Democracy, Sustainability and Solidarity in Europe

Dear friends and colleagues, It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Green/EFA Workshop “For a new Turning Point towards a Democratic, Sustainable and Solidaire Europe”. [:] For the first time, we, as representatives of Greens and European Free Alliance, have gathered together today to reflect what should our Europe look like. Developing a “Europe of Regions” has been our common goal for a long time. Now we have the possibility to make this concept alive and more concrete. The Members of our Group in the European Parliament share a common concern: The voice of regions is not heard on EU level. Among the EU countries, this seems to be a problem particularly in Spain and France, whereas Germany has somewhat succeeded in finding a balance between the interests of its regions and the federal state. I believe that we want a kind of “decentralised federalism”, that should empower each and every citizen and offer the possibility to citizens to influence the decision-making process through regions. In our Group, we have discussed not just the limited powers of regions, but also those of small states. We cannot demand the small states to give up more and more of their decision-making powers in favor of the big states. It is my belief that large and big Member States can furthermost afford to be a bit more generous vis-à-vis smaller states. Fears have been expressed that this would not be the case in a reform of the institutional set-up of the European Union – a reason why a part of our Group voted against the European Parliament’s report on the Intergovernmental Conference during the April session.

What kind of European Parliament we then would like to see in an enlarged Union? We oppose all efforts leading to the development of a two-party system in the European Parliament and thus in the EU. We think that the ceiling of 700 MEPs cannot be considered as definitive. It is important to guarantee that also after enlargement, our political families (Greens and regional-based parties) will be properly represented. In this context, the latest European elections in June marked an important step out of the bipolar system which had been developing over the years in the European Parliament between the two biggest political groups, EPP and PSE. This has now changed and it has reinforced the position of our group. We should not lose new opportunities and the margin of manoeuvre resulting thereof. For the next few years, I have two remarks: First, we have to guarantee that the Green/EFA politics will gain ground also in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Second, the fruitful cooperation between the Greens and EFA will serve as an example for future elections, in which we have to continue looking for allies from other small and mid-size parties.

It has now been almost a year since the Greens and EFA united their forces and one can conclude that we have some excellent experience from our mutual cooperation. I would like to invite you to reflect whether and how this cooperation could be extended to the level of European political parties. Our Group has decided that it is now time to define what the European political parties are. The future definition is currently being elaborated by the four main political groups in the European Parliament. With the current discussion on Austria, it may be possible that the definition will exclude some ideological movements. The European political parties must respect, in their programme and activities, the fundamental constitutional principles enshrined in the EU Treaty of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. In particular, there is the need for clear rules and transparency with regard to the public support, financial and other from which the European political parties benefit. Our Group agrees that political parties at European level have an important task in contributing to forming a European civil society. In this process, our priority is to make sure that the citizen will to become the centre of the decision-making process.

Friends and colleagues, The Green/EFA Group has a good reason to be proud of the European Parliament’s report on the Charter of Fundamental Rights which was adopted with a great majority in the plenary on 16 March. The report was drafted by Johannes Voggenhuber, Member of our Group from Austria, and Andrew Duff, a Socialist Member of the European Parliament from the UK. The Green/EFA Group is pleased by the positive attitude of the Portuguese Presidency to incorporate the Charter on Fundamental Rights into the Treaty. Our Group thinks that it is indispensable that the Charter will be legally binding in order to avoid it to become a mere political declaration. The Charter of Fundamental Rights offers us a unique possibility to enhance the rights of EU citizens and third-country nationals residing legally in the Union. For the moment, neither the EC Treaty nor the EU Treaty contains a written list of fundamental rights, although the European Court of Justice has recognised their existence and has steadily extended them. If one would write a book on the rights of EU nationals, it could well be the shortest book in the world. The Treaty of Maastricht introduced the concept of European citizenship, but it failed to become anything else except a very modest start. For all citizens of the Union, citizenship implies in principle: the right to move and reside freely within the European Union, the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in the Member State in their country of residence, the right to diplomatic protection in the territory of a third country by the authorities of another Member State, and the right to petition to the European Parliament and the right to apply to the European Ombudsman concerning maladministration in the EU institutions.

In my opinion, it is imperative that we increase also the direct political rights of citizens. It should be considered whether we could use referenda, also binding referenda, more frequently, and whether we could provide the citizens with legislative initiative powers by incorporating citizens’ initiatives into the Treaty, as proposed by the Italian and Austrian governments during the last Intergovernmental Conference. From the Finnish perspective, it would be quite natural that also the right to the clean environment and the duty to protect the environment would be considered as part of this constitutional process. Thanks to the provision on the right of the clean environment which has been incorporated into the Finnish constitution, we have for the first time been able to restrict rather wide landowners’ rights and obliged them to conserve nature. The right of EU citizens to access to information or the gender-balanced representation of all EU citizens in the decision-making process should also be included in a document, such as the Charter on Fundamental Rights. The new challenges posed by information technologies or biotechnology also need to be taken into account. Finally, it is important to guarantee that we do not aim to create conflicts with the existing framework of fundamental rights, most notably the European Human Rights Convention, or double the work of other institutions, such as the Council of Europe. Friends and colleagues, We have now entered a radical new phase in the history of European integration. The EU has been faced with the fact that not just states, but also citizens are important actors in the integration process. In the era of globalisation, the EU is very much needed as a strong and efficient supranational body, which is able and willing to control global market forces. This will be possible only in a democratic, transparent Union, in which citizens have been empowered to be part of the decision-making process.

Green / EFA Workshop of 10 – 11 May 2000 in Brussels “For a new Turning Point towards a Democratic, Sustainable and Solidaire Europe”