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Speeches, Interviews

18.04.2006

European Conference on Subsidiarity, Introduction by Elisabeth Roth-Halvax


 

Federal Chancellor, Mr. President, Mr. Governor, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk to you in my capacity as chairperson of the Federal Council. Let me now speak about the vantage point of the Federal Council in Austria and in many other EU member countries. The citizens feel that they have less and less say at the regional level. The decision-making process is carried out without their involvement. Their regions are involved in an intricate web of national, as well as European laws, directives and regulations. Citizens feel that they have no means of shaping these laws and regulations. Thus citizens are involved in supra-national bodies and often there is this phenomenon of alienation. Our citizens no longer relate to European institutions, they are afraid of this greater European integration, they are very sceptical of EU expansion. Lawmaking at the federal and regional levels is something that is increasingly influenced by decisions taken at the EU level. Together with the European Parliament and with the Council and its legislative functions, national parliaments form the democratic backbone of the European Union. These national parliaments should be involved more in the lawmaking process at the European level, that is a primordial task to be touched upon by this conference on subsidiarity. Setting up a federal state requires the principle of subsidiarity. Smaller units – the provinces and other smaller regions – should do what they do best. The principle of subsidiarity is a time-honoured tradition in Austria. Our federal constitution implicitly mentions this principle. It has a dual function in the federal state of Austria. There are two levels of its application. First, there is the level of the EU and the member states; secondly, there is the level of the Federation and the Länder. The involvement of both chambers of national parliaments in the decision-making process on the European level should ensure that citizens can better relate to the EU institutions. The contributions to be made by senates to bring citizens closer to Europe should be further expanded. In Bern the 8th meeting of the Association of the European Senates is taking place this week. National parliamentarians must be considered as integral parts of the legislative process that is often initiated by Brussels. The national parliaments should therefore be involved more strongly and earlier on in the decision-making processes, as President Khol suggested. European matters of policy should be discussed publicly at an early stage so that a certain degree of influence can be exerted on these processes. Involving national parliaments early on ensures that debates focus more on content, thus arousing greater interest of the public in matters of European policy. The following questions need to be considered in greater detail: what about the division of tasks concerning the senates and the regions and provinces? Should every region review all proposals? It would be most logical to set up a simple legal mechanism so that these questions can be articulated better. The role of the second chamber should not be forgotten. Let us consider more closely the role to be played by the second chamber in subsidiary matters. Under the EU Constitutional Treaty, they do play quite an important role. The subsidiarity reviewing process should be integrated into the reviewing process. The EU committee of the Austrian Federal Council spoke about this back in 2005. Dealing with subsidiarity gives rise to many questions; the same holds true of the proportionality principle. When should the principle of subsidiarity be applied, and when should it not? Who monitors its application? When is a legal act proportional and when does it exceed the level of proportionality? Pooling the ideas of various regions is a future-oriented task that can be fulfilled by the second chamber. There are areas where the local governments can do a better job than the EU. Who is to look into this subject? People who have a regional background, who know what possibilities individual regions have to offer. These ideas on implementing the Federal Council as a ‘clearing house’ are already being considered in Austria. The subsidiarity review process should not entail more red tape. On the contrary, it should be seen as an opportunity and an obligation so that bureaucracy can be eliminated and transparency promoted. In the draft of the Constitutional Treaty the heads of state have promised us a Europe that is closer to its citizens and more democratic, a Europe which enhances the role of states, local authorities and regions. That is the only way of ensuring the success of the European harmonisation process. Attempts at integration should not turn Europe into a melting pot of disinterested and disillusioned citizens that have no more involvement. Europe should be home to free citizens who are involved in decision-making. We do not want to have remote-controlled centralism, we want federalism as well as regionalism, which give us an opportunity to create a home and to safeguard small entities, thus enabling the individual to introduce his/her own thoughts, judgments and decisions.

Thank you for your attention.

 

Date: 18.04.2006