European Parliament Debate with Candidates
The European Parliament took a leap forward into the new enlarged Europe on November 19 when it held a debate in Strasbourg with parliamentary representatives from the candidate countries. Prefiguring the European Parliament that will exist - in a somewhat modified configuration - once the new member states join, the occasion was both ceremonial and practical. The appropriate words of welcome were uttered, but the debate showed plenty of flashes of hard-edged appreciation of the challenge that the European Union is taking on.
European Parliament President Pat Cox opened the debate by welcoming Parliamentarians from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. He emphasised the challenge of giving leadership to win public consent in the Member States and in the candidate countries for the post-Copenhagen phase of enlargement - making it work once negotiations had been completed. The Parliament, he remarked, would invite candidate countries to send observers to the European Parliament, with all rights of participation in political Groups, Committees and Plenary, except the right to vote.
Denmark's Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, described enlargement as "the biggest project of our age". Looking to the future, he saw a Europe united in following a common path based on peace, freedom and prosperity, although he acknowledged that, at this stage of the negotiations with the candidate countries, it was not always possible to agree on every point of detail. Nevertheless, he urged all parties to come together to find a solution to outstanding problems based on the mandate agreed at the October Brussels Summit. Enlargement, he concluded, offered political and economic advantages for the whole of Europe with new trade and investment opportunities, as well as the chance for stronger economic growth. In other words, as he put it, there would be only winners.
European Commission President Romano Prodi paid tribute to the national parliaments of the applicant countries in processing all the necessary legislation to comply with EU membership. He looked forward to some 75 million new Europeans taking part in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament. The EU would have an increased role to play in the globalisation process, he said, recalling that the candidate countries had already influenced the life of the EU and would indeed continue to do so. He also expressed the hope that the new members would give a new impetus to EU institutions.
For Hans-Gert Poettering (D), speaking on behalf of the EPP-ED group, this enlargement would mean that the atrocities of Communism and National Socialism would never take place again in this continent. Enrique Barcentsn Crespo (E), for the PES group, reminded the House that there were still obstacles to overcome: work still needs to be done to assuage the fears and frustrations of the peoples of the candidate countries. But it was, he said, symbolic that the decision on enlargement to 10 countries would take place in Greece - the founder of European democracy. Graham Watson (UK), for the ELDR, criticised the arrangements that left the members of the national parliaments of the candidate countries listening for some 90 minutes to speeches before they could participate. …