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Statement of the Presidency on the Thessaloniki European Council by Mr. T.Giannitsis before the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 4/6/03

The Thessaloniki European Council will not only conclude a particularly dynamic semester, it will also pave the way for the continuation of the perpetual process towards achievement of European integration.  The items on its agenda are defined by crucial developments and questions, which demand both answers and decisions.

The Thessaloniki Summit is expected to focus on five major chapters:

  • Advancement of the necessary institutional changes that have been the main object of the Convention on the Future of Europe since March 2002.
  • Foreign policy and defence, with special emphasis on trans-Atlantic relations, the shaping of a strategic concept for E.U. security and the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Immigration, asylum and external borders, an area of particular concern to the Greek Presidency and of constantly growing significance for the European Union.
  • Issues concerning employment and the Lisbon Strategy, in general, that must be discussed at European Council level.
  • E.U. policy with regard to Western Balkans, a fifth chapter to be discussed on the Council’s second day, i.e. on Saturday, June 21.

Of course, the Council will also discuss and decide upon a host of policy issues, on the basis of decisions to be reached by the forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The first chapter, Enlargement, the Treaty of which was signed in Athens on April 16, poses the imperative need for institutional changes, so that the Union would avoid the ugly trap of rigidity and ineffective institutional functioning. The issues handled by the Convention on the Future of Europe, therefore, constitute a major concern of the Council and the Union, According to the agreement reached at April’s Informal European Council, the President of the Convention will present in Thessaloniki the conclusions of its 15-month proceedings. Among the members of the Convention, there are now visible points of convergence, along with serious differences of opinion, to this day at least, while a clearer picture is anticipated in the next few weeks. Numerous positions have been expressed within and outside the Convention on a host of different issues. The role of the Council, naturally, does not consist in making decisions as to the substance of the Convention’s mission, but in determining how to proceed with the next phase and giving the Intergovernmental Conference the mandate to begin its work, so that we could achieve results acceptable by all, we could agree on a common denominator that would be the institutional framework of the European Union’s course for several years, that would be not a minimal denominator, not a change of minor importance, but a denominator guaranteeing a dynamic course for enlarged Europe.

Ideas and proposals have been put to the table, the dialogue may continue, but, at some moment, we ought to produce tangible results. Obviously, such results will not be accomplished during the Greek Presidency; we expect, however, that the leaders will exchange views and decide on the mandate to the Intergovernmental Conference and that a bridge will be found towards the final phase, as the Convention’s “finished product” will be submitted to the European Council in Thessaloniki.

In Thessaloniki, the Greek Presidency anticipates an in-depth discussion of the essence of the text, so that we could have a clear picture of national positions before the Intergovernmental Conference. We must also decide on important procedural matters, such as the working timetable of the IG, where account should be taken of certain member-States’ need or constitutional obligation to conduct an internal debate on the outcome of the Convention. The so-called “reflection period” should ideally be concluded by late October, when the process of ratification of the Accession Treaty by the new member-States will also have been completed. The IG should then be convened, with a view to a timely conclusion, so that the Treaty could be signed by all 25 m-S on the 1st of May 2004, or immediately after and, in any case, before the June elections for the European Parliament.
It should be pointed out that the discussion on enlarged Europe’s institutional architecture originated in the visible need for increased efficiency. Evidently, the institutional structure and functioning should be adapted to the needs of a much larger Europe, it is equally clear, however, that greater effectiveness should not lead to a downgrading of the fundamental principles governing the endeavour of European integration.

Drafting a Constitutional Treaty constitutes a huge quality leap, due, to a large extent, to the structure and the proceedings of the Convention, but also to the will of European citizens, their wish for a stronger enlarged Europe. The Union’s strength emanates from the two fundamental elements of democratic functioning and effective decision-making. We are all convinced that the Union of the 25 must be capable of adding value to its citizens’ lives, of achieving social and economic cohesion between its members, of successfully defending its values within the international political scene. Furthermore, the Constitutional Treaty is the most urgent and important step towards simplified means and procedures, closely associated with strengthened democratic participation and with the Union’s transparent functioning.

It is particularly positive that, from the very outset of the Convention’s proceedings, wide consensus was reached on a number of basic questions, such as the European Parliament’s strengthened role, the establishment of the Union’s single international legal personality, the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Constitutional Treaty and the further “communitisation” of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. It is also widely accepted that greater democratic legitimisation within the European Union can be achieved without new institutions or organs that would complicate its functioning and upset the balance of its institutional system.

Enlarged Europe should also have a stronger international presence, which presupposes that solutions would be found in matters such as coordinated use of foreign policy tools and combining the capacities of the High Representative and the Commissioner responsible for External Relations into one institutional post. Besides the different approaches expressed in the ongoing discussion within the Convention, it is significant that there is overall agreement as to the need for preserving the balance between Union institutions and equality between member-States, for further diffusion of the Community method and its advantages and for consolidating the democratic character of a Union of states and peoples.

With regard to the final form of the Convention’s outcome and its binding nature in relation to the IG, we all wish that the final text of the Constitutional Treaty would enjoy the widest possible consensus among the Convention's’ members, as its momentum and legitimisation are bound to have catalytical influence on the IG. Nevertheless, we should be prepared to consider alternative developments, emanating from the existence of different views. In that case, it would be imperative to safeguard the consensus painfully reached during the Convention’s 15 months of proceedings and to find answers even on points of dispute. The inclusion of alternative options for certain basic issues should not be viewed as a failure of the Convention, but as a possible way out that would facilitate the final outcome.

Whatever the case may be, I believe that the Convention’s proceedings were crowned with success, as decisions were reached on a host of complex issues, pending since previous Intergovernmental Conferences.  It is self-evident that the forthcoming IG should take into account those decisions; it is crucial, after all, that the final stage of proceedings is governed by a spirit of compromise, that the Convention retains its credibility and that the much-needed fruitful outcome is achieved.

Trans-Atlantic relations constitute the second major chapter to be included in the agenda of the Thessaloniki European Council. The EU-USA Summit is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. a few days after the Council. It is an excellent opportunity for the two sides to discuss important matters, to cooperate towards dealing with serious problems affecting international and bilateral developments and to reverse the somewhat heavy climate of the past few months.

EU – USA relations, based on traditional ties, the weighty international role of the two sides and their powerful presence, were recently put to the test by conflicting views on serious issues. Our two sides’ vast interdependence, however, actually prohibits a perpetuation of our differences. All member-States are convinced that our common elements are many more than our divisions and that cooperation is to our mutual interest. Maturity in a relation signifies the ability to formulate disagreements, without the latter prevailing in or placing obstacles to its multiple-level and diverse development.

We had a very fruitful discussion at the last Gymnich. We unflinchingly believe that our relations with the United States should present an improved picture, better reflecting reality, and, to this end, we are working hard to ensure that the next EU – USA Summit will constitute an important step towards further development of our strategic relationship, so as to jointly face the challenges of our times.

We are looking forward to the announcement of specific initiatives for dealing with the menace of weapons of mass destruction, which could give impetus to a common course with common objectives. Reinvigorating trans-Atlantic relations would be a major accomplishment, to be positively influenced by mobilising public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. National Parliamentarians could be instrumental in such a mobilisation effort which would further enhance relations.

The Iraq crisis, the trasantlantic relations and the international developments in general have created new challenges for the ESDP.

When it comes to the ESDP we must be ready to develop a common notion of the new security environment so that we can tackle with efficiency new challenges and threats.  

Towards this end, the European Foreign Ministers, during their informal meeting in Rhodes, tasked the EU’s Secretary General/High Representative to prepare a paper setting out the threats and challenges facing the EU in the field of foreign and security policy and to make recommendations for an overall European security strategy. The SG/HR is expected to submit this paper to the Thessaloniki European Council.

In Thessaloniki, the European Council is expected to endorse the Presidency’s report on the progress achieved over the past six months in the development of ESDP and also the annual progress report on the Implementation of the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts, which is the cornerstone of the security mechanism of the Union.    

The relevant with the above-mentioned issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction is in an important topic of the agenda and will probably remain there for some time to come.  Their proliferation is a huge challenge for the international system. The critical question is how to increase and intensify our efforts to prevent further WMD proliferation which endangers not only our security, but also international peace and stability. Last February we began an intensive evaluation of our overall approach and policy in this field, our immediate goal being the drafting of a Comprehensive Strategy and Plan of Action, to be adopted in Thessaloniki.

The Greek Presidency, in its effort to fulfill the engagements in the Justice and Home Affairs field, undertaken by the Member States at the European Council of Seville, intends to include in the agenda of the European Council of Thessaloniki a number of issues on Migration, External Borders and Asylum, which as you very well know, are among its main priorities. 

The progress achieved in these fields has been considerable. The Council has reached political agreement regarding to Community’s first legal text on legal migration, that is the Directive on Family Reunification. We hope that, in collaboration with our partners, we will manage to have political agreement for the Directive on Long-term Residents and the Directive on the Qualifications of the Refugees.

We tried to have a global approach to immigration, that is one encompassing both legal and illegal migration. The social aspect of the matter is taken into consideration, and we hope that, now on, a global coherent policy will be promoted.

The Greek Presidency has been also committed in promoting the issue of integration of third-country nationals in the EU societies, within the framework of the common effort to create a Common European Policy in the areas of migration and asylum. The presentation of an annual report regarding migration could facilitate the combination of the various policies of the EU into a more global approach of the subject.

The Greek Presidency has achieved to make significant progress regarding external borders and fighting against illegal migration by proceeding with the follow-up and the evaluation of a series of 17 projects on external borders while promoting a range of crucial border issues, within the framework of the Council. On the basis of the Communications to be submitted by the Commission, the Presidency intends to draft, in cooperation with the European Commission, the relevant Conclusions for the Thessaloniki Council, on the development of a common policy on illegal migration, trafficking in human beings, external borders’ issues and return of illegal migrants, especially regarding the issue of burden-sharing on the effective management of the external borders of the EU.

At the same time, the Greek Presidency, in cooperation with the EU Commission and according to the latter’s Communication on the effectiveness of current financial resources for JHA issues, explores all possibilities to have additional community funding transferred to the JHA field in order to finance effectively measures of external borders’ management, the implementation of the European Returns Fund, the creation of a Visa Information System (VIS) and the cost of the reception of rejected asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Finally, the Presidency also intends to achieve a political agreement on the inclusion of the migration as a key parameter in the assessment of the cooperation between the EU and third countries.

Τhe 2003 Spring European Council was held in the midst of complex international political and economic circumstances demanding active European presence, at a moment when the euro had been in use for one year, the Internal Market had been functioning for ten years, the challenge of enlargement was ‘ante portas’ and a massive immigration from third countries posed already a lot of problems.

Now more than ever, the time is ripe to proceed to the implementation of the decisions taken in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy, since one third of the way towards the 2010 goal has been covered and we are still lagging behind the ambitions set out in 2000.

We achieved specific results at the 2003 Spring Council, and at the same time we decided to promote the application of our policies for:

• the increase of employment and social cohesion
• the encouragement of innovation and entrepreneurship
• interconnecting Europe in a more effective way, through transport and energy networks, as well as financial services
• improvements in the EU environment and quality of life

In Thessaloniki, the approval of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the new Employment Strategy will have a central role, while we will welcome progress in certain goals we have set, i.e. public take-over bids (possible political agreement), environmental liability, energy matters, adoption of the Common Agriculture Policy reform package, even if it is difficult to predict the final outcome of the last matter.

The close cooperation between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament is a precondition expected to help adopt all measures needed for the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy and the development of the EU capability to respond successfully to the new international economic situation.

The current Presidency has presented at its beginning its priorities for the EU-Western Balkans relations, with the main goal of helping their course towards European structures and standards. Maintaining the Western Balkans as a high EU priority, despite the last months' adverse circumstances, is an achievement of the Union, demonstrating the crucial political importance attributed to this region, as well as its determination to continue and support all efforts for a better common future. This interest is expressed through the Stabilization and Association Process as well as the involvment of the EU in the political and the security fields, including the two operations already undertaken in BiE and in FYROM, the EUPM and the "Concordia", respectively.

Reconstruction of the western Balkans is also based on regional cooperation, and the role of the Stability Pact in this regard is crucial. In its framework, an Informal Consultative Committee is already operating with the participation of the Presidency of the S.E. Europe Cooperation Process. To strengthen the regional cooperation, the contacts among members of the region's parliaments are equally important. I will mention also an initiative of our Presidency, in the framework of the SEECP and the Stability Pact, for the creation of a Crisis/Conflicts prevention and early warning mechanism, where the importance of the economic and social development as an preventive factor will be stressed.

The Stabilisation and Association Process remains the cornerstone of the EU’s policy towards the countries of the region, and in our efforts to support this policy, a review of the achievements of the Stability Pact took place recently in Croatia, in order to coordinate the activities of the Pact with the Stabilisation and Association Process. Democratisation, reconciliation and regional cooperation on one hand, and each country’s approach to the EU on the other hand, constitute parts of the same reality.

The Presidency's goals for the Western Balkans have accrued the consent of the Member States and the Commission, as well as of the five countries concerned. At the same time, the Council and the Commission are working on the materialization of these goals through specific operational conclusions. The relevant decisions, on the EU side, shall be adopted at the GAERC on the 16th of June. The European Council in Thessaloniki, on the 20th of June shall endorse these decisions. In this way, it is expected to signal a milestone in the EU's relations with the Western Balkans, producing a text of conclusions, in which not region will be expressed, following the decisions taken in Feira, Nice and only the political will to support the European perspective of the countries in the Copenhagen, but an operational outline to this end will be provided as well.

At the same time, the European Council in Thessaloniki shall reiterate that the European future of the Western Balkan countries lies primarily in their own hands and in their commitment to implement the necessary reforms. The Stabilisation and Association Process, in which the principle of conditionality is inherent, provides a suitable institutional framework. The enrichment of the SAP with elements drawn from the recent enlargement experience, will strengthen the evaluation, reform identification and monitoring mechanisms, based on the 1997 conditionality and the Copenhagen criteria. Thus, no additional intermediate contractual framework will be needed for their European course, besides the successful implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements.    

In the line of this evolution, the Commission has proposed a concrete instrument, the "European Integration Partnerships". Inspired by the pre-accession process and tailor made to each country's needs, they will identify, on a regular basis, priorities and obligations to be fulfilled and they will provide guidance for the assistance under CARDS. The decision for the adoption of this instrument lies also with the GAERC and the European Council in Thessaloniki.

Among the operational actions which will be discussed in Thessaloniki, we attach particular importance to Justice and Home Affairs issues, notably to the combat against organized crime, a key-factor not only for peace and stability in the region, but also for its development, let alone the repercussions to the EU itself. We envisage to assess the records of achievements of the SAP countries, as well as the formulation of checklists with specific obligations for the way ahead. Concrete actions may also be proposed in other horizontal issues, such as refugee return, combating unemployment, trade liberalisation, protection of religious and cultural monuments. The role of regional co-operation is extremely important in this effort.

An issue still open is to explore possibilities for increased financial assistance. It is a persistent demand of the region, as well as of European think tanks, connected to the need for reinforced development actions.

The European Council's decisions will be reflected to the Declaration of Thessaloniki, which will be adopted by all parties concerned, at the EU-Western Balkans summit in 21 June, the day after the European Council, where the acceding and candidate countries will also participate. This political forum bringing together the leaders of the Western Balkan countries with those of the European Union is a follow up of the Zagreb meeting of November 2000 and intends to launch a political dialogue which will complement the SAP. It will also stress the regional ownership of the process, putting particular emphasis on the commitment of the SAP countries to undertake and implement effectively the necessary reforms in the areas of democratisation, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, justice and home affairs, refugee return, economic development etc. The Declaration will be a political text, tailored after the Zagreb Declaration, which will demonstrate the will and commitment of all parties involved to soundly build a common European future.       

Besides these basic parameters which will be discussed during the Thessaloniki summit I will mention briefly some other topics with special importance. The enlargement process has been given new impetus with the historical signing ceremony of April 16. The ratification process with the 10 acceding countries is well on track. Enhanced monitoring is also proceeding.  Accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania have been making good headway. And finally, we are putting into place the accession strategy for Turkey as decided in Copenhagen. The Thessaloniki European Council is expected to take stock of progress achieved and adopt suitable political guidelines for the months to come. 

The European Council is likely furthermore to address, if necessary, issues arising out of the latest developments on the international scene, such as the following: Iraq and the European Community’s  role during its reconstruction especially after the most recent resolution from the U.N., the Middle East and the need to promote the peace process and finally the latest developments in N. Korea.

In our effort to help the European citizen too reach the European process ,the Greek Presidency considers the issue of political parties at European level as a matter of high priority and makes every effort so that negotiations within the Council will have been completed before the Thessaloniki European Council.
Moreover, we expect to reach an overall agreement on the Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Regulation and to present it at the Thessaloniki summit.

These are the basic elements that we will have to address in Thessaloniki and that constitute an  important part of the conclusion of our efforts during the past six months .

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