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2002-04-03 10:49:46

Keynote speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs
at the International Conference of the European Movement - Cyprus Council,
on ?the Enlargement of the E.U. and Beyond?
Location:Nicosia, Cyprus Date:08/03/2002

I would like at the outset to congratulate the Cyprus Council of the European Movement for its initiative to hold this important and thought-provoking Conference at this crucial period in the preparations for the European Union?s next enlargement and to thank the Council for giving me the opportunity to address you here today in order to share with you some of our thoughts on enlargement and the future of Europe.

The decision to enlarge the European Union constitutes, without any doubt, one of the most crucial and politically important steps taken by the Union in its history. A decision that translates into reality, the noble vision of an inclusive, united Europe, that shapes the contours of Europe and confirms the Union?s commitment to the common European values and ideals of democracy, human rights, freedom, human dignity and the rule of law that we all share and espouse. This irreversible historic decision has marked an important step forward in the path of the Union?s adjustment to the changing times and the political, social and economic environment in which we live and is indispensable for the successful integration of Europe.

Enlargement will contribute to the elevation of the European Union into a leading protagonist of the international arena, since the completion of this process of re-unification and integration will create a stronger, more stable and more prosperous Europe. It will enable the European Union to assume a leading role in this era of growing economic and political globalisation. A Europe that is united, democratic, stable and prosperous is, undoubtedly, a Europe with a stronger international voice.

Enlargement to the east is an essential ingredient in the integration and re-unification of Europe. It is of paramount importance in the efforts to safeguard peace and security in the European continent and create conditions of prosperity for all the peoples of Europe. The process of the Union?s eastwards enlargement is proof that Europe is now actively supporting the efforts of these countries for reconstruction, democraticization and development following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

For the first time in its long and turbulent history, Europe will overcome centuries of rivalries and bloodshed and the divisions of the Cold War. Democracy and prosperity will be enhanced and strengthened, since the countries of eastern Europe will be responding positively to the calling of the European Union to abide by its political and economic criteria, a development that will not only benefit these countries themselves but will have positive effects on their relations with their neighbouring counties and thus completely eliminate friction in Europe. It will, thus, move from discord to unity, from conflict to stability and from inequality to equal opportunities.

The southern dimension of the European Union?s enlargement is an essential balancing component of this monumental task and a prerequisite for the successful future growth and development of the Union. The need to maintain equilibrium between the east with the expansion to the south, is very important in the process of widening and deepening the Union and will contribute positively to the achievement of many of the Union?s ?verall objectives and contribute to the attainment of the EU?s common foreign and security policy that is a prerequisite for underpinning and reinforcing the Union?s international role in the volatile area of the Mediterranean, where lie the borders between two cultures, two religions and two different worlds.

Enlargement directly affects the lives of our citizens. It is for this reason that civil society and the ordinary European citizen in general, can and must be directly and actively involved in this exercise, by constantly being informed of its progress and by having the opportunity to express their views and their concerns.

After all, Europe of today is a Europe of civil society and the citizen. We must, therefore, fully engage civil society in the process of widening and deepening Europe. Civil society, that is, the representatives of the people, especially in the candidate countries, has an important role to play in helping the citizen to better understand what Europe is and to have a say in the construction of the new European architecture. Proof of the role that the citizens of Europe can play in this regard, can be found in the importance attached to the direct involvement of civil society in the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe that was inaugurated last week.

NGO?s such as the European Movement can play an important role in informing the public through open debates and the organization of conferences such as this one, by mobilizing public opinion and civil society to get directly involved in the debate of the widening and deepening of Europe and by constantly reminding Governments of the need to take the views of their citizens seriously into consideration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Enlargement is indeed a very ambitious project, requiring the mobilization of every available resource and the establishment of appropriate mechanisms that would secure cohesion within an extended European family, the effective operation of its institutions and the continuation of the common objectives and policies that have been or would be defined in the future.

The widening and the deepening of the European Union are two mutually related and interdependent processes. The goal of European integration cannot be achieved without enlargement. In view of this, the timely completion of the enlargement process attains an even greater importance and sense of priority. Any delay, will have negative consequences and create a feeling of new divisions within Europe, at a time when, collectively, we should be able to defend and promote our way of life, our values and our democracies. Consequently, the need to make the future European Union composed of 27 or more Member States, able to function effectively, to assume its full international role and responsibility and to be accepted and legitimized by its own citizens, makes imperative a debate on the future of Europe.

The future of Europe has to be decided by all those taking part in the process of European integration, including Governments, National Parliaments and civil society. In democratic societies, like ours, we cannot ignore the issue and ask our citizens to simply rubber-stamp decisions taken by others at the end of the process and which have a direct bearing on their lives.

There are no ready-made solutions as to what the future of Europe would or should look like. Nor can one single actor impose his own idea of what direction the European integration should take. The attempt to define our European future is a common endeavour based on the acceptance and respect of our common values, principles and ideals, on the respect of our cultural, historical and linguistic differences and on compromise that has always been the vehicle for moving forward.

Our vision for the future is a vision of a strong, democratic, secure, stable and prosperous Europe able to play a leading role in this era of economic and political globalization; a Union that could play a leading role in the maintenance of world peace and security, that could shape and form international politics, able to positively influence the international economic environment, control and avoid consequences and events happening outside the Union but having a direct impact on its own economy; a Union that will be able to safeguard peace, democracy, human rights and security to its own Member States and citizens; a Union with a humane face that can create all the necessary conditions for the well being and prosperity for the European citizen; a Union that through the rich diversity of nationalities, languages, cultures and ideas encourages the creation of a common European identity, the sense of belonging to the same European family and to a community of shared moral and political values over and above national, cultural and linguistic identities and differences.

To achieve this goal, the Union needs to be given more effective means to assume its leading and active international political and economic role. In this regard, the further development and strengthening of the Union?s common foreign policy and the common defense policy are prerequisites for the reinforcement of the Union?s international role. Common defense should gradually become a system of collective security based on the principles of solidarity and mutual assistance. A stable economy and a strong common currency, together with an integrated economic policy that balances the monetary dimension and the economic aspect of the Economic and Monetary Union are also necessary factors in achieving this goal.

A more direct involvement of the European citizen in the every day running of the European Union and its Institutions is essential. The pace of integration and the complex mechanisms of decision-making should be fully comprehensible and accepted by our citizens. Greater visibility, democratization of Europe?s institutions and transparency at all levels of decision taking should be enhanced and promoted. Access of the public to the institutions and the various community processes should be guaranteed. A simplification of the Treaties on which the Union is based, is essential if we are to make them more understandable to the European citizen.

It is also essential that the institutional equilibrium within the Union itself should be preserved. Experience has shown that the European Commission can and does act as an unbiased guardian of the Union?s common interests in a way that equally safeguards the interests of all EU Member States, especially the smaller ones. It has been proven that in many areas, the results of the Union?s actions are more effective if there is the active and direct involvement of the European Commission.

On the important question of the delimitation of powers and competencies, what is of paramount importance is to define which functions should be performed by the Union and which should be left to the Member States. The question has already been put to the European citizens and the latest ?Euro barometer? gave us some very illuminating hints. The European citizens clearly indicated that issues such as foreign policy, defense, environment, monetary policy, regional policy, combating organized crime, poverty reduction, employment and, in general, any issue that transcends national boundaries, should be managed by the Union through the Union?s supranational organs. Issues such as health and social security, education, culture and agriculture, are areas that the European citizen feels are better left to the competence of the Member States. Any delimitation, however, should be flexible, allowing the evolution of separate, as well as concurrent competencies, according to need.

The status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights is another issue that directly concerns and affects the European citizen. The Charter represents the common denominator of the values and principles that constitute the European Union. It confirms the identity and the political culture of the Union. It is a text that would unite the European citizen to the Union; a text that can directly talk to the European citizen and one that the European citizen can understand and relate to. It is obvious that there is a need to give to the Charter a more binding nature and to seriously re-examine its content, with a view to include it in the new text of the Treaty when the latter will be amended as a result of the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. The role of national parliaments within the new European architecture should also be strengthened. Parliaments could become the vehicles through which the citizens make sure that their voice is heard and taken into consideration by those taking the final decisions. A way of strengthening the national parliaments? role is by securing to them a greater participation and involvement in the legislative process of the Union. States should come up with the necessary devices and mechanisms to ensure that this kind of participation at the national level does not slow down or prohibit the evolution of the acquis and the capacity of the Union to react speedily when the need arises.

The outcome of the debate on the future of Europe should preserve the Union?s flexibility and avoid rigidity. The European Union is a growing and ever-evolving living organism and, therefore, it should be allowed to develop further without being tied down by rigid texts that could not be modified to meet new challenges or which could hinder the Union?s ability to further evolve through compromise and development.

On our part, we look forward to contributing actively in the debate on the future of Europe, in order to ensure that our own views and concerns are given due consideration and so that we may have a direct input in an exercise that will affect our own future in the enlarged European family which we aspire to join.

Thank you.

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