Introductory statements in the High Level Experts Meeting on the European Initiative and Referendum

It’s my pleasure to welcome such a qualified and informed audience for this afternoon seminar to look for the ways in which we can engage our people in Europe. We and the IRI have always said that we don’t want people for Europe but we finally want people by Europe. Thus, I think it’s encouraging that we can every day see that in more and more countries people are realising that they actually should have a say. It is encouraging especially at such a crucial moment that we face today with the results from the European Convention and with the beginning of the deliberations of the governments.[:]

This afternoon, I believe we can identify some issues in this process in which more and more countries, I am sure a majority of the Member States, will end up organising a constitutional referendum. And there we can of course rely on the CH expertise and tradition, without the intention to copy the CH system, but to use it as a source of inspiration. I am sure that we can look for some answers to questions that have not been answered yet. One of the questions would be for instance: What will happen if one Member State will reject the EU Constitution? We of course know that it is not only the people who could reject a constitution but also a parliament. So in principle, nothing is changing but I think decision-makers are worried because they realise that there is a greater risk linked with ratification by a referendum.

Yesterday, I must say that I paid attention to the results of a French poll in which they had asked what people want concerning the EU Constitution. It was, of course, interesting to note that a strong majority, 74%, welcome a constitutional referendum, and 72% want to accept the Constitution as well. However, there were 20% with negative opinions and the conclusion was that these people don’t feel that positive about the EU Constitution because they feel that Europe has not been able to give them anything. They are people who are worried about their jobs and they are not necessarily the ones who will be winning in the process of globalisation. Therefore, I think we do have a challenge in reaching this kind of people and convincing them about our projects for more integration.
This afternoon we will be looking into a novelty that the draft EU Constitution, prepared by the Convention, has brought into the game. I mean the citizens’ right of initiative. I am sure that we can look into how this right of initiative should be defended against governments who might not be so enthusiastic about it but will not necessarily refuse it either.  Today, we should discuss also on how the right actually could be brought into reality and what our input could be in the process.

As a former member of the European Parliament, I have seen that the number of citizens who are interested in making proposals to the EU has been growing dramatically in the last years. And hopefully with this right of initiative we will really come to something that we can call a “common European public space”, a “common European identity” which does not really differ between a Spanish and Polish or Estonian, Finnish and UK citizens but which brings a common interest to the podium.

To conclude, I am relying on the participants and the distinguished speakers of this afternoon so that we will come out with some concrete and practical results on how to advise our governments, how to advise our decision makers, how to mobilise campaigns to defend the appearance of the citizens as a key factor in the European constitutional process.
Ms. Heidi Hautala
MP in the Finnish Parliament, IRI Europe Advisory Board President, former President of the EP delegation for the relations with Switzerland