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United for Europe - Newspaper article by the presidents of Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, and Portugal

Flag of the European Union 15 July 2005 Photo: bpa © Photo: bpa

United for Europe - Newspaper article by the presidents of Austria, Heinz Fischer; Finland,Tarja Halonen; Germany, Horst Köhler; Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi; Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga; Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Portugal, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio

I.

The outcome of the referenda in France and the Netherlands showed that many citizens feel European policy falls short of their expectations. While most do support the European project, they are uneasy about how it is carried out. They feel excluded both from decisions of major importance for their future and from those which impact their everyday lives.

All too often, key European questions have not been debated broadly enough before decisions were taken.

To many people, the regulatory impulse of the EU seems exaggerated. Decision-making procedures are often too unclear and the decision-makers too anonymous.

And above all else, too often people have been willing to make Brus­sels the scapegoat for problems at home. This casts a bad light on a good project.

We are convinced that the European Union needs strong, influential and efficient institutions and transparent procedures.

The European Union should only regulate what is better regulated together. It needs proce­dures to bridge the gulf between the European decision-makers and their citizens. The aims of the Constitutional Treaty - closeness to the citizens, transparency, democratization and efficiency - remain valid. Questions concerning all citizens of Europe must be discussed by all citizens.

In view of high unemployment and low economic growth, many people are concerned about their future. Europe has to give them a true perspective. So it is right for the European Commis­sion to focus its policy on growth and employment. If people feel that the member states of the EU give them and their children new opportunities for work and prosperity, they will embrace the European project. The European model has an indispensable social component. But it needs a viable economic basis.

Now, the most important task is to increase trust in European policy. We have to make sure everyone can understand the benefits of integration.We have to tell the citizens in a way they understand how the EU works, what it has achieved, where it is going and why. That is how to win the people over for the European project. Without their consent and cooperation the EU cannot consolidate, never mind develop further.

II.

These are difficult times for Europe. But there is no reason to doubt the European project. We only need recall what the European Union has brought the states and people it unites: growing prosperity and eco­nomic strength to help us shape globalization, freedom and rights in many forms and above all safety from war and oppression.

Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and outgoing President of the EU Council, noted that anyone with doubts, anyone despairing of Europe, should pay a visit to the war cemeteries. We wholeheartedly agree. Peace in Europe is by no means to be taken for granted; there are enough people still with us who learnt this from bitter experience. For today's youth, war between the states of the European Union is unthinkable - and rightly so. That is an invaluable achievement of European integration.

Yet we also know that our economic success is rooted in the European internal market. It brought the older member states prosperity and offers the new ones the same opportunities. We want well-functioning markets hand in hand with social justice and balance. This is the European model that can guarantee long-term prosperity for our citizens.

Only together will European nations be able to hold their own in competition and successfully negotiate with countries like the USA, but also with China and India which have a demographic weight of 1.3 and 1.15 billion and growth rates of 9 and 8.5%. Only an economically strong Europe, united in solidarity, can shape the forces of globalization and give globalization the social dimension we deem necessary. Thus, we can provide a model for the whole world.

The internal market means competition and that in turn requires effort and flexibility. Fair competition also gives consumers better products and services. There is no other way forward if we want to maintain and extend our prosperity.

The euro was another important step, also in political terms. It has made a decisive contribu­tion to monetary stabil­ity, low interest rates, transparency, the lowering of transaction costs, the integration of finan­cial markets and the mobility of people. The member states outside the euro zone are also benefiting.

III.

We must not squander what we have built up, rather have to keep a firm hold on our future opportunities. But to do this, we have to know what we want.

Even now, the European Union is much more than a free trade zone. From the outset, it has been intended as a political project. It is a community with a common destiny sharing values and principles. They include freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, pluralism and respect for human dignity, social justice and solidarity.

The member states of the European Union have to step up their commitment to promoting knowledge and innovation as the driving force behind long-term growth and employment and they have to work harder on structural reform. This is the only way to make their economies more dynamic.

Above all else, the EU has to speak with one voice in the world. Only then can it bring its economic and political weight to bear. Only then can it help to tackle global problems. This is what our partners in the world expect.


IV.

We should now calmly consider how we can bring the European ship back on course. Where do we need to start?

-We need a more democratic, more transparent and more efficient EU, both in our own interest and to hold our own in globaliza­tion.

- We need procedures to involve the citizens more in the European project and make them part of its implementation and further development. Thus we should think about ways in which people in the EU can as far as possible jointly express their opinion on European matters.

-We have to cooperate more closely on questions of security and fighting terrorism as the recent terrorist attacks have demonstrated once more.

-We need greater readiness to compromise and more solidarity. This is a cornerstone of the European project and is in the interest of all member states.

- Europehas to get ready for the future. We have to invest in Europe's strengths: in innova­tion, communication, education and research. We need to examine what we are paying to Brussels - and how it is spent. There has to be and therefore will be timely agreement on this.

Now we really have to use the period of reflection. We must not lose heart, rather show tenacity and ingenuity.

V.

The EU's "open door" policy has proved successful. The accession of new members has given Europe new momentum and new possibilities.

Now we have to take time to learn to live in a Union of 25 and experience a European identity based on a shared history, shared culture and shared values which determine our daily lives and define our common European space. As regards the enlargement agenda, the principle "pacta sunt servanda" must apply. What has been agreed has, of course, to be respected. Potential accession candidates need realistic perspectives which will also create additional incentives for far-reaching domestic reform and the adoption of European standards. Membership criteria, including democracy, the respect of human rights and the rule of law, have to apply equally to all applicants.

In many countries, the summer holidays have just begun. Many of us will enjoy the beauties of Europe without border controls and in many cases won't even have to change money. Perhaps this provides a practical way of seeing how everyone can benefit from Europe.

This is something we do not want to forego. We have to seize the opportunity for a common and united Europe, thus living up to our responsibility for coming generations.