Mr President, Hans-Gert Pottering,
predecessors of the President,
colleagues at the European Parliament,
Mr President, you are one of the parliamentarians who witnessed the first hours of the European Parliament. You have just said that your experience goes back to 1979. I think we could say that you have experienced and helped influence the remarkable rise of a Parliament from its infancy. It has evolved into a very emancipated European Parliament â€“ with confident deputies, clear party structures and parliamentary groups. This has made it a critical but now irreplaceable partner in European debate.
The development of the Parliament is one of the European Union’s success stories. We now know that without the work of the European Parliament, much of what we have achieved for Europe’s citizens would have taken another form.
I would like to call to mind the recent work on the chemicals legislation REACH, the elaboration of the services directive and the discussion on the financial perspective, in which we constantly strove to set forward-looking priorities and managed to push them through, in tough negotiations with the Council and the Commission in some cases.
In your speech today you drew our attention to the next European Parliament elections in 2009. There will be five Presidencies before then, one of which is the German Presidency. We will face the citizens of Europe together, as representatives of the nation states and you as representatives of the European Parliament, and will have to report to almost 500 million people on what concerns us, what benefit this Europe has and why it is important for them.
It has to do with peacekeeping, with solidarity within the European Union and with prosperity and social security in a global world in which competition has become much tougher for all of us. For this reason we must not lose sight of the whole picture in the midst of all the specific routine parliamentary work. With your work programme you have emphasized the role which you envisage for the European Parliament as well as for the European Union in the world.
We agree that the issue of the constitutional treaty will be the crucial issue for the 2009 elections â€“ both in connection with our self-perception and our relationship to our citizens, and in view of a 27â€‘member European Union’s ability to act. The German EU Presidency, together with the Commission, the Parliament and the Member States, will therefore do everything in its power to set a timetable for completing this project so that people in 2009 know what kind of Europe they are voting for and how this Europe will be able to act in future.
I appeal for us to continue our discussion on how we can further clarify the structure of the respective relations between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council, even though it still sparks controversy in some areas. That is also why, as I mentioned in my opening speech, I have put the issue of discontinuity on the agenda, because I believe this topic will be important in the longer term.
How does a newly elected Parliament perceive itself? How does a newly elected Commission perceive itself? What do we have to achieve, and how? Even the constitutional treaty does not fully answer these questions. That is why I believe the discussion must go further.
If we turn to the substance, it is clear that the subject of energy will play a central role at the Spring Council on 8 and 9 March.
Today I would like to tell you about our efforts to organize this Council meeting. First I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Commission. It has given us ambitious packages of directives and findings on energy and climate protection for the agenda. In the upcoming councils to prepare for the Spring Council â€“ the Competition Council and the Environment Council â€“ we now have to establish the decisive conditions for a fruitful debate within the Council.
I support the goal of the Commission to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020 as long as we find international partners. I believe that on our international travels we are all called upon to draw attention to the fact that Europe generates 15% of CO2 emissions, while 85% are generated outside the European Union.
Europe must be a pioneer. I think we should commit ourselves to this goal. Yet Europe must also make clear that no problem illustrates more visibly how this world interacts and that the action of one continent is not sufficient to dispel the threat posed to the whole of humanity.
We will have to hold very difficult discussions on developing a competitive internal market, as we can already sense. But anyone who has studied the subject matter will not be surprised. Nonetheless, we will not shy away from these discussions. For a functioning internal market within the energy market is essential.
We intend to put the issue of energy efficiency on the agenda, and we will talk about renewable energies. The German EU Presidency will appeal for the adoption of specific figures and reduction approaches which are binding. No Member State can afford to worm its way out of this. I want to make this absolutely clear.
For this reason the Federal Republic of Germany, if I may say so as Chancellor, has already had to make compromises with the Commission, which was not easy for us. We did this quite deliberately because I believe that each Member State must do its part. It would be foolish to believe that climate protection works without anyone noticing. We must therefore put an end to this illusion.
The topic of external energy policy will occupy us, particularly in the negotiations on a cooperation agreement with Russia. Here, too, I have to say that we hope and are working to ensure that these negotiations can commence. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached that stage. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that we will have taken a positive step forward by the time we meet for the EU-Russia Summit in May.
We will put the issue of better regulation on the European Council agenda. Here, too, I would ask for the support of the Parliament to ensure that we do not become bogged down in vague assurances, but that we commit ourselves to quantitative reduction objectives.
I am aware of the concerns and the fears that less regulation may also entail less protection. That is not what we want. But there is room for improvement in the way in which we organize bureaucracy today, and I would add that from the perspective of Europe’s citizens it is also necessary to improve it. Ladies and gentlemen, it is not true that a regulation is not valid if we do not use the most complicated form to verify it.
Mr President, we are involved in good consultations in connection with the declaration on the Europe of the future on 24 and 25 March. We intend to continue them. In your comments you emphasized very clearly what people expect from the European Union with regard to its external relations and its security and defence policy. I unequivocally support your commitment to human rights, which has a great tradition here in the European Parliament, and I welcome the fact that you intend to make dialogue between cultures one of your priorities.
During my recent trip to the Middle East I was able to sense the great expectations which people have placed in the European Union and all its institutions. The yearning for peace and the concern about Iran’s nuclear programme are very tangible in the Middle East. In this area we have a great responsibility to do everything we can â€“ with the players in the region as well as the United States of America and Russia, of course â€“ to set in motion the peace process which people await with such longing.
I have said before and I will say it again â€“ the end of the Cold War introduced something unexpected into the lives of us, the Europeans. We have seen that today, now with 27 Member States, we can again work and fight for peace and freedom in a democratic process with almost all European countries, even though it is not always easy. This miracle of our time should encourage us to strive for miracles and opportunities in other regions of the world.
That which Palestinians and Israelis have not experienced for decades â€“ a life in peace, a life in two neighbouring countries which are not at war, a life with the prospect of prosperity â€“ must also be our goal, because we have simply seen firsthand that peace and friendship can emerge from seemingly insurmountable differences. This experience brings with it an obligation for us as Europeans to become involved in this process. That is why I am very grateful that this is also one of your priorities, together with all your colleagues in the European Parliament.
Mr President, you quoted Helmut Kohl and said that we must hurry and cannot afford to constantly focus on ourselves. For people in the European Union expect us to continue to shape this successful continent successfully in the age of globalization in the interests of its citizens. Millions and billions of people in the world expect the European Union, with its experience and prosperity, to do its part in making the world a more peaceful and freer place. Let us work together to achieve this.
Thank you for your speech. I trust we will enjoy good cooperation with the European Parliament.