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Denmark in Europe of the future
I would like to begin by thanking the Danish European Movement for the European of the Year Award. I am both pleased and grateful for the honour thus bestowed on me.
It was a huge task but also a great pleasure to be President of the European Council at a time when it fell to the lot of Denmark to complete the negotiations on the enlargement of the EU. We made an historic decision in Copenhagen in December 2002. A decision that will have a positive impact on the development of Europe for many generations to come.
As I express my thanks for the European of the Year Award, I am well aware that many competent hands have worked together in order to achieve the historic results during the Danish EU Presidency. The Presidencies preceding Denmark’s had brought steady progress to the enlargement negotiations, so that we could stay within the time schedule and complete negotiations in December of last year. The Danish Foreign Service made a great and distinguished effort both prior to and during the Presidency in order to produce results under the auspices of the Danish EU Presidency, and the political parties helped the Government by showing due consideration in the work of the Folketing, so that the Ministers were able to concentrate their strength on the EU Presidency.
I am grateful for the appreciation reflected in the title of ”European of the Year”, but I gladly share the recognition with all those who, in various ways, contributed to the historic enlargement of the EU.
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We are at a decisive moment in the history of Europe, in a transition between two periods. This may be difficult to see in the midst of our busy everyday life, but I think that most of us sense that we are living through a period of transition.
1989 stands as one of the very greatest revolutionary years in the history of Europe, in the same category as 1789 and 1848. The populations of Central and Eastern Europe rose and threw off the yoke of Communism. At the same time, it meant the end to the gridlock and constrictions of Cold War Europe.
Only now are we beginning to see the framework for Europe of the future, and it looks promising. We are watching a new Europe emerge. A Europe characterised by freedom, peace, co-operation and prosperity.
This has not taken place by spontaneous accident. This is the fruit of years of hard labour, a focused effort and the will to embrace progress and change.
Denmark has taken active part in this work. One of the main goals of Danish foreign policy over the last almost 15 years has been to ensure that the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe became solidly anchored in our Western co-operation organisations.
With the decision in Prague in November on the next phase of NATO’s enlargement and with the decision at the Copenhagen Summit in December on the enlargement of the EU, this goal has been achieved. We have finally put behind us the unnatural division of Europe caused by the Iron Curtain. The framework for Europe of the future is in place.
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Therefore, this is also a natural point in time to look ahead and set new goals.
As I see it, the main task of Danish European policy, indeed of Danish foreign policy generally, is to leave our imprint on this new Europe in the years to come. We must contribute to building a Europe that reflects our viewpoints and values. We must safeguard our interests in interaction with our partners.
We can do so only by participating fully and unreservedly in the EU. After the enlargement, the EU stands indisputably as the framework for future European co-operation. Therefore, it is detrimental to Danish interests to remain outside significant areas of this co-operation. The areas from which we have excluded ourselves are, furthermore, the areas in which the co-operation between the countries of Europe will see the most extensive development in the years ahead.
We stand outside the euro. There is no doubt that the euro co-operation will gather momentum in the coming years. The euro is a great success, and Denmark has decided to peg the Danish krone to the euro. Therefore, we also depend on the decisions made by the euro members, but we ourselves do not take part in the co-operation. This, I believe, is an example of “democratic deficit”.
We have opted out of the defence co-operation. One consequence of this is now that Danish soldiers are withdrawn from the peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. I think we all agree that this mission is necessary. However, now we are compelled to withdraw, solely because the leadership exchanges its NATO hat with an EU hat, so to speak. Presumably, this was never the intention behind the opt-out.
In crucial areas, today’s European reality looks strikingly different from when we got the opt-outs in the early 1990s. We were then going through the turbulent phase immediately after the Wall came down. Europe’s future was not clear. Today, there is no such lack of clarity. We know the framework for Europe of the future. We are now in the absurd situation that in a few years, the previous dictatorship states in Eastern Europe will be full members of the EU while Denmark is stuck with a number of opt-outs in key areas.
This situation is untenable. Denmark should participate fully and unreservedly in the EU. Therefore, we need to abolish the opt-outs.
However, this is subject to referendum, and it must be on a clear and fully illuminated basis. In the current situation, I find it most fair to the population that we know the contents of the new treaty resulting from the Convention and the Intergovernmental Conference before we make a decision on the Danish opt-outs.
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Abolishing the opt-outs is of decisive importance if we are to realise Denmark’s full potential in the Europe of the future.
However, abolishing the opt-outs will not be enough in itself. At the same time, we must get used to the idea and adjust to the fact that there will be new modes of co-operation in an EU of 25 or more Member States.
The enlarged EU will mean co-operation characterised not only by a far greater number of members, but also by greater diversity of culture, geography and affluence than we have known in the present EU of 15 Member States. This presents us with new challenges.
The road ahead is an active, committed Danish European policy, through which we must endeavour to play a more proactive role than we have often done in the past.
The Danish Government has charted an active and progressive course for Danish European policy. This approach must be developed over the coming years. We must secure greater Danish influence by introducing concrete proposals, by daring to act and by building changing alliances with the other Member States.
At the same time, we must understand that the EU is developing. Also in future, classical areas of co-operation like the internal market, competition policy and the environment will assume key positions. We must expand and consolidate the co-operation in these areas, and we must ensure that the existing rules are implemented fully in the new Member States. However, the development has shown that, at the same time, there is a need for strengthening the co-operation in new areas. The Member States need the EU to handle new tasks.
I would like to consider one altogether current issue to illustrate the need for more and improved co-operation. After the divide in the EU over the Iraq matter, I think everybody can see the need for a more common foreign and security policy in the EU.
Ideally, the EU should speak with one voice. One voice speaks louder on the international scene. However, it is hardly realistic to expect the Member States to surrender their national sovereignty in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy.
Seen from the perspective of a small country, it would actually be an advantage if decisions on foreign and security policy were made in the Council of the EU. That would give us influence on areas which are today dominated, to a great extent, by the large countries. However, it is hardly realistic.
This does not mean that we should give up the goal of a common foreign, security and defence policy. On the contrary: we must endeavour to make it as common as possible.
One practical solution could be the creation of a strong office of a Foreign Policy Representative of the EU. A representative who would be able to speak with great weight on behalf of the EU when the EU Member States agree. This might, for instance, be done by merging the two present Foreign Policy Representatives into one. Today, we have a Commissioner for External Relations and at the same time we have a foreign policy co-ordinator. It would be more rational to merge the two offices into one.
In the EU Convention on the future of the EU, the Praesidium has presented a proposal for a so-called ”EU Foreign Minister”. I prefer the title ” Foreign Policy Representative of the EU”. However, let us not quibble over the specific title. It is the content that matters. The Praesidium proposes exactly the merging of the two offices into one, so the aim in itself is good and right. On the other hand, I do not agree with all the elements of the proposal of the Praesidium regarding the functions of and the location of this Foreign Policy Representative. However, we shall consider this in the further negotiations.
The key aim is to strengthen the common foreign, security and defence policy of the EU.
However, these deliberations do not aim to strengthen the EU at the expense of Transatlantic co-operation. On the contrary. We have a vital and obvious interest in close and strong co-operation between Europe and the USA. Still, the Western World is facing challenges these days that make it necessary for Europe to be able to stand on its own feet to a much higher degree than before and make its own contribution. This is not only in our interest; it is also in the interest of the USA.
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After the enlargement of the EU, it is necessary to implement reforms in order to ensure the ability to make decisions, take action and secure efficiency.
We should, generally, make more decisions on the basis of qualified majority. With 25 or more Member States in the Union, everything will be paralysed if individual countries are able to block decisions. Of course, there are vital areas in which unanimity must still be required. However, the tendency must be for us to make more majority decisions.
In return, we should also have a clearer specification of the distribution of tasks between the EU and the Member States, and the new constitutional treaty should specify this distribution.
We need to strengthen popular control of decisions made in the EU. We may do this by giving the European Parliament greater influence. Among other things, the European Parliament should be co-legislator in the area of agriculture, a role that the Parliament does not fulfil today.
We also have a great interest in a strong EU Commission. I know very well that to many, the EU Commission appears to be a bogey man, who wants to impose its will on the citizens, companies, farmers and fishermen of the EU Member States. However, this is a false image of the Commission. Not least a small country like Denmark has a vital interest in an EU Commission that is strong enough to monitor compliance with the common EU rules. If not, we would just run the risk that the countries that were large or brazen enough would ignore the common rules, much to the detriment of the countries that comply conscientiously with the common rules.
In order to give the EU Commission and its President the strongest possible position, we might set up a special electoral college to elect the President of the Commission. This college might be formed so that half its members come from the European Parliament and the other half from national parliaments. Such an arrangement would also involve national parliaments more deeply in the work of the EU.
However, if in this way we strengthen both the European Parliament and the EU Commission, we should also correspondingly strengthen the Council and the European Council.
There are three altogether crucial principles that must form the basis of reform of the institutions.
First, any result must, as a whole, respect the balance between large and small countries. Attempts to disregard this requirement will expose the co-operation to the risk of disintegration.
Second, the balance between the three key institutions, the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council, must be preserved. We must maintain a system of ”checks and balances” between the institutions.
Third, the solution must be effective and transparent. The solution produced must be able to function and be comprehensible.
The Praesidium of the EU Convention has presented a far-reaching proposal for reform of the institutions. I do not agree with all parts of this proposal, and I feel thoroughly convinced that the end result is going to look very different from the proposal currently on the table.
Still, the Praesidium’s draft and the whole discussion over the past week have confirmed my belief that Denmark has chosen the right course in this debate from the outset.
The decisive question in the Convention remains whether we should have an elected President of the European Council. If the answer to this is affirmative, it gives us the opportunity of a more general institutional reform. If negative, we shall end up basically maintaining the status quo. I think that we should be bold and seek a broad institutional reform if this is possible.
Denmark can live with both solutions, but on clear conditions. If we are to continue with the bi-annual, rotating, national EU Presidencies, the system must be reformed and streamlined as much as possible. Three concrete initiatives might include:
· First, focusing the EU Presidency on the political levels: the Council meetings and the important committees at officials level. Then we might let the Council Secretariat manage the daily work in more working groups at low level. The system is well-known already today, and may be extended.
· Second, recreating a full-time Secretary-General of the Council, who will be able to assist the national EU Presidencies.
· Third, and last, strengthening the co-operation between several national EU Presidencies following upon each other.
At the same time, however, we are ready to consider, with an open mind, a model with an elected President of the European Council. In that case, however, this must be subject to clear conditions. Otherwise, the idea holds no interest.
Let me state it with complete clarity. The Praesidium’s proposal is not sufficiently precise. If this is what the large countries have to offer, then the answer will be negative, also from Denmark.
However, I have noted with interest that the German Foreign Minister already last week stretched out a hand in the Convention. He indicated that the Praesidium’s proposal must be amended so that it respects the balance between large and small countries to a much higher degree.
I find that we must meet such a constructive approach with a positive reception. So that opinions and viewpoints are put into play. It is not certain that we shall be able to find a common compromise. Still, we ought to explore with a constructive mind the possibilities of finding a basis for a major comprehensive institutional reform. It is in the interest of us all.
Therefore, it is now time for Denmark to state in more concrete terms which demands we shall pose if we are to consider positively working along a track based on an elected President of the European Council. We have three fundamental requirements.
The first requirement is that a solution must respect the balance between large and small countries. There is a need here for rather clear rules for the way in which such a President is to be elected.
It must be ensured that there is equal access to the office. This is best achieved by giving each Member State one vote when the President is to be elected. The rule on voting might for instance be that winning the election requires the support of two thirds of the Member States.
As a supplement to this, we might possibly operate with electoral groups. In that case, I imagine that we would have three ”electoral group” consisting of large, medium-sized and small countries, respectively. The office of President of the European Council would then rotate between these electoral groups. In this way, we shall secure equal representation between large and small Member States.
The model is not to be understood in the sense that groups of countries are excluded in turn from participating in the election of a President. It is not the electoral group in question that itself appoints the President. All Member States are to participate in the election, and all countries must have the right to nominate or recommend candidates. But each time the candidates must be from one of the countries that belong to the electoral group whose turn it is to be eligible for the office of President of the European Council.
This, then, is my proposal for a model. One might imagine others, I assume. The decisive factor is preserving the equality of the Member States.
The second requirement is that we must ensure a sensible division of labour between the elected President of the European Council, the President of the Commission and an EU Foreign Minister.
The main task for the President of the European Council must be to chair and prepare the meetings of the European Council. The President must ensure continuity and coherence of the work of the Council. However, he is not to be granted powers that will enable him to interfere in the areas that fall under the Commission’s competence. The Commission’s right of initiative must not be put into question.
In the foreign policy area, the elected President of the European Council may contribute to representing the Union at high level vis-à-vis third countries, but the responsibility for the Union’s foreign policy work and the day-to-day handling of this are vested in the so-called EU Foreign Minister. He shall be accountable to the Council and his colleagues in the Commission, and not to the elected President of the European Council.
The third requirement is that no new bureaucracy may be built. An elected President is to receive secretariat assistance from the Council Secretariat. We may consider setting up an independent cabinet, but no new institution. This is to be incorporated in the treaty text.
As concerns the Presidency of the Council, we propose to continue the present, rotating, bi-annual EU Presidency for the sector councils. The running, daily co-ordination is to be managed within this Presidency and in meetings between the EU Presidency and the elected President of the European Council. If one were to think further along these lines, the Head of State or Government of the Member State holding the EU Presidency might at the same time function as Vice President of the European Council, with the possibility for assisting and relieving the elected President.
Some may ask, ”Will an elected President of the European Council not become EU President?” My answer is: ”No, not if the elected President is furnished with a clear mandate, which specifies that he is President of the European Council and not President of the European Union with presidential powers.
On the contrary, it might be said that an elected President of the European Council would exactly help emphasise the significance of the forum in which the national Member States meet and debate, that is, the Council and the European Council. In this way, we ensure the balance between the three institutions, the EU Parliament, the Commission and the Council.
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Allow me to conclude by emphasising that the proposals I have presented here today are a concrete Danish proposition made as part of the current debate. On Monday, they will be forwarded to the EU Convention as proposed amendments to the proposal presented by the Praesidium of the Convention. And as I took the liberty of saying about the Praesidium’s proposal, it is also quite likely that the final result is going to look different from my proposal. That is what happens in negotiation processes.
However, the important thing is that Denmark enters the current debate. Much too often, Denmark has opted out of the European debate. This policy of playing ostrich has not served Denmark well, and it is entirely devoid of perspective in an EU of 25 members.
The Government wishes to pursue an active European policy; to seek influence; to speak frankly and directly and to the outside world; as well as to create a debate at home that has a real relationship to European reality.
It is with great satisfaction that I note that there is broad political agreement on this line of approach. The parties of the Government are working closely together with the Social Democrats and the Social Liberal Party in this matter.
The proposed amendments we shall forward on Monday are clear expressions of such an active Danish European policy. A Danish European policy that takes a proactive attitude to reality and to the future.