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Speeches, Interviews

18.04.2006

European Conference on Subsidiarity, Keynote Speech by Pierre Lequiller


"Is there still a future for national parliamentarians in Europe?"

 

Mr. President, Mr. Governor, dear friends: I would like to congratulate the Austrian presidency, headed by Chancellor Schüssel, on having taken this important and very useful initiative. We are at a point in time in which the European Union is going through a crisis. The topic that I wish to talk about today is: Is there a future for national delegates in Europe? This is a brilliant title, and this is not surprising since Mr. Khol is a brilliant speaker, an outstanding expert with a sense of humour.

Of course there is a future for national delegates in Europe; I would say, more now than in the past. National delegates have an important role to play. Allow me also to mention the senators where there are bicameral systems. These bicameral systems compliment each other rather than compete amongst each other. This goes not only for the national level but also for the European level.

There are two further aspects which I wish to talk about. Why do we respect the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality? Why do we claim that these two principles are essential in establishing greater trust in Europe? Why do national parliaments have to play an important role in ensuring the efficient implementation of these principles?

Let me elaborate on the first question. Even after the French referendum, and there have been many controversies about it not only in France, most parliamentarians are unable to come up with a definition of subsidiarity. What is it all about? Public action must take place efficiently. It is not a question of more or less Europe, citizens want Europe to fulfil their everyday needs. Current events in France and elsewhere in the EU should make us stop and think. There have been discussions about reduced VAT rates. We have an impasse because of the principle of unanimity in tax matters and that has had a negative impact on public opinion. European citizens do not understand why the EU makes decisions in such fiscal matters when there are already national laws on this subject.

A report is to appear shortly. Citizens do not understand why Europe has so little say, whereas Europe should be more forceful with regard to European energy policies. I would like to congratulate Mr. Schüssel on the initiative he has launched together with the heads of state and government at the last European Council.

In this respect, immigration also comes to my mind. Citizens expect all of Europe to work together in this respect. Education and culture also come to my mind. One thing that struck me during the referendum was that many young people – for whom we are building up Europe – said no to this greater European project. There is much to be done concerning education and culture.

The principle of subsidiarity is not a one-way street, it does not mean that everything ought to be done at a purely local or national level. It does not necessarily mean less Europe, rather it means a better Europe.

This brings me to the second question that I would like to touch upon. Why do national delegates and parliaments still play an important role in implementing this principle? National parliaments have been talking about how to comply with the principle of subsidiarity and the proportionality principle for quite some time. This was especially the subject matter in the EU Convention, where I was also involved and where I worked with Josep Borrell very intensely. The early warning system, also instituted by this treaty, provides for ‘red cards’ and ‘yellow cards’ in order to ensure that subsidiarity is respected by European institutions including the Commission.

Of course, local authorities want to have a stronger position and on the other hand,  the powers to be exercised on the European level are increasingly extended. This invariably leads to a certain conflict that has resulted in an existential crisis. Yet the Constitutional Treaty has actually given a very intelligent answer to this question. For the first time in this European project, the national parliaments have been directly involved in the law-making process. European laws should directly involve the national parliaments. This mechanism has two advantages: national parliaments have a sort of ‘watchdog’ function, and inter-parliamentary cooperation is encouraged. Furthermore, the Commission has to intervene in terms of reviewing the laws. This collaboration between national parliaments with the European Parliament is thus an extremely important issue.

Ladies and gentlemen, two countries, including France, have said no to the suggestions of the Constitutional Treaty. That is to say that in June the European Council under the Austrian presidency will discuss the follow-up to the ratification process. Whatever the decision may be, I fully share the views expressed by Andreas Khol: the national parliaments must continue their efforts with or without the Treaty in order to strengthen their control on subsidiarity. Necessary caution must also be taken in the area of freedom, security and justice. National parliaments must have a stronger voice in this regard. The Commission should also meet with these parliaments frequently in order to discuss the issue of subsidiarity. COSAC might also be a form of bringing European delegates and Commission members together. COSAC has already passed the first subsidiarity test successfully with the railroad package. But I think that the time has now come to go beyond these test and to finally take action in order to promote the implementation of subsidiarity.

Whatever the case may be, the involvement of the national parliaments in the area of subsidiarity is something that we should strive for, we should make our people more sensitive to this issue. Often, of course, citizens hear very little about Europe. These questions are often avoided by politicians, but European questions are also national questions. For ten years now, French parliamentarians have been spending a lot of time explaining things to their citizens. If they had invested more of time, France would not have said no. The French have learned too little about Europe. Whatever the majority is, people criticise Europe whenever things go wrong. When things go well, people are proud on a national level. We need to apply the right marketing techniques and if we do, the popularity of e.g. the EURO will increase. Television is not interested in Europe. I have asked television people: why isn’t there more coverage on Europe? Their response: people aren’t really interested in Europe. On the contrary, during the referendum process we saw that the French are actually very interested in Europe. One reason why the media should bring more coverage on Europe.

We have already mentioned Marcel Proust, let me now mention Papagena from the Magic Flute. If she had not been introduced to Papageno, they could not have fallen in love with each other. This introduction was necessary. Europe should be better introduced to the European citizens because we want them to fall in love with Europe. Major progress has been made at the level of the Assemblée Nationale. The media are starting to cover discussions involving European personalities, the discussions involving Zapatero, Barroso, and others. These debates are televised. I think that parliamentary diplomacy is a very important tool, even though there are major challenges ahead. This would help our governments because parliamentarians, senators speak very freely among each other, more freely than politicians. This principle of subsidiarity and proportionality needs to be further implemented. This is where national parliaments have a pivotal role to play. But their role is not limited to subsidiarity, of course. We, as national delegates, in collaboration with other European parliamentarians should build up this Europe together by providing our input, our experience because we know the people best at the local level. The national parliaments have played a pivotal role together with European parliamentarians with regards to drafting the fundamental rights enshrined by this legal act. It is common knowledge that Giscard d’Estaing was the chair person. What we should strive for, is bringing national and European parliamentarians together. They should meet twice a year in order to hear the president of the European Parliament, the president of the Commission and other high-ranking EU functionaries. I would fully subscribe to this. I do not want to complicate things for the Austrian presidency – I know that it has a lot of work – this conference is a very good idea for bringing together European parliamentarians. On the 9th of May we are to meet in Brussels again and I would like to thank Mr. Schüssel very much for having launched this initiative. Europe is a question of willingness, ambition, commitment. And here I am talking about all Europeans, national as well as European parliamentarians.

Thank you very much for your attention.             

 

Date: 19.04.2006