Speech by the President of the Italian Republic
on the occasion of his visit to the European Parliament
Strasburg, 14 February 2007
I thank you warmly for your kind and friendly words, which reflect the way we felt and worked together during the time of our close collaboration. We worked together, each in his own capacity, particularly on the Constitutional Treaty, to which you have just renewed your resolute support. You too may be assured of my deepest respect and of my very best wishes as you begin your important mandate.
Mr President Pöttering,
Mr Vice-President of the Commission,
Representatives of the Council,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
I return to this Chamber with the same sense of belonging as I felt during my time as a Member of the European Parliament. A sense of belonging to the parliamentary institution as such and, beyond that, of belonging to Europe. I was a member of my country's Parliament for several decades, but I felt at home here right from the start of my mandate as an elected Member of this Assembly. I settled in without problem because from 1979 at least the European Parliament has had the same dignity, authority and democratic legitimacy as any freely-elected national parliament. There was no contradiction because I have always believed and still believe that there should be no incomprehension or antagonism between the European Parliament and national parliaments - only reciprocal respect and fruitful cooperation.
And, above all, I have always been convinced that one can represent the views and the interests of one's own country in the European Parliament just as well as in any national parliament. Here, in the Chambers of Strasburg and Brussels, one's views and interests can be voiced according to a broader vision of problems and options, which should be considered from a European standpoint in the interests of our national communities. What unites all of us is at root the sense of belonging to Europe in terms of a common heritage of values and ideas, traditions and hopes. And in terms also of a project intended to create a new political and institutional entity capable of meeting the challenges of the times we live and those of the foreseeable future.
All this accounts for the fact that serving in the European Parliament is a special kind of experience. It is a place where the role of representative political groups is never determined by narrow and conflicting national considerations. To be sure, the various groups may sometimes find themselves at odds on important issues and vote in a significantly different manner, but generally speaking they share the same idea of the fundamental objectives to be pursued in order to progress in building up a united Europe.
When - as it has so often happened in recent decades - the choice lay between going forward and making Europe stronger and wider, and stopping or indeed turning back, the European Parliament always played a dynamic role. It chose clearly and overwhelmingly to press ahead with the task of Community construction and to broaden the horizons and ambitions which the job required.
Indeed, following the major innovation represented by the adoption of universal suffrage in European Parliament in 1979, there appeared to be no alternative to strengthening the European Union's parliamentary and constitutional foundations if the democratic basis of the process of integration was to be reinforced and if full rights and participation were to be guaranteed to its citizens. This was underlined by the European Parliament on 14 February 1984 - exactly 23 years ago - when it approved a Draft Treaty aimed at setting up the European Union. That project, drawn up and debated at the initiative of Altiero Spinelli, unfortunately never became a Treaty. And despite the long and not unfruitful process which followed, and which was often inspired by Spinelli's original plan, many new questions remained open, and many new ones arose.
So that when the disappointing Treaty of Nice was signed, and Member Governments agreed on the need to address the major themes of Europe's future and to launch a full-scale constituent process, the Parliament resolved to make its own contribution and to join in finding satisfactory answers to the questions posed in the Laeken Declaration of December 2001.
Yes, the European Parliament may be proud of the particularly dynamic role it played during that phase, and especially during the Brussels Convention at the level of working groups, plenary sessions and the Presidency itself.
2001, 2002, 2003: there was no pause during those years, but there was real reflection - serious and deep reflection. The text presented to the Inter-governmental Conference for final decision was brimming with analyses and was the product of long and thoughtful discussions. It was, to be sure, a compromise but not a bad one. Common ground was found between different points of view and all parties - including the European Parliament - sacrificed some of their demands and proposals in order to find an accord and advance the cause of European unity and integration.
Well then, Honourable Members of Parliament - can that Treaty - rightly called a "Constitutional" Treaty - today really be said to be dead? Are we sure that the extraordinary and drawn-out political and cultural effort it entailed has in fact come to nothing? Can we be certain that the signatures of 27 Heads of State or Government at the bottom of that document are no longer worth the paper they are written on?
Of course we fully appreciate the traumatic impact of the vote expressed against the Constitutional Treaty in the referenda held in two of the European Community's founding Member-Countries. And we also understand the problems posed by creeping doubts and scepticism in other countries as to the future course of the European Union and the Union's present state and prospects.
We are certainly paying a price for having failed to make more of an effort to associate our citizens with the great decisions taken on European integration and unification; to inform public opinion in all our countries of the extraordinary progress and results achieved in the past 50 years; and to tell them about the new and ever more pressing need to strengthen the European Union and increase its unity and scope.
But this does not mean we should underestimate the logic of the Constitutional Treaty signed in Rome in October 2004, nor the solutions it offered. The latter have already provided concrete, albeit partial responses - which should be made more widely known and appreciated - to the demands of citizens asking, for greater transparency and democracy in the Union, among other things.
While the Constitutional Treaty generally found a fortunate middle ground it should also be recalled that a good compromise involves accepting some points of view and giving up others. This should not be forgotten at a time when there is talk of going back to work on the 2004 text. No one should think that they can now shift the balance of the compromise that was reached before in favour of their own agenda. Embarking on new negotiations could mean opening up a Pandora's Box, with the risk of having to start again from scratch and of setting off a discussion whose outcome and duration are unpredictable.
Eighteen of the 27 Member Countries have ratified the Treaty on behalf of 275 million European citizens. They deserve respect for having honoured the commitment they made in Rome. But it should also be clear that respect is also due to the different majorities expressed in the French and Dutch referenda and that the concerns voiced by those votes should be fully addressed and clarified.
But it is time for Europe to break out of its impasse. Following the great enlargement it cannot seriously be doubted that the Union needs to redefine the overall framework of its values and objectives and to reform its institutional set-up. Working on a Draft Constitution for Europe was not a formal exercise, nor was it a whim or a luxury. It corresponded to a deep need on the part of Europe at this moment in time.
Nor may one today offer a Europe based on projects and results as alternative vision and strategy. To be sure, the Union has not stood still during the past two years. It fully demonstrated what it could do on the international scene when spoke with one voice on the war in Lebanon and sent a new and arduous peace mission to that region and to the entire Middle East. Alongside renewed political drive, positive developments during that period included a number of several important directives - finalized with the substantial contribution of the European Parliament thanks to its powers under the co-decision procedure - and agreement on an albeit limited increase in the meagre prospects offered by the 2007-2013 budget.
But given the present institutional framework not much progress can be expected in achieving any substantial results. It is certainly important to draft and launch new common policy guidelines as the Commission did recently on the environment and energy - problems which have clearly become critical as a result of climate change and of the tensions over oil and natural gas supplies. But we know from long experience that documents, opinions and even white papers from the Commission can produce scarce results or very slow progress, as demonstrated by the long years spent trying to agree on a joint European policy on immigration.
We well know that the launch of the joint European currency was not followed up with the kind of economic governance needed to achieve the objectives formulated in the grand design offered by the Lisbon Strategy.
Well then, what are the decisive steps now needed to breathe life into projects and to allow Europe to start performing seriously? Crucial here is the strength of institutions and of political commitment. It is vital that the Union be equipped with institutions stronger than the resistance put up by those of its Member-States who are still fighting to defend anachronistic prerogatives and illusory national ambitions.
The Constitutional Treaty dispelled any fears and doubts about a centralized super-state. It made clear how responsibilities are distributed and guaranteed in full respect of the principle of subsidiarity. It could indeed be argued that it did too little to adjust administrative rules and decision-making procedures in tune with the challenge of an enlarged Europe, and too little also to set much-needed new common policies in motion.
The biggest steps envisaged under the Constitutional Treaty are those towards a foreign and common security policy, an effective European space of freedom, security and justice, structured cooperation in the field of defence and strengthened cooperation in other areas. But if new negotiations take place and if anyone then tries to re-discuss those innovations, starting with the appointment of a European Foreign Minister and the creation of a European Service for External Affairs, one can be sure that others would demand that the 2004 Treaty be completed or integrated with new, bolder and more coherent decisions to further the process of integration. Understandably, there would be calls for extending the fields where majority rule applies in the Council: especially so because abandoning unanimous decision-making does not preclude but, rather, helps produce broad-based agreements and acceptable compromises in a brief period of time.
With the reopening of the negotiations, there would also be a renewed call for dropping the unanimity rule when deciding on future reforms of the Treaty and their entry into force.
Absolute realism is thus required on everyone's part. Together with realism, determination is also needed in order to stop the tendency now re-emerging to weaken and water down a decision taken more than 50 years ago. The choice then was a Europe capable of integration, a continent at once single and many, rich in its diversity, conscious of its common heritage and civilization, and strong in combining cooperation between national governments with a new supranational dimension.
We shall soon be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and it is important that we take the opportunity then to confirm that vision and that choice, explaining the reasons behind it and the new hopes for the future.
It was in Paris as long ago as 1950 that the "Community Idea" was born, pointing to the more distant horizon of a European Federation and of a United States of Europe. And we look to Paris today, confident that a responsible contribution will be offered to overcome the crisis set off by the failure to ratify the 2004 Treaty. Our friend France has such a high sense of its role in Europe and in the world that it will not fail to provide us with its now decisive contribution.
Mr President, Honourable Members of Parliament, I have drawn your attention to several fundamental elements of the framework surrounding the decisions to be taken in the near future. I have also avoided going into the merits of the various hypotheses recently broached at juridical, technical and political level to try and find a way out of the institutional impasse. Italy looks with complete confidence to the German Presidency both because of the principles and values invoked by Chancellor Merkel in this very Chamber and because of her confirmation of the objective of securing the adoption of the Constitutional Treaty.
However one defines the roadmap that people are talking about today, it is important that we agree that by the time the 2009 elections are held our citizens should have a Constitutional Treaty already in force, together with its message and its programme.
On that basis mine is intended as an appeal to the sense of responsibility and to the political will of all those who play a part in leading our countries. We are all aware of the scale of the new threats, challenges and opportunities before us. Europe can play a role in international relations and in global development, can find renewed élan and dynamism and count in the world only if it strengthens its own cohesion and unity and quickly adopts - as the Union - the institutions and resources it needs. The alternative - and we should all be aware of this - is a dramatic decline in the role of all our countries and of the historical role of our continent. Let me repeat the words with which Jean Monnet concluded his memoirs in 1976: "We cannot stop when the whole world around us is in motion". Thirty years later those words are even truer and indeed they have the ring of a nagging inner voice that can no longer be ignored.
Let the forces that lead our countries show themselves to be up to the challenge, let them find a way of unleashing a new European political will.
And may the voice of the European Parliament resound louder than ever, urging us to coherence and courage as it has so often done in the past.
Italy will play its part and will make its contribution as it has from the beginning of the process of integration. A contribution symbolized by the figure of a far-sighted statesman, Alcide De Gasperi, and of an impassioned prophet and fighter for the European ideal, Altiero Spinelli, the centenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year. In looking to the example they set and in reaffirming Italy's commitment to Europe I know I am speaking for my country's political forces as a whole and expressing the deepest convictions of its citizens.
At the same time I wanted to address you, Honourable Members of Parliament, on a more personal note given the emotion felt by one who, sitting on these benches and taking part in the life of this Parliament, learned the lesson well that the cause of our peoples, of our nations and of our common future is served only by working for a united Europe.