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"A Preview of Germany's EU Presidency: The Status of the Federal Government's Preparations" - speech by State Secretary Silberberg, 4 October 2006

04.10.2006 - Speech

Reinhard Silberberg, State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office, delivered a speech previewing Germany's EU Presidency as part of the series of events entitled "Countdown to the EU – 100 days to the EU Council Presidency". This series, aimed at preparing for the Presidency, is organized by the Federal Foreign Office together with the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and the Network European Movement Germany.

Speech by State Secretary Silberberg "A Preview of Germany's EU Presidency:
The Status of the Federal Government's Preparations" on October 4th, 2006

I. Guiding philosophy of the German Presidency

The Presidency comes at a difficult time for the EU – the constitutional process has come to a halt following the failure of the referenda in France and the Netherlands. In a number of Member States European policy is negatively influenced by increasing scepticism towards Europe, national political wrangling or the takeover of power by extremist parties. There is an obvious feeling that further EU enlargement can wait for a while. At the same time the EU must deal both with the continuing threat of terrorism and extremely difficult international problems such as the explosive situation in the Middle East.

Against this background, which many would describe as critical, our Presidency will – whether we like it or not – be accompanied by high and often unrealistic expectations. It will be difficult to fulfil these expectations, particularly as regards the constitutional process or crisis management in the Middle East.

In spite of all this, I am somewhat optimistic, due in no small measure to the current Finnish Presidency, cooperation with which is excellent in many fields.

Our Presidency will include the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome on 25 March. The Heads of State and Government will travel to Berlin on that day to adopt a political declaration designed to strengthen the EU's values and, to put it briefly, to map out the prospects for the EU's future. The 50th anniversary will be an opportunity to celebrate – the EU is a unique success story of which we can all be proud. But this day should also be an opportunity to think about Europe's future.

We must also "rethink" Europe in order to bring it closer to its citizens. We must seek out the reasons for the growing level of Euroscepticism. Our idea of can no longer be based on the post-war situation, nor on the period immediately following the collapse of the Iron Curtain; on the contrary, we must conceive of a that is based on the challenges of the 21st century. Peace and stability will continue to form part of the raison d'être of European integration. But peace, democracy, freedom and prosperity in Europe and the world, noble as these ends are, cannot per se justify further integration or specific measures at European level. People rightly expect European measures to have concrete advantages over national measures, and for these to be plausibly explained.

As far as the future is concerned, it is our duty to explain to people that the Member States cannot tackle the central future challenges alone but rather only within the EU framework. This requires efficient institutions, a clear division of competences and democratic legitimacy. The task is to:

  1. maintain the European way of life in the era of globalization by means of a strong and dynamic economy and a social model attuned to citizens' needs;
  2. safeguard internal security in the face of the threat of terrorism and cross-border crime, while at the same time preserving civil rights and freedoms;
  3. stabilize our immediate geographical neighbourhood in Europe and promote freedom, democracy and free-market economies in other parts of the world;
  4. be committed to the future of our planet, i.e. to sustainable development, environ­mental and climate protection, and the preservation of our natural heritage.

Our aim on 25 March is to give the citizens of Europe the security to see the challenges of the future as an opportunity to shape it.

II. Contents of our work programme

The draft work programme for Germany's EU Presidency is currently being coordinated between the relevant ministries, and will be submitted to the Cabinet by the end of the month. The Federal Foreign Office, alongside the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, will be the "Presidency manager". A great deal of preparatory work is being done at the Federal Foreign Office.

Two weeks ago, during the first event in this series, my colleague from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, Dr Joachim Würmeling, emphasized that Germany must speak with one voice in Brussels. As his counterpart in the Federal Foreign Office, the other ministry charged with the main coordination of our activities in Brussels, I of course fully agree. I also concur with his statement that the two ministries are cooperating well.

The Presidency's agenda is huge and highly demanding. Many of the themes are of course automatically inherited from the previous Presidencies and the Commission.

While many themes are thus givens on the Brussels work schedule, we also want to use our Presidency term to set our own agenda. Let me pick out four points:

II.1. Constitutional Treaty

Regarding the constitutional process, we accept the responsibility placed on us by the European Council and we will do all we can to produce a proposal on the way ahead which is acceptable to all sides.

Our starting point is clear – we stand by the Constitutional Treaty and want to retain its political substance. At the same time, however, we must take note of the position of our French and Dutch partners, i.e. that the Treaty cannot be resubmitted in its present form.

Our role during the coming six months will be that of a "go-between", and for that reason, notwithstanding our own position on the constitution, you will not hear leading German politicians say anything definite at the start of the consultation process. Our job is to listen, consult, mediate and make an appropriate proposal at the right time. We are still considering the best way to achieve this.

The starting point of our efforts is clear. Two Member States have rejected the Constitutional Treaty. The forthcoming ratification by Finland and the accession to the EU of Romania and Bulgaria will mean that 18 Member States will have ratified the Treaty, i.e. two-thirds of the EU. Seven countries have suspended their ratification procedures following the no votes from Paris and The Hague. If we want to achieve a solution, all members must move, but perhaps some should move more than others. It cannot be right for those countries that have not ratified the Treaty to impose a solution on those which have already done so.

In this connection I want to briefly refer to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union, the "passerelle" or bridging clause in the justice and home affairs field which is presently being discussed. Now would be the wrong time to activate this clause, as focusing on it would merely delay the constitutional debate. We should give priority to the consti­tutional issue.

The constitutional question will not be resolved by the end of the German Presidency, but we are optimistic that we will be able to elaborate and agree on ideas regarding the direction, procedure and timeframe for further progress.

One thing is clear, however – the constitutional process must be successfully concluded in order to make Europe fit for the future.

II.2. Economic dynamism and social responsibility

Let me briefly touch on this section, as Dr Würmeling already dealt with it in detail during his lecture in this series.

Another major prerequisite for a future-proof EU is the restoration of its economic dynamism. Globalization, while producing increasing competitive pressure between the world's regions, also creates new opportunities. Europe must continue to work towards fully realizing its economic and innovative potential. Only if the economic motor is running and growth is creating jobs will people regain confidence in the power of the European model.

Between January and the European Council in early March, the themes of energy and the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Employment will be the focus of our Presidency. Without going into detail, the central issues will be to press forward with measures aimed at further completing the Internal Market, improving legislation and reducing red tape, and strengthening research, education and training. We all agree that Europe can only be a first-division economic region if it is an innovative, knowledge-based society.

Energy policy

Energy policy will be a special focus of our Presidency. The gas crisis in Ukraine at the beginning of this year showed how fragile our supply situation is or could be. It is also clear that fossil fuels are not only finite but pose a threat to the global climate. If we want to achieve the shared objective of avoiding a temperature rise of over 2° C, we must at all cost avoid increasing the use of fossil fuels. We should rather limit their use.

The Spring European Council is due to adopt a European energy action plan, the aim of which – as we have agreed – is to guarantee Europe a reliable, environmentally-sound and competitive energy supply. By then we must have clarified a number of issues. What must be done at European level, what at national level? Do we need a European regulator? Where is cooperation meaningful and where is it not? Here are a few, non-exhaustive, comments in this regard:

  1. Brussels must respect Member States' particularities, including the issue of their national energy mix. We are firmly convinced that enhanced energy cooperation at European level, which we champion, cannot override Member States' decisions on the makeup of their energy sources. This especially applies to Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power in accordance with the Coalition Agreement.
  2. In view of the high price of electricity and gas it is important – also in the interests of private consumers – that competition increases. A European Commission report at the beginning of 2007 is due to show where deficits exist, where the Member States must make corrections, and where additional measures could be necessary to enable the single market for electricity and gas to truly come into effect (planned for 1 July 2007).
  3. We must consider how our import requirements for fossil fuels can in practice be limited by increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable fuels. In this connection Germany wants to make greater use of the potential of biomass and non-food crops. Germany will advocate continuing with the clear medium-term and long-term objectives on renewable energy. As a positive side-effect, this will promote diversification and create jobs in rural areas.
  4. Energy policy has increased enormously in importance in the shaping of our foreign and security policy, so much so that today we can speak of an "energy foreign policy". We must place our partnerships with major energy supplier, transit and consumer countries on a solid and reliable footing. I am thinking in particular about Russia, China and the USA. The fact that the world is becoming ever smaller can be seen in the fields of energy and climate as in almost no other fields, and we must take due account of this.

Europe's social dimension

In spite of the new opportunities and options that globalization offers, many people see it as a threat to their cultural and social identity. Germany's Presidency will therefore also clearly emphasize Europe's social and ecological dimension. This is because our values include a commitment not only to market efficiency but also to social cohesion and environmental protection. We need the EU wherever we can preserve and implement these values only on a European scale.

The debate on the services directive has shown that European legislation must always bear in mind its social impact. We will therefore make efforts to ensure that in future the social effects of every piece of legislation are carefully examined. In Germany, too, the regulatory impact unit is designed to play an important role in assessing such effects. Chancellor Merkel has already called for a similar unit to be created at EU level. Apart from economic and ecological criteria, the social effects of all draft legislation will be looked at closely.

What else can we do to make sure that the European social model is given new substance? The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All in 2007 is a good place to start. A systematic exchange of experiences between the Member States can help us profit from each other's best practices.

Gender equality in the workplace and the integration of older people into the labour market are themes being discussed all over Europe and where we can learn from each other. We must also promote innovative approaches which help people combine family and career. This is essential if we want to tackle the challenges posed by demographic change.

II.3. Justice and Home Affairs

The second half of Germany's Presidency is due to focus more closely on justice and home affairs, as well as on foreign and security policy.

In the fight against terrorism and crime Europe's citizens expect more cooperation within the EU. The aim is to increase security while maintaining open borders and guaranteeing civil rights and freedoms. Let me choose three themes from the broad spectrum:

  1. Germany actively supports police cooperation in Europe. For us that includes strengthening Europol and completing the Schengen Information System (SIS). SIS II was due to be up and running by autumn 2007, but because of technical problems this date may be put back to autumn 2008.
  2. In order to protect Europe's external borders the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders (FRONTEX) must be able to work more effectively, for example by deploying border guards from a variety of Member States.
  3. The pressure of immigration on Europe is growing, as clearly demonstrated by the tragic pictures from the Mediterranean coasts. The task is therefore to advance the efforts to create a coherent migration and asylum policy at European level. The dialogue with countries of origin and transit must also be extended to include our eastern and south-eastern neighbouring regions in addition to Africa.

II.4. External relations and CFSP

In view of the many current international problems, it is especially important for the EU to take external action jointly and decisively. No single country in Europe can continue to guarantee its own security. In international trade and economic relations the individual Member States have long relied on the EU's power to assert their interests.

Particularly in the field of external relations, however, planning can be affected by the sudden emergence of international crises. Let us recall the last German Presidency in 1999, with the Kosovo crisis and the rapid development of ESDP, two aspects which could scarcely have been predicted. We can also turn to the current Finnish Presidency which faced unexpected challenges due to the situation in Lebanon. So our planning in this field also includes being able to react flexibly to unforeseen events.

In her speech on Europe's external dimension at the Bertelsmann Forum Chancellor Merkel called for the EU to sharpen its external contours. With this in mind we are trying to develop European policy towards our many neighbours in a sensible and at the same time creative way. Today, however, I must limit myself to a few general comments.

Increasing security and stability in our backyard, in the Western Balkans, is a major element of our programme. One central issue here is Kosovo. If a final status is agreed, the EU plans to launch its largest civilian ESDP mission. This mission, which is to focus on justice and the police, will show how far we have already progressed towards a common European security policy since the ESDP was created in 1999, during Germany's last Presidency.

The EU's eastern neighbours are also highly important. It is our aim to develop an attractive overall policy which could be called a new EU "Ostpolitik" that includes three major components:

  1. The European Neighbourhood Policy already plays an important role in promoting stability and democracy. The EU should continue to use its scope for action here.
  2. We want to further revitalize Europe's relations with Russia. The renegotiation of the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement provides an excellent opportunity to do just that. Russia will also have a special role in Europe's energy policy.
  3. We see the elaboration of a Central Asia strategy as a high priority. Europe has a twofold interest in promoting prosperity in this region – first, we need stable and trustful relations with these countries in the interest of our energy foreign policy, and second, we must recognize this region's stabilizing effect on neigh­bouring areas.

Events in the Middle East will of course feature prominently in 2007. As holder of the Presidency, Germany will be committed to stabilizing the situation in Lebanon. Together with our EU partners and within the Middle East Quartet, we will intensively seek options to bring the Middle East conflict to a comprehensive and peaceful solution.

Next year's EU foreign-policy agenda will also reflect events in Africa. We must await developments in some of the African crisis areas. However, we will pay great attention to the situation in Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the elections. Both issues are near the top of the EU's Africa agenda.

One comment on the accession negotiations with Turkey – progress during Germany's EU Presidency will also depend on the extent to which Turkey implements the Additional Protocol of the Association Agreement signed in Ankara. One question, for example, is whether Turkish ports will be opened to Cypriot vessels. On 8 November the Commission will submit a report on Turkey's progress towards EU membership. Here, too, I want to praise the active role played by the Finnish Presidency in the search for solutions.

Expectations on Germany's Presidency are high, but over the past fifty years the EU has created unique mechanisms and instruments. We must make these instruments more efficient if we are to be fit for the 21st century. And we need more confidence, courage and optimism. In this respect there is little difference between Europe and Germany. With our Presidency programme we want to help achieve this turnaround.

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