LAEKEN DECLARATION - THE FUTURE OF THE EUROPEAN
UNION
Press Release: Laeken - Brussels (15-12-2001)

SN 273/01

THE FUTURE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

– LAEKEN DECLARATION –

 

I. EUROPE AT A CROSSROADS

    For centuries, peoples and states have taken up arms and waged war to win
control of the European continent. The debilitating effects of two bloody
wars and the weakening of Europe's position in the world brought a growing
realisation that only peace and concerted action could make the dream of a
strong, unified Europe come true. In order to banish once and for all the
demons of the past, a start was made with a coal and steel community.
Other economic activities, such as agriculture, were subsequently added in.
A genuine single market was eventually established for goods, persons,
services and capital, and a single currency was added in 1999. On
1 January 2002 the euro is to become a day-to-day reality for 300 million
European citizens.

The European Union has thus gradually come into being. In the beginning, it
was more of an economic and technical collaboration. Twenty years ago,
with the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the Community's
democratic legitimacy, which until then had lain with the Council alone, was
considerably strengthened. Over the last ten years, construction of a
political union has begun and cooperation been established on social policy,
employment, asylum, immigration, police, justice, foreign policy and a
common security and defence policy.

The European Union is a success story. For over half a century now, Europe
has been at peace. Along with North America and Japan, the Union forms
one of the three most prosperous parts of the world. As a result of mutual
solidarity and fair distribution of the benefits of economic development,
moreover, the standard of living in the Union's weaker regions has
increased enormously and they have made good much of the disadvantage
they were at.

Fifty years on, however, the Union stands at a crossroads, a defining
moment in its existence. The unification of Europe is near. The Union is
about to expand to bring in more than ten new Member States,
predominantly Central and Eastern European, thereby finally closing one of
the darkest chapters in European history: the Second World War and the
ensuing artificial division of Europe. At long last, Europe is on its way to
becoming one big family, without bloodshed, a real transformation clearly
calling for a different approach from fifty years ago, when six countries first
took the lead.

The democratic challenge facing Europe

At the same time, the Union faces twin challenges, one within and the other
beyond its borders.

Within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to its
citizens. Citizens undoubtedly support the Union's broad aims, but they do
not always see a connection between those goals and the Union's everyday
action. They want the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid
and, above all, more efficient and open. Many also feel that the Union
should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of
intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to Member
States' and regions' elected representatives. This is even perceived by
some as a threat to their identity. More importantly, however, they feel that
deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic
scrutiny.

Europe's new role in a globalised world

Beyond its borders, in turn, the European Union is confronted with a
fast-changing, globalised world. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it
looked briefly as though we would for a long while be living in a stable world
order, free from conflict, founded upon human rights. Just a few years later,
however, there is no such certainty. The eleventh of September has brought
a rude awakening. The opposing forces have not gone away: religious
fanaticism, ethnic nationalism, racism and terrorism are on the increase,
and regional conflicts, poverty and underdevelopment still provide a
constant seedbed for them.

What is Europe's role in this changed world? Does Europe not, now that is
finally unified, have a leading role to play in a new world order, that of a
power able both to play a stabilising role worldwide and to point the way
ahead for many countries and peoples? Europe as the continent of humane
values, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the French Revolution and the
fall of the Berlin Wall; the continent of liberty, solidarity and above all
diversity, meaning respect for others' languages, cultures and traditions.
The European Union's one boundary is democracy and human rights. The
Union is open only to countries which uphold basic values such as
free elections, respect for minorities and respect for the rule of law.

Now that the Cold War is over and we are living in a globalised, yet also
highly fragmented world, Europe needs to shoulder its responsibilities in the
governance of globalisation. The role it has to play is that of a power
resolutely doing battle against all violence, all terror and all fanaticism, but
which also does not turn a blind eye to the world's heartrending injustices.
In short, a power wanting to change the course of world affairs in such a
way as to benefit not just the rich countries but also the poorest. A power
seeking to set globalisation within a moral framework, in other words to
anchor it in solidarity and sustainable development.

The expectations of Europe's citizens

The image of a democratic and globally engaged Europe admirably matches
citizens' wishes. There have been frequent public calls for a greater EU role
in justice and security, action against cross-border crime, control of
migration flows and reception of asylum seekers and refugees from
far-flung war zones. Citizens also want results in the fields of employment
and combating poverty and social exclusion, as well as in the field of
economic and social cohesion. They want a common approach on
environmental pollution, climate change and food safety, in short, all
transnational issues which they instinctively sense can only be tackled by
working together. Just as they also want to see Europe more involved in
foreign affairs, security and defence, in other words, greater and better
coordinated action to deal with trouble spots in and around Europe and in
the rest of the world.

At the same time, citizens also feel that the Union is behaving too
bureaucratically in numerous other areas. In coordinating the economic,
financial and fiscal environment, the basic issue should continue to be
proper operation of the internal market and the single currency, without this
jeopardising Member States' individuality. National and regional differences
frequently stem from history or tradition. They can be enriching. In other
words, what citizens understand by "good governance" is opening up fresh
opportunities, not imposing further red tape. What they expect is more
results, better responses to practical issues and not a European superstate
or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of
life.

In short, citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective, democratically
controlled Community approach, developing a Europe which points the way
ahead for the world. An approach that provides concrete results in terms of
more jobs, better quality of life, less crime, decent education and better
health care. There can be no doubt that this will require Europe to undergo
renewal and reform.

II.CHALLENGES AND REFORMS IN A RENEWED UNION

The Union needs to become more democratic, more transparent and more
efficient. It also has to resolve three basic challenges: how to bring citizens, and
primarily the young, closer to the European design and the European institutions,
how to organise politics and the European political area in an enlarged Union and
how to develop the Union into a stabilising factor and a model in the new,
multipolar world. In order to address them a number of specific questions need to
be put.

A better division and definition of competence in the European Union

Citizens often hold expectations of the European Union that are not always
fulfilled. And vice versa - they sometimes have the impression that the Union takes on
too much in areas where its involvement is not always essential. Thus the important
thing is to clarify, simplify and adjust the division of competence between the Union and
the Member States in the light of the new challenges facing the Union. This can lead
both to restoring tasks to the Member States and to assigning new missions to the
Union, or to the extension of existing powers, while constantly bearing in mind the
equality of the Member States and their mutual solidarity.

A first series of questions that needs to be put concerns how the division of
competence can be made more transparent. Can we thus make a clearer distinction
between three types of competence: the exclusive competence of the Union, the
competence of the Member States and the shared competence of the Union and the
Member States? At what level is competence exercised in the most efficient way? How
is the principle of subsidiarity to be applied here? And should we not make it clear that
any powers not assigned by the Treaties to the Union fall within the exclusive sphere of
competence of the Member States? And what would be the consequences of this?

The next series of questions should aim, within this new framework and while respecting
the "acquis communautaire", to determine whether there needs to be any reorganisation
of competence. How can citizens' expectations be taken as a guide here? What missions
would this produce for the Union? And, vice versa, what tasks could better be left to
the Member States? What amendments should be made to the Treaty on the various
policies? How, for example, should a more coherent common foreign policy and defence
policy be developed? Should the Petersberg tasks be updated? Do we want to adopt a
more integrated approach to police and criminal law cooperation? How can
economic-policy coordination be stepped up? How can we intensify cooperation in the
field of social inclusion, the environment, health and food safety? But then, should not
the day-to-day administration and implementation of the Union's policy be left more
emphatically to the Member States and, where their constitutions so provide, to the
regions? Should they not be provided with guarantees that their spheres of competence
will not be affected?

Lastly, there is the question of how to ensure that a redefined division of competence
does not lead to a creeping expansion of the competence of the Union or to
encroachment upon the exclusive areas of competence of the Member States and,
where there is provision for this, regions. How are we to ensure at the same time that
the European dynamic does not come to a halt? In the future as well the Union must
continue to be able to react to fresh challenges and developments and must be able to
explore new policy areas. Should Articles 95 and 308 of the Treaty be reviewed for this
purpose in the light of the "acquis jurisprudentiel"?

Simplification of the Union's instruments

Who does what is not the only important question; the nature of the Union's action and
what instruments it should use are equally important. Successive amendments to the
Treaty have on each occasion resulted in a proliferation of instruments, and directives
have gradually evolved towards more and more detailed legislation. The key question is
therefore whether the Union's various instruments should not be better defined and
whether their number should not be reduced.

In other words, should a distinction be introduced between legislative and executive
measures? Should the number of legislative instruments be reduced: directly applicable
rules, framework legislation and non-enforceable instruments (opinions,
recommendations, open coordination)? Is it or is it not desirable to have more frequent
recourse to framework legislation, which affords the Member States more room for
manoeuvre in achieving policy objectives? For which areas of competence are open
coordination and mutual recognition the most appropriate instruments? Is the principle of
proportionality to remain the point of departure?

More democracy, transparency and efficiency in the European Union

The European Union derives its legitimacy from the democratic values it projects, the
aims it pursues and the powers and instruments it possesses. However, the European
project also derives its legitimacy from democratic, transparent and efficient institutions.
The national parliaments also contribute towards the legitimacy of the European project.
The declaration on the future of the Union, annexed to the Treaty of Nice, stressed the
need to examine their role in European integration. More generally, the question arises as
to what initiatives we can take to develop a European public area.

The first question is thus how we can increase the democratic legitimacy and
transparency of the present institutions, a question which is valid for the three
institutions.

How can the authority and efficiency of the European Commission be enhanced? How
should the President of the Commission be appointed: by the European Council, by the
European Parliament or should he be directly elected by the citizens? Should the role of
the European Parliament be strengthened? Should we extend the right of co-decision or
not? Should the way in which we elect the members of the European Parliament be
reviewed? Should a European electoral constituency be created, or should
constituencies continue to be determined nationally? Can the two systems be combined?
Should the role of the Council be strengthened? Should the Council act in the same
manner in its legislative and its executive capacities? With a view to greater
transparency, should the meetings of the Council, at least in its legislative capacity, be
public? Should citizens have more access to Council documents? How, finally, should the
balance and reciprocal control between the institutions be ensured?

A second question, which also relates to democratic legitimacy, involves the role of
national parliaments. Should they be represented in a new institution, alongside the
Council and the European Parliament? Should they have a role in areas of European
action in which the European Parliament has no competence? Should they focus on the
division of competence between Union and Member States, for example through
preliminary checking of compliance with the principle of subsidiarity?

The third question concerns how we can improve the efficiency of decision-making and
the workings of the institutions in a Union of some thirty Member States. How could the
Union set its objectives and priorities more effectively and ensure better implementation?
Is there a need for more decisions by a qualified majority? How is the co-decision
procedure between the Council and the European Parliament to be simplified and
speeded up? What of the six-monthly rotation of the Presidency of the Union? What is
the future role of the European Parliament? What of the future role and structure of the
various Council formations? How should the coherence of European foreign policy be
enhanced? How is synergy between the High Representative and the competent
Commissioner to be reinforced? Should the external representation of the Union in
international fora be extended further?

Towards a Constitution for European citizens

The European Union currently has four Treaties. The objectives, powers and policy
instruments of the Union are currently spread across those Treaties. If we are to have
greater transparency, simplification is essential.

Four sets of questions arise in this connection. The first concerns simplifying the existing
Treaties without changing their content. Should the distinction between the Union and
the Communities be reviewed? What of the division into three pillars?

Questions then arise as to the possible reorganisation of the Treaties. Should a
distinction be made between a basic treaty and the other treaty provisions? Should this
distinction involve separating the texts? Could this lead to a distinction between the
amendment and ratification procedures for the basic treaty and for the other treaty
provisions?

Thought would also have to be given to whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights
should be included in the basic treaty and to whether the European Community should
accede to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The question ultimately arises as to whether this simplification and reorganisation might
not lead in the long run to the adoption of a constitutional text in the Union. What might
the basic features of such a constitution be? The values which the Union cherishes, the
fundamental rights and obligations of its citizens, the relationship between Member
States in the Union?

III. CONVENING OF A CONVENTION ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE

In order to pave the way for the next Intergovernmental Conference as broadly and
openly as possible, the European Council has decided to convene a Convention
composed of the main parties involved in the debate on the future of the Union. In the
light of the foregoing, it will be the task of that Convention to consider the key issues
arising for the Union's future development and try to identify the various possible
responses.

The European Council has appointed Mr V. Giscard d'Estaing as Chairman of the
Convention and Mr G. Amato and Mr J.L. Dehaene as Vice-Chairmen.

Composition

In addition to its Chairman and Vice-Chairmen, the Convention will be composed of
15 representatives of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States (one
from each Member State), 30 members of national parliaments (two from each Member
State), 16 members of the European Parliament and two Commission representatives.
The accession candidate countries will be fully involved in the Convention's proceedings.
They will be represented in the same way as the current Member States (one
government representative and two national parliament members) and will be able to
take part in the proceedings without, however, being able to prevent any consensus
which may emerge among the Member States.

The members of the Convention may only be replaced by alternate members if they are
not present. The alternate members will be designated in the same way as full members.

The Praesidium of the Convention will be composed of the Convention Chairman and
Vice-Chairmen and nine members drawn from the Convention (the representatives of all
the governments holding the Council Presidency during the Convention, two national
parliament representatives, two European Parliament representatives and
two Commission representatives).

Three representatives of the Economic and Social Committee with three representatives
of the European social partners; from the Committee of the Regions: six representatives
(to be appointed by the Committee of the Regions from the regions, cities and regions
with legislative powers), and the European Ombudsman will be invited to attend as
observers. The Presidents of the Court of Justice and of the Court of Auditors may be
invited by the Praesidium to address the Convention.

Length of proceedings

The Convention will hold its inaugural meeting on 1 March 2002, when it will appoint its
Praesidium and adopt its rules of procedure. Proceedings will be completed after a year,
that is to say in time for the Chairman of the Convention to present its outcome to the
European Council.

Working methods

The Chairman will pave the way for the opening of the Convention's proceedings by
drawing conclusions from the public debate. The Praesidium will serve to lend impetus
and will provide the Convention with an initial working basis.

The Praesidium may consult Commission officials and experts of its choice on any
technical aspect which it sees fit to look into. It may set up ad hoc working parties.

The Council will be kept informed of the progress of the Convention's proceedings.
The Convention Chairman will give an oral progress report at each European Council
meeting, thus enabling Heads of State or Government to give their views at the same
time.

The Convention will meet in Brussels. The Convention's discussions and all official
documents will be in the public domain. The Convention will work in the Union's eleven
working languages.

Final document

The Convention will consider the various issues. It will draw up a final document which
may comprise either different options, indicating the degree of support which they
received, or recommendations if consensus is achieved.

Together with the outcome of national debates on the future of the Union, the final
document will provide a starting point for discussions in the Intergovernmental
Conference, which will take the ultimate decisions.

Forum

In order for the debate to be broadly based and involve all citizens, a Forum will be
opened for organisations representing civil society (the social partners, the business
world, non-governmental organisations, academia, etc.). It will take the form of a
structured network of organisations receiving regular information on the Convention's
proceedings. Their contributions will serve as input into the debate. Such organisations
may be heard or consulted on specific topics in accordance with arrangements to be
established by the Praesidium.

Secretariat

The Praesidium will be assisted by a Convention Secretariat, to be provided by the
General Secretariat of the Council, which may incorporate Commission and
European Parliament experts.