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Europe United? Citizens´ Participation in the EU Reform Process

Greeting paper of Minister Papandreou

Europe United? Citizens´ Participation in the EU Reform Process. Greeting paper of Minister Papandreou.

On behalf of the Greek Presidency and on behalf of Minister Papandreou, who regrets he is unable to be here with you today, may I thank the Federal Agency for Civic Education for the invitation to join this distinguished panel of speakers to discuss an issue of great importance: citizens´ participation in the EU reform process. The inclusion of citizens and the role of democracy is an issue at the heart of the Greek Presidency, reflected in the simple message of the Presidency logo, "Our Europe". "Our Europe" is an inclusive Union, dedicated to the greater political, social and geographical inclusion of its citizens. I support the sentiments of our host today that citizens are of primary importance for the vitality and sustainability of the European Union.

The Greek Presidency is taking place during a crucial period for the European Union: a Union preparing the most far-reaching enlargement in its history; a Union preparing to invent a new type of Constitution; a Union preparing to radically deepen its relations with its old and new neighbours.

The Greek Presidency is proud to preside over two landmark events. In April, after ten years of negotiations, we will sign the Acropolis Treaty for Accession with the new Member States, proclaiming the birth of a New Europe. In fact, Hungary will be one of the first candidate country to hold its referendum on EU accession on April 15.

In June, the Convention on the Future of Europe will present its draft Constitutional Treaty, proposing a new contract for Europe. This is a time for both reaffirming the EU´s most fundamental values and rethinking its ambitions and working methods. We need to ask ourselves: What is the EU for? Who is the EU for? What kind of future do we aspire to?

The members of the Convention have done an exemplary job in maintaining momentum under difficult time constraints, in laying the groundwork for this important debate. The Convention is meeting today for its second Plenary this month (27/28 February) to debate the first draft of the Constitution, Articles 1 – 16.

With the presentation of the first draft articles earlier this month, the Convention entered a critical phase in its work. These articles cover the definition, objectives and values of the Union; fundamental rights; citizenship; its competences; co-ordination of economic policies; and its common foreign and security policy. For the most part, they achieve the Convention's major objective of setting out clearly the basic principles of how a future, enlarged Union should be governed.

While the division of powers remains to be determined, a real consensus has emerged at the Convention. It is widely accepted that there will be a Constitutional Treaty to replace previous texts. The Union will have a single legal personality allowing it to join international organisations. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be incorporated into the Treaty. There will be more majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament.

The outcome of the working group on Social Europe, successfully led by the Greek Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Katiforis, has achieved much for the citizens of the EU. The final report submitted to the Plenary on 6 February agreed that the values of the Union should include social justice, solidarity and equality, in particular between men and women. The report concluded that full employment, social justice, sustainable development, a social market economy, a high degree of social protection and public health, and efficient and high quality social services should be among the objectives of the Union.

The Convention does not, however, exhaust the issue of democracy in the EU. We need to promote governance with a human face through existing EU institutions. Through a European Parliament that continues its efforts, under the leadership of Pat Cox, to connect to individual citizens; and through a Commission granted with more trust and resources to conduct its traditional administrative and legislative mission, in particular that of catering for the most vulnerable regions and social groups in Europe; and perhaps particularly through a more transparent and accountable Council and European Council. Our Presidency will continue to implement the changes agreed at the Seville European Council to the way the Council and the European Council work, but there is a lot more we could do to make these institutions more relevant to citizens.

Promoting active citizenship in the EU also means emphasising the importance of social inclusion as we build on the commendable efforts of the Danish Presidency on the Lisbon Agenda. The Lisbon Agenda is broad ranging, testifying to the interconnected nature of issues of competitiveness, technological change, employment and social justice. But if we do not assign utmost priority to tackling the problems of social exclusion in Europe, the ideal of ‘Our Europe´ will be all but hollow.

We believe that the Lisbon social pillar should have the same importance as economic reforms. We will have to strengthen our efforts regarding the creation of more and better jobs, the increased efficiency of active employment policies (facilitating entrance to the labour market for young people and the unemployed), but also the development of entrepreneurship (especially among young people and women). The Greek Presidency´s Spring European Council in Brussels will therefore examine in particular: the participation of women on equal terms in the work market, ways to increase employment rates, better balance between flexibility of labour markets and health and safety at work, issues concerning immigrants´ integration, and the reduction of regional disparities in employment and unemployment.

NGOs and the wider civil society hold the key to a socially inclusive European Union. We are committed to strengthening our partnerships with them and working proactively with them to achieve the aims I have just set out.

At the Acropolis in April, we hope to convey the message that accession is a new contract between our peoples, east and west, north and south, and not simply a Treaty between states. The citizens of the new Member States need to fully become citizens of the EU in the political, social, civic and cultural sense, with all the rights and obligations that this implies. And our own citizens need to feel that they too belong in this new, bigger EU. Enlargement will only succeed if EU citizens from all walks of life begin to interact and integrate through civil initiatives and pan-European networks. Greece is among the six Member States allowing for unimpeded movement of people from the first day of accession. Freedom of movement demonstrates the enrichment that enlargement represents.

The ambition of the Greek Presidency is not only to be an effective and neutral broker, but also to harness the power of ideas. We believe that together with European citizens and the EU´s partners around the globe, European politicians need to engage in continuous dialogue about the main challenges of our time and the role of the EU in addressing these challenges. An inclusive Europe, a community of values dedicated to liberty, democracy and justice, both within and beyond its borders, is at the heart of this vision. We hope that men and women everywhere in Europe will embrace this message and demonstrate that it is the citizens of Europe who will carry these ideals forward for future generations.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to a constructive debate on this most important issue.

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