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01/10/2005 09:13 Local Time 
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Commission Pres. Prodi views EU Thessaloniki Council as highly important

BRUSSELS (ANA/A. Simatos) – European Commission President Romano Prodi gave a press conference on Wednesday here on the occasion of the EU Thessaloniki Council, opening on Thursday. The full text of Prodi speech is set out below.

"The European Council in Thessaloniki that begins tomorrow will tackle various matters of great urgency and importance to Europe today. The Greek Presidency of the Council has helped us to prepare for the summit with remarkable skill. I am sure that it will be a success for all.

First, let me say a few words on migration, borders and asylum. The European Union must develop a common policy in this area.

This is a high political priority endorsed by the Convention, and in the Member States the public's expectations on this issue are high.

According to the latest Eurobarometer results released yesterday, seven out of ten Europeans want the EU to have a common asylum and migration policy.

The Council has called for a comprehensive approach on several occasions.

This approach is shared by the Commission and it has followed it by presenting three Communications to the European Council, together with a proposal for special cooperation with non-member countries.

The Commission is convinced that, in the light of progress made in the last few years, the time has now come to take further steps to consolidate the basis for our common policy. I will quote three examples: 

Community financing must gradually rise to a level compatible with the existing margins and with the declared political aim. We have made provision for a package comprising 140 million euro to manage the external borders and 250 million euro for cooperation with non-member countries.

Legislation must be supplemented by enhanced administrative cooperation and the introduction of the necessary infrastructure.

The directives on family reunification and long-term residents are a clear success for the Greek Presidency. The time has now come to continue along these lines with a positive approach to immigration that highlights its benefits. The integration of legal immigrants must be a shared priority.

We must show the same political determination in the area of asylum.

We have done good work and the first phase of the common system sought at Tampere is gradually being put in place.

I am truly sorry that, after months of intense negotiations, no agreement has yet been reached on a directive defining the concept of refugees and harmonising forms of subsidiary protection.

Such an instrument, together with the directive on procedures, forms the core of this common system.

It is vital for the Italian Presidency to give priority to ensuring those two texts are adopted in December at the latest. This will allow the Seville deadline to be met.

In addition, as regards the readmission policy, further effort is needed on the basis of full cooperation with the countries of origin and transit.

The second major topic at the Thessaloniki Summit will be the Convention.

I hope that the European Council will conclude that the draft Constitution presented by the Convention should form the basis for the Intergovernmental Conference starting in October.

The Convention's draft goes in the right direction and meets certain important objectives.

The challenge for the IGC is to improve the draft on two key points:

- the extension of majority voting, and
- the institutional architecture.

The Convention has shown it could work effectively. I would like to thank Mr Giscard d'Estaing for the skilful way in which he led the Convention to a final compromise.

The most important and positive results I see are:

- The European Union of the future will be better equipped to provide security and justice for its citizens.
- The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding. This means basic rights will be more visible and more explicit for all citizens.
- The Commission will represent the EU in the international arena, except for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the euro. Our capacity to influence world events and globalisation will grow as a result.
- As regards CFSP, I welcome the introduction of a Minister of Foreign Affairs with the rank of Vice-President of the Commission. The post of Foreign Minister is a major institutional innovation and I am fully in favour of it.
- The Convention's text simplifies the existing Treaties and clarifies the powers of the Union and the Member States.

However, there are some areas where the Convention did not reach a satisfactory outcome:

- Unfortunately the right of veto still applies for a large number of decisions.
- Here I must be very clear: accepting unanimity as a rule for decision-making means no decisions will be taken. The right of veto spells deadlock for the Union.
- I have repeatedly warned against creating competing centres of power when it comes to implementing the Union's policies.
- I am not sure the job description of the European Council Chair rules out any risk of duplication of the executive function.
- If a more permanent Chair is needed for the European Council to function better, more safeguards need to be introduced to avoid that risk.
- Lastly, the practical innovations proposed for the Commission after 2009 raise fears regarding the effectiveness of this institution. And the Commission will be essential for sound action in the enlarged Union.

Lastly, a few words on the Union's policy towards the Western Balkans.

The Thessaloniki Summit will mark a decisive stage in this strategy.

It will reaffirm our responsibility towards this region and our determination to help the countries there to become members of the Union.

I have often said -- and I will say it again -- that the unification of Europe will not be complete until our friends in the Balkans are part of the family.

Croatia's application for membership is an encouraging sign and I welcome it warmly.

I cannot conceal the fact that implementing this common project calls for a lot of work.

That is why we have drawn up an Agenda for the Western Balkans based on our Communication of last May.

The Agenda was agreed by our Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

It is a broad and ambitious agenda, a common agenda for a joint project.

We are confident that all the countries in the region are determined to do their bit and speed up their reform process.

To implement the Agenda, we clearly need financial resources that match our ambitions. From this viewpoint, our total finance for the region will rise by 210 million euro over the next three years.

Maybe this was not exactly what we -- and the countries in the region -- hoped. But we also have a commitment from the Council to provide substantial financial support to match the efforts made by the Western Balkan countries to meet the Union's standards.

 So my appeal to the region is: Go ahead and work hard so we are ''obliged'' to give you more money.

A final comment on the regional dimension. This is far from empty rhetoric, but an absolute necessity. Thank you".

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