There are many reasons why last June’s European Council was an important landmark. I would like to highlight one in particular. It lay to rest the idea that there is some kind of tradeoff between the Union’s institutional progress and the delivery of fresh policies. Before, it was often suggested that if you talked about the policy agenda, you were in some way trying to avoid the institutional debate. And if you talked about the Constitution, you were accused of navel-gazing, an obsession with the mechanics. I think this theory has been comprehensively buried.
The twin-track strategy agreed last June set out how the two are linked, and how they are mutually reinforcing. For as long as we have to work with a Union less efficient and less democratic than we know is possible, our efforts to deliver the policies our citizens expect will never be wholly convincing. And every time that we bring forward policies which improve the lives of our citizens, this can only increase confidence in a new step forward in European integration.
Prime Minister Vanhanen and the Finnish Presidency have shown a real understanding of this reality. Six months of pragmatic, well-focused advances. A real understanding of what this Parliament, the Council and the Commission can offer to Europe when we work together. The result has been agreement on sensitive dossiers like REACH. Swift reaction to crisis in Lebanon. Smooth preparation for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Working to ensure a more coherent EU approach to external relations.
The European Council this week will bring together three key issues on which the
Finnish Presidency has already shown an active, determined EU.
First, innovation. The informal European Council at Lahti left an image of EU leaders genuinely committed to innovation. You will see from yesterday's Lisbon
Annual Progress Report that there is real substance to this, with important steps forward in many Member States.
But the European dimension is essential to bringing change to the European economy. Intellectual property rights, joint technology initiatives and standardization are all areas which have been highlighted in this House as demanding Europeanlevel action.
The European Council will drive this agenda forward. On innovation, as on energy and climate change, it will set the scene for a very important Spring European
Council next year.
I am delighted that the European Commission has been able to make a very tangible contribution to these efforts, in the shape of the European Institute for
Technology. The EIT will not only make a direct contribution to innovation in
Europe, it will also act as symbol of how EU can be ambitious and innovative itself.
The support of members of this House to the Institute is as welcome as it is essential. I hope that Parliament and Council will both make consideration of the
EIT a priority, so that it can be up and running as soon as possible.
Second, migration. No images have been more powerful this autumn than the sight of people willing to risk their lives to reach European shores. There was a real urgency for action, and I am glad that the Commission was able to respond. Our
Global Approach to immigration
– together with extra cooperation on maritime borders and strengthening of instruments like Frontex
– adds up to a serious response, comprehensive in scope and concrete in execution. Adoption of this approach at the European Council would send a powerful message that this is a common problem to which the Union will give a unified response.
We need to start working now on tackling this as a long-term challenge. That means coordinated use of internal and external instruments, with more dialogue with countries of origin, transit and destination. It means more attention to integration and inter-cultural dialogue.
And we cannot escape the reality that to act effectively, we must have the right tools. That means improving our decision-making to speed up action. It does not make sense to deprive ourselves of the options already available.
Third, and final area I would like to raise is enlargement. To some, it might not seem that the issues we face this week show the policy of enlargement effectively delivered. I want to explain why this is wrong.
In the first place, I find criticism odd when we are only a few weeks away from another step forward for enlargement. The vote of this house yesterday not only showed your confidence in two new Commissioners. It also symbolised the key role this Parliament has played in making enlargement possible and making it work.
The benefits of the 2004 enlargement are clear for the Europe of 25. I have no doubt that we will look back on the move to 27 with similar satisfaction.
However, the European Council will focus on two issues: integration capacity, and the accession negotiations with Turkey.
The Commission's report on integration capacity is recognition that there are legitimate questions about implications of enlargement. I think everyone here knows that there has been no attempt by the Union to conceal the consequences of enlargement
– why should we, when the evidence before us points so strongly to the benefits?
But we must respect concerns and redouble our efforts to show how seriously the
Union takes its responsibility to make sure that enlargement works
– yes for both incoming Member States, and for the Union they join. We should all accept a responsibility to engage more strongly in this debate.
Two weeks ago, the Commission made its recommendation on Turkey. As a result, the Council agreed this week to suspend negotiations on a number of key chapters.
This is a clear signal that a breach of legal obligations cannot be accepted. At the same time, continuing this negotiation process clearly lies in our own strategic interest. We need both sides to play by the rules. It is now up to the Turkish side to show its willingness to fulfil its obligations.
We know that we need to keep candidate countries motivated. Enlargement is such a positive force for progress – it is in all of our interests that candidates pursue difficult reforms on a road that is bound to be long. Croatia has made a good start and is likely to be the next acceding country if the reform effort continues. The countries of the Western Balkans have also made progress.
We need a renewed consensus on enlargement: A new consensus which both recognises the strategic value of enlargement, and ensures our capacity to function while gradually integrating new members.
The Commission will continue to stick to the core principles: respect for commitments made, a rigorous and fair assessment, a search to improve the quality of the process. The enlargement process has shown itself to be as resilient as ever.