— Check against delivery —
May I thank the rapporteurs Enrique Barón Crespo and Elmar Brok for the report on the Roadmap for the Union's Constitutional Process. Its conclusions are of great support to the Council Presidency as it makes further preparations for the Summit in June.
The support of the European Parliament is essential to the success of the process, and it is important to us that the European Parliament is fully involved in discussions on treaty reform.
It is thus vital that the European Parliament also plays an appropriate role in the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference.
I would like to thank you once again for the fruitful cooperation.
This cooperation is reflected in the report presented today, which I consider to be well-balanced, striking as it does the necessary line between an ambitious result for Europe and the realism needed in this matter.
We cannot and do not intend to ignore the voices of people in France and the Netherlands. At the same time, the majority of the Member States would like to preserve the substance of the Treaty as far as the content is concerned.
I would thus like to reiterate the special role which we, as Presidency, are required to play, namely that of mediator. We want a result which is acceptable to all of the Member States as well as to the European Parliament.
We must bear in mind the discussion which has taken place since the failed referenda, not only in France and the Netherlands. It is vital that we take people's concerns seriously.
At the same time – and this has become clear from this discussion – there are many areas in which people want to see more action from Europe, most notably in issues of climate and energy, which have been the subject of intensive discussion in recent months, but also in common EU foreign policy and efforts to combat crime and terrorism.
There is one fact, confirmed by numerous opinion polls, which I consider especially important – the majority of people in Europe are not opposed to Europe. They want an effective and efficient EU which focuses on the essential; an EU which finds real solutions to the problems it addresses.
It is no secret that an understanding is yet to be reached on a number of important issues.
On the one hand, we are discussing the treaty architecture and the form it should take in future. As you are well aware, it has been proposed that we return to a classic amending treaty.
The European Parliament has also shown itself willing to consider the future appearance of the Treaties. It is important to me that we find a solution which is acceptable to all parties and which, at the same time, represents a clear step forward in terms of lucidity and transparency for people in Europe.
The European Parliament has been a consistent and committed advocate of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is in agreement with the great majority of Member States in calling for the Charter and its legally binding character in particular to be preserved.
The EU must become more able to act and make decisions if it is to prevail in the 21st century. Moreover, we want a more democratic and more transparent EU.
This is why the great majority of Member States want to preserve the basic content of the Constitutional Treaty as it has been put forward. The predominant view is that amending the institutional package in particular would be tantamount to opening Pandora's box. Yet progress also needs to be made with regard to substantive issues.
We want a result which is acceptable to all of the Member States. All sides must be ready to compromise. It is vital that there is a common will to bring Europe forward together.
The support of the European Parliament, which is emphasized in the report, will be of particular importance to the German Council Presidency's efforts to secure an agreement at the Summit in June.
Allow me to say something more about the procedure and the objectives of the German Presidency.
The consultations have now entered the "critical" phase. The majority of talks are being held by Federal Chancellor Merkel and Federal Minister Steinmeier in person. Federal Minister Steinmeier will deliver a speech on preparations for the June European Council here tomorrow.
With consultations at the highest level ongoing, it is too early to present concrete proposals regarding content on the part of the Presidency. These will be submitted to the European Council at a later stage.
Our aim is for the European Council in June to establish clear content guidelines for the planned Intergovernmental Conference, as well as a precise timetable: from the political point of view, the Intergovernmental Conference is to be concluded under the Portuguese Presidency within 2007, and the Treaty to be signed by the beginning of 2008 at the latest. This would leave sufficient time for the Treaty to be ratified by all Member States before the elections to the European Parliament in 2009. This timetable, which is also advocated in the European Parliament's Roadmap, has received broad approval in talks so far. If the timetable is to be realized, it is also important that the European Parliament submits its opinion in accordance with Article 48 before the summer break.
But I will say it again: as Presidency, our role is to mediate. We need a result which is acceptable to all sides. We are talking to all the Member States, the European Parliament and the Commission.
There is still much convincing and mediating to be done, but I am confident that all parties want to achieve joint success.