Speech by Vytautas Leškevičius, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the European Parliament, Constitutional Affairs Committee
Thank you, Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
It is a privilege to have this opportunity to address your Committee today, and to be able to present to you the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency over the next 6 months.
I really appreciated the valuable meetings I was able to hold in Strasbourg last week and in April with you, Mr Chairman, with Madame Deputy Chair, Ms Gurmai, as well as with the coordinators of the political groups - Mr Duff, Mr Trzaskowski, Mr Hafner, Mr Gueltieri, and Madame Giannakou. Today is the moment to develop those discussions with a more detailed engagement with your Committee on issues of huge importance to the functioning of the European Union.
Before turning to individual dossiers, I should like to put our work together in context.
Firstly, today’s challenging economic climate; the pressing need to finalize the legal framework for the Multiannual Financial Perspective; next May’s European elections; and the end, not just of yours, but also of the European Commission’s current term in office – all these factors place enormous political and legislative responsibility on the shoulders of our respective institutions.
Secondly, nearly four years have now passed since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. This marked a significant change in the EU’s legislative procedures, with greatly enhanced powers for the European Parliament in particular. I want you to know that the Lithuanian Presidency understands and respects your role as co-legislator.
At the end of August, Foreign Minister Linkevicius looks forward to welcoming several of you to an informal meeting of the General Affairs Council in Vilnius. This will be a chance to engage with you on the still difficult nexus of inter-institutional issues between the Parliament and the Council in the post-Lisbon era.
Let me assure you that we accept the task passed on to us by the Irish Presidency with eagerness, confidence and energy. But we shall rely heavily on your joining us in what must always be a shared endeavour.
I believe the European Parliament will continue to be a strong partner for the Presidency. Our efficient, workmanlike and constructive cooperation will be of crucial importance during the coming six months. We both carry that responsibility to our fellow European citizens – especially in this Year of the European Citizen.
Recent opinion polls suggest that Lithuanian citizens are among the most supportive of the European project. My country also has a proud track record when it comes to prompt implemention of EU laws.
Inspired by the same spirit which has helped our country to recover so successfully from the economic crisis, I and my Ministerial colleagues take on the task of leading the Council of the European Union with an overriding sense of honour, of responsibility, and of determination.
Let me touch briefly on the general approach of the Lithuanian Presidency.
Building on the excellent work of the Irish Presidency, to whose notable achivements I pay tribute, the Lithuanian Presidency will have three main themes. We will be working for a CREDIBLE, a GROWING and an OPEN Europe.
First, on CREDIBILITY.
Economic credibility comes with financial stability and sound public finances.
For this purpose, attention will be paid to deepening Economic and Monetary Union and to developing a comprehensive framework for a Banking Union.
Another priorty will be legislative proposals to take forward reform of the financial markets.
Our second theme is GROWTH:
- Growth that results in real jobs for the people of Europe.
- Growth that enhances European competitiveness.
That is why we shall be focusing our efforts on implementing the Europe 2020 strategy, the European semester, and the Compact for Growth and Jobs.
Lastly, an OPEN EUROPE:
- to strengthen the EU as a global model of openness and security. We see openness both as an end in itself and as a means for achieving a stronger and safer Europe.
This Parliament is the beating heart of our European democracy. So I have no hesitation in underlining the critical importance of actively engaging Europe’s citizens on all EU matters.
This year we celebrate the European Year of the Citizen. So whatever priority we choose - credibility, growth or openness - it must first and foremost be put at the service of our citizens.
The Lithuanian Presidency will therefore seek to raise public awareness, especially among young people, of our common EU values as well as of the rights that derive from our EU citizenship.
You should be pleased to see that, with this in mind, the Presidency is engaging in a series of national and international events to mark 2013 as the European Year of the Citizen through the direct engagement of Presidential and Prime Ministerial offices, national Parliaments, ministries, universities and other institutions. In December, we shall host an international conference to mark the official closing event of the European Year of the Citizen.
Needless to say, the role of your Committee is of vital importance in the field of citizens’ rights and political participation.
I particularly value the European citizens’ initiative that entered into force last year. I also want to single out the Parliament’s efforts to strengthen the European debate ahead of next May’s European elections.
Two reports deserve special mention – one elaborated by Mr Duff, on improving the organization for next May’s European elections, which was adopted by the Plenary last week. And last year’s report prepared by you, Mr Chairman, urging European political parties to nominate their candidates for the position of President of the European Commission.
We see those reports as an important element in shaping the way the European elections will be conducted.
As Presidency, we also welcome the quick agreement reached both on the composition of the European Parliament and on a date for the 2014 European election. I think this demonstrates the strong commitment of our institutions to making the forthcoming elections a success, notwithstanding the challenging economic context.
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
Let me now turn to the specific dossiers that we shall be working on together during the coming six months.
First among them is the proposal for a statute and the funding of European political parties and foundations.
European political parties are, obviously, key players in the European political debate. They consolidate democratic participation and are a tool for transmitting the voices and concerns of citizens to the European level. They generate and help shape public discussion on European issues.
I am aware that, since last September, the Cyprus and Irish Presidencies have invested considerable effort into moving this complex proposal forward.
The Irish Presidency worked hard to try to find a legally sound and politically viable resolution to the institutional argument over the handling of the registration and verification of European political parties and foundations. I very much regret that no compromise has yet been reached.
Given this deadlock, the Presidency believes that all three institutions now need to reflect hard on how to unblock these outstanding issues, in particular the independence of the registration authority and the issue of how a decision to de-list a European political party because of breaches of EU values should be taken.
A meeting in Strasbourg last week between Commissioner Ševčovič, you Mr Chairman, Ms Gurmai, Madame Giannakou and myself was an opportunity to consider perspectives with regard to this complex dossier.
As you know, the Lithuanian Presidency intends to continue work on this file on the basis of the Council’s mandate, progress made under the Irish Presidency, and of the latest political trilogue.
The Lithuanian Presidency hopes we can make progress on this issue in order to be able to continue the examination of other important aspects of the proposal, such as the funding provisions, the articulation of the European legal status with national law, and other potential implications for national law.
I am confident of a good and constructive working atmosphere with the Parliament, and I look forward to our work together on this dossier. I very much hope we shall be able to reach final agreement at the earliest opportunity.
Another objective I would like to mention is the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is indispensable to completing the protection of fundamental rights of EU citizens and for fulfilling the mandate of the Lisbon Treaty.
The Presidency welcomes the agreement reached on a text at negotiators' level in Strasbourg. The next step will be for the European Court of Justice to deliver its opinion on the compatibility of the draft agreement with the Treaties.
We need to keep up this momentum, and the Presidency hopes it can count on the European Parliament's close cooperation in the process leading to accession.
Finally, I am naturally aware of the work in your Committee on a proposal from the European Parliament on Committees of Inquiry (the Martin report). I know that useful discussions are continuing at technical level, and I look forward to our making progress on this file.
As Presidency, we will closely examine any proposal that the European Parliament makes in order to find the necessary compromise on outstanding issues. We hope in particular that mutually acceptable formulae can be found on the issues that are most problematic for Member States, in particular on access to documents, hearings of officials, and sanctions.
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,
That is all I have to say at this stage on the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency. Being a strong advocate for constructive and close partnership with the European Parliament, I am looking forward to our close and intensive engagement during coming six months.
Thank you very much for your attention. I would now be very happy to hear your questions, remarks and suggestions.
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