Committee on Constitutional Affairs, European Parliament
Brussels, Tuesday 6 October 2009
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to meet with you today and I would like to congratulate all of you for being elected, or re-elected, as Members of the European Parliament.
I recognise some friends, with whom we had already the pleasure to work in the past. I also see many new faces today and I am keen to listen to your views and discuss with you all. Thank you also for inviting me in order to discuss the ratification process and the challenges we are facing.
Let me start with the Irish referendum .
I am delighted about the outcome of the vote. The Irish Yes is the right result for Ireland and the right result for Europe. Twenty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, this will give Europeans a new Treaty, more open and democratic. This new Treaty will allow us to work more efficiently and to deliver better on the expectations of people across our continent.
One of the reasons for the change of heart in Ireland is that people and the civil society were much more engaged. At the European level, after the first vote, we listened to voters concerns and the European Council responded to those by agreeing on “guarantees” - making clear commitments on the issues which mattered most to the Irish. I think these made a real difference and helped to reassure people.
T he Parliament and the Commission also deserve some credit for the efforts put into making the case for the Treaty. The Commission played its role by producing, impartial, factual, understandable information, including a Citizens' Summary of the Treaty in all EU languages.
Like last time, we will carry out a Eurobarometer survey of how people voted and why. That will help us understand the hopes and concerns of all voters, the yesses and the nos. In the months and years to come, we should not forget these hopes and concerns. We will continue to reach out, to listen, to engage and to take action to meet the legitimate expectations of all European citizens.
Indeed, t he upside of a referendum is that it creates the conditions for discussion. The downside is that it obliges people to take a position, in favour or against. This is why it is important to understand the reasons of the yeses and the concerns of the nos.
There is no shortage of lessons to be learnt from the debate in Ireland. Lessons about the way the EU is presented in national political debates. Lessons on how to communicate about the European Union on a constant basis, and in a way that it is meaningful in people's everyday lives.
Europe can no longer be made by the elite making decisions behind closed doors. A constant feature of my work has been to reach out to citizens, to communicate better with them, to inform them about EU policies and to engage them in open debate.
If I could give you an y advice for the future work of your Committee, it would be to persist on this issue and to promote further, together with your colleagues on the Committee on Culture and Education, the right of the EU Institutions to talk to citizens.
I believe it is important that there is a Commissioner responsible for communication in the next Commission. And I believe that this role would be strengthened if communication policy was linked to other aspects of citizenship in the Commission; the citizenship programme (EAC), citizens' rights (JLS) and relations with NGOs, and the new citizens' initiative for example. If the next College were to name a Commissioner for Citizenship and Communication, it would be an important signal in itself that Europe is continuing to take these issues seriously.
Let me now turn to the Treaty-review process .
With the Yes of the Irish voters, every one of our 27 Member States had given its democratic political support to the process, be it by parliamentary vote or popular referendum. Of course, we need to see the formal ratification procedures completed in all Member States. We need to respect legal process. We can expect the Treaty of Lisbon to be in force in the very near future.
With this in mind, I know that this Committee, like the Commission, is stepping up its work on what needs to be done to implement the Treaty. In the Commission, there are four dossiers on which we have been working hard, to try to ensure that we are ready when the Treaty comes.
I know that this morning, you have been discussing Elmar Brok's report on the European External Action service . The Commission, too, has been working hard on this fundamental innovation of the Treaty, trying to think how we can make the EEAS a real success. This work will now accelerate.
As I would expect, Mr Brok's report is particularly strong in putting the EEAS within the broader context of the EU's institutional mix and the Community system. The whole point of the EEAS is that it acts as a cohesive force, helping to bring together different strands of EU external policy so that Europe's influence on the global stage can be maximised. The best way to achieve this goal is for the EEAS and the High Representative to work closely with all the other institutions and to harness the strength of what the EU can offer.
Comitology is an important aspect of how the EU does its business. The Treaty of Lisbon introduces new rules, making the system more rational and transparent. We need to fix exactly how the new system should work, but let me be clear: the Commission is determined to maintain the strong role played by the Parliament today. Some of these decisions are important political decisions for the Union, and they need political scrutiny and political ownership.
Having just returned from COSAC, the new mechanisms to allow national parliaments a direct say on subsidiarity is at the front of my mind. The Commission has been thinking through how to give practical effect to these provisions, and how to put them in the broader context of the excellent relations with national parliaments built up by the Commission, and indeed by the European Parliament, over the last few years.
Finally, we have been working in detail on the European Citizens' Initiative. This is one of the most important aspects of the Lisbon Treaty's democratic agenda. As the Parliament set out earlier this year, it will open up a new avenue for citizens to give voice to their interests and aspirations for Europe.
The Commission intends to ensure that citizens will be able to exercise this new right as quickly as possible after the entry into force of the Treaty. The report adopted by Parliament in May constitutes a very valuable contribution. On this issue, we would like also to consult broadly with civil society and citizens, so that we can make a proposal early next year. We also want to keep up the dialogue with Parliament and the Council, so that you could look at accelerating proceedings when the formal proposal is made.
We have a large amount of work in front of us. And we shall engage in this activity in a confident and constructive way. The implementation of the Treaty will also benefit from regular and frequent contacts between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission at a high level, backed by the support and the expertise of your committee.
Ladies and gentlemen
Over the years and during the mandate as Vice-President in charge for Inter-institutional relations , I always paid attention to gender equality.
Certainly, we can be pleased that women's representation went up in this Parliament, from 30.9% to 34%. Still this is not parity and it does not reflect the fact that women are not a minority, but actually the majority. And, even worse, we see very large divergences from one country to another.
This is not a women's issue, it's a fundamental question of democracy that the parliament should represent the people who elect it. I am concerned that we do not have enough women in senior positions. I am worried that the next Commission could have fewer women than we have in the current one. And I still see very little signs of women candidates for the top EU posts. Parliament should also be concerned by this situation, given that in the Dehaene report on the institutional balance after the entry into force of the Treaty, you backed the idea that the future appointments should take into account gender equality.
This is why, together with many other women in senior positions in the EP, belonging to five political groups, we sent a call to the President of the Parliament, the President of the Commission and all the Heads of States and Governments, asking them to take gender equality seriously.
The under-representation of women in EU policy must change. In the short term, we need to work on the composition of the new College and the appointment of top posts. In a more long term perspective, changes to the Electoral act could also contribute to this cause. I know that Mr Duff will resume work on his report on the Electoral law for EP elections. And I hope that, in that context, your Committee will also look at the Act of 1979 from the gender equality perspective.
Thank you for your attention.