian Presidency. A great number of persons have worked for the reform of the Treaties for two years. A lot of work has been done and many results achieved. The European Convention on the Future of the European Union, established at the Laeken European Council, worked for the period between February 2002 and July 2003 and the IGC for two and a half months as of 4 October 2003. As the process continues, we must not re-open the issues on which the IGC reached unanimity but focus on the unresolved questions.

With the means of careful preparation, the IGC was able to adopt, with regard to the security and defence policy, a decision that emphasises the unity of the Union. Finland made a valuable contribution to this solution and the issue did not need to be further discussed in Brussels.

The responsibility for the continuation of the negotiations will be transferred to Ireland which will hold the Union's rotating Presidency for the first half of 2004. Ireland will prepare a report for the European Council, that will take place in March 2004, on the ways to continue the IGC process.

At the moment, it seems probable that the time-out could be longish. Some sources have estimated that the IGC process could even take a year’s break. Therefore, it is uncertain whether the new Treaty could be adopted in line with the mandate given by the Thessaloniki European Council ? that is, in good time before the European Parliament election that will be held in June 2004.

The Finnish Government is of the opinion that the negotiations should not be allowed to rest for too long a period because, by doing so, we could lose the gained results and be forced to re-start from the beginning. On the other hand, there is a need for careful reconsideration of the situation. It is not only Ireland but also the other EU Member States that need to re-evaluate what kind of a Union they want to have and what kind of concessions they are ready to make in order to achieve such a Union. This applies to all EU members, Finland included.

Over the past autumn, Finland managed to analyse and put forward its objectives in an efficient and determined manner. This is what we intend to do again as the IGC continues. The objectives that the Finnish Government put forward in the autumn are still applicable. In the future, we will continue to work towards a more open and better-functioning Union that must at the same time maintain its dual nature as a Union of citizens and Member States. Equality among citizens is a natural starting-point but the Union must also continue to respect equality among Member States.

The forthcoming Irish Presidency is faced with a difficult task as it ponders ways to continue the IGC process. Finland is willing to cooperate and we will make every effort to help Ireland in its duties. The essential thing is to establish a positive negotiation climate. Without a political will to bring the IGC to a successful conclusion, it will be futile to continue the negotiations and they will only result in another disappointment.

Finland is of the opinion that the emergence of political will can be aided by careful preparation. The issues should be prepared at the level of civil servants as far as possible which would allow the politicians ? Foreign Ministers and the Heads of State or Government ? to deal with the core policy issues. In addition to the institutional issues, the policy sectors included in Part III of the draft Constitutional Treaty, in particular, should now be prepared and brought to the negotiation table. The European Convention did not practically touch on them at all. As regards the aforementioned policy sectors, the IGC received relevant written positions and they were mentioned in bilateral discussions with the Presidency but the issues were never brought to a joint negotiation table for a proper debate.

Mr Speaker,

Although the Intergovernmental Conference was forced to take a time-out, the European Council managed to make decisions on the location of nine EU agencies. Helsinki will host the EU Chemicals Agency which will be established to carry out the duties defined in the EU chemicals regulation currently under preparation. The tenth agency, a Fisheries Agency, will be located in Spain.

I welcome the decision to locate the EU Chemicals Agency in Helsinki.

Originally, the Government shared the previous Government's objective to get the European Food Authority to Finland. Over the past autumn, it became more and more obvious that this would not be possible. We had the options to further postpone the decision on the location of the EU agencies or to choose another alternative.

According to the analyses submitted to the Government, the Chemicals Agency will at least equal the European Food Agency in size and significance. These two agencies are clearly bigger than the other agencies on offer. The location of the EU agencies was under discussion for two years and there were no signs indicating that the issue could have been more easily resolved next year. On the contrary, we may have found ourselves in a situation where we could not have chosen either one of the most important agencies. On the one hand, Finland must see to the whole Union's interest and, on the other, to its own interests ? our main aim cannot be to "punish" another EU country. On the basis of the aforementioned facts and the information we received during the autumn, we estimated that, in the present state of affairs, it would best serve our aims if we opted for the EU Chemicals Agency.

Over the past days, there has been a certain amount of discussion about the final location of the agency in Finland. This discussion is unnecessary and pointless as the European Council resolved the issue when it adopted its decision on the agencies on 13 December 2003. The EU Chemicals Agency will be located in Helsinki.

Mr Speaker,

Finland will do its utmost for a prompt re-launching of the Intergovernmental Conference and a final outcome that will benefit both the Union and Finland. Until this has been achieved, the Union will adhere to the current provisions. Although we had hoped that the Constitutional Treaty could be agreed on in good time before the next European Parliament elections, I do not consider it an insurmountable catastrophe should the schedule be prolonged. I remain confident that common sense will eventually win and that the Treaty can be concluded in a reasonable period of time. In the long run, it is not in anyone’s interests to prolong the dispute and the ensuing rift within the Union.