NEWS

Prodi’s view of ‘Our Europe’ in 2003

2002 was indeed a very good year for Europe. It started with the launch of the euro notes and coins, which proved to be an unforeseen success for all of us. The year continued with the opening of the Convention to consider the structures of the Union for the future Europe. At the end of the year the European Council of Copenhagen took the historical step toward the unification of the continent with the decision to welcome 10 new member states on May 1, 2004. After Copenhagen, Athens will be the next step on the road to enlargement and the Treaties of Accession will be signed here in April 2003. The Greek presidency will play a crucial role in focusing on the efforts of the Union and the candidate countries to make the enlargement a reality. Above all, a successful unification of Europe means carrying through a thorough reform that affects all facets of society in the candidate countries. We must make sure that European law and principles are fully implemented throughout the new member states from day one of accession. Enlarging the Union also calls for a new philosophy for our international relations. We must send a clear message to those states that are not involved in this process but that look to the EU with great expectations such as the Balkans. We must tell them that the door of the Union remains open and that we hope to invite them in as soon as possible. It is clear that the EU must take even further ownership of the development of the region as a whole and of the single Balkan countries. I am very glad that the Greek government regards this issue a high priority of its presidency. Our joint task is to support the Balkan countries in their efforts, setting out a joint agenda that makes instruments and adequate resources available to them and harnessing the full potential of the stabilization and association process. The meeting with all the leaders of the governments of the western Balkans due in Thessaloniki, in June, will be a very important moment of this strategy. While continuing the enlargement process we must also start preparing a new, horizontal approach for our relations with the future neighbors of a wider Union. Even though it is clear that the enlargement cannot continue forever, we must be able to show that it does not mean building new walls around us. The European Union needs a «ring of friends» on its borders, stretching from Russia to the shores of the Mediterranean – and it must offer them something that goes further than partnership though not quite as far as full membership, without categorically ruling out the latter. This is what I call «sharing everything but institutions.» It means projecting the principles, values and standards that encapsulate the very essence of the European Union and drawing the countries that fall within its compass into a new relationship. Of course, this approach will also include stronger cooperation on common issues such as immigration, asylum and management of common borders, which rightly figure among the priorities of the Greek presidency. From this new perspective, the issues on the table at the European Convention are becoming ever more urgent and we need to tackle them resolutely and courageously. The Union will be able to fulfill its ambitions only through a fundamental reform of its institutions and decision-making process, which must become simpler, faster and more efficient. Above all, we need to develop the democratic and moral dimension of the Union: European citizens need to better understand and participate in the European project. In the next six months, the European Convention will have to design a new institutional architecture of the Union. We will be working closely together with the presidency in order to ensure that the new constitutional Treaty could be presented to the European Council in Thessaloniki. Finally, in March, Prime Minister Simitis will preside over a very important meeting of the European leaders in Brussels. The so-called Spring European Council will concentrate on the Union’s decade-long strategy for economic, social and environmental renewal. Conditions today could hardly be more different. The protracted downturn over the last 18 months has knocked business and consumer confidence. The vulnerability of our economy to external conditions reinforces the case for accelerating the pace of change. While progress has been seen in almost all areas, it has generally neither been fast enough nor sufficiently coordinated to produce the results that heads of state and government signed up to three years ago in Lisbon. The greatest risk is not the lack of decisions at European level, but the failure by member states to ensure that agreed rules and new policies are effectively implemented and applied. This means that in key areas the Union has yet to unleash the full potential of the internal market. Each member state must do much more to ensure that agreed measures are implemented properly and on time. (1) This article by the president of the European Commission was written for Kathimerini.