Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1994 - 2002)
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The Irish and the Dutch get along very well. Two seas separate our two countries, but seas no longer represent meaningful barriers between people. Our contacts have intensified considerably from the moment Ireland joined the Common Market.
Nevertheless we can still do better. That in itself, but not that alone, Madam President, is a reason to be grateful for your visit.
You have been invited to speak about European integration and cultural diversity. President Havel once wrote: ‘I believe that what one can term our fatherland has many layers: the family, the district, the town, one’s profession, circle of interests, faith, nation, european civilization and so on. If we isolate one of those layers and raise it above the others, that marks the beginning of human misfortune’. We must bear this in mind as we are moving towards further European integration.
European integration is not only an economic and political venture. It is also a cultural process; a process building on a sense of European cultural indentity, on the experience of European citizenship and on the growth of a spirit of European solidarity.
The real question is whether we will succeed in moulding the existing but rudimentary sense of shared European experiences into broadly based public support for the Union. The answer to that question will be crucial for our common future.
The tension between unity and diversity, between the familiar and the different, is typical of Europe. In an ambiguous way, this is also the heart of European integration. We want more unity in Europe but we also want to retain or even strengthen our local and national identities. It would be wrong to interpret this tension as a flaw in the European edifice. The Europe we wish to build is a Europe in which diversity can be accommodated. Not a Europe of uniformity.
European integration is not just an autonomous process. It has to be seen against the background of a more integrated, interdependent world. National sovereignty and national capacity for effective action lose a great deal of their meaning in a strongly globalizing environment. This is the case today in Europe. Ever closer cooperation between the member states has in may ways become the only way in which we can advance our interests effectively. However, the roots of the European Union have nothing to do with globalization. They lie elsewhere; in the profound desire – 40 years ago – to banish war from our continent for all time and to increase the prosperity and well-being of our citizens.
The European Community was one of the first post-war regional organizations in which national sovereignty was pooled to some extent. It is now the most advanced one. The European Union is a solid construction, but is is far from complete. Europe will have to change to endure. Our European house will have to be extended and become more solid.
Improvements in the way the Union functions are possible and necessary.
The Irish government did an excellent job during the latter half of last year, when Ireland held the Presidency of the European Union. Ireland produced a general outline for a draft revision of the treaties that we are now working from; it contributed to the preparations for the third stage of the Economic and Monetary Union; it also invested in preparing the way for the enlargement of the Union.
Ireland put the theme ‘Europe and the citizen’ squarely on the agenda. This is important, because for many people European integration remains an abstract concept apparently far removed from daily life.
Integration will only really contribute to the improvement of the life of our citizens if it has widespread public support.
The Dutch Presidency builds on that agenda. We seek to meet two vital challenges in particular.
One concerns the transition to the third stage of Monetary Union, i.e. the introduction of a common currency. The other relates to the accession to the Union after the turn of the century of many more member states from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area.
The coming enlargement of the Union is of vital importance. It will be the largest extension of the Union ever and will greatly advance the ideal of an undivided, unified Europe. The Berlin Wall has been brought down. What we have to build now are bridges: bridges between nations, between regions, between our peoples. Enlargement is not an easy process. The new member states will have to accept all the achievements of the Union. The present member states will have made institutional and procedural changes that will make enlargement possible.
The existing structures and procedures have remained essentially unchanged since the days of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, when the European Community consisted of six member states only. At present, with 15 member states, the speed and effectiveness of our decision-making show shortcomings. In order to accommodate a future Europe with 20 to 25 member states, our institutions and procedures must be streamlined. They must be reformed and equipped to enable us to absorb all these new member states at the beginning of the next century without loss of efficiency and effectiveness.
The construction of the European Economic and Monetary Union is the other top priority. The establishment of EMU is proceeding accor¬ding to schedule. That is why the public debate about the introduc¬tion of our common currency is intensifying. The advantages of the Euro are clear.
The Union will become an even more stable and attractive region for foreign and domestic investment. In order to attain these objectives, the Euro must be a strong currency. It remains vital that we do not depart from the original plans. Both the timetable and the convergence criteria must be adhered to in full. It is equally necessary that prudent policies of financial discipline be retained after the introduction of the new currency.
In view of the enlargement of the Union and the third stage of EMU, a successful conclusion to the Intergovernmental Conference, culminating in a solid and substantial Treaty of Amsterdam, is important. We will pursue that aim as energetically as we can, thus preparing the European Union for the 21st century for the benefit of its peoples.
Respect for human rights and fundamental individual liberties are at the heart of a democratic society. In a democracy it is the voter who confers legitimacy on the political system. People indentify with their own states. The state is perceived as concerning itself with matters that are closely connected with the well-being of the individual. People find it more difficult to see the Union in this light. The Union is further removed from most people’s daily concerns. It must therefore strive towards more democratic legitimacy. This means that we have to develop possibilities for improving the involvement of both the European parliament and the national parliaments.
Ireland and the Netherlands are active member states of the European Union. We are both convinced that the process of European integration must go forward.
Some of the original founding fathers of the European Community strove for the realisation of the ideal of a United States of Europe. However, Europeans are strongly rooted in their own national histories and traditions. Europe will never be a melting pot of people like the United States. As General de Gaulle once remarked: ‘Nations are hard-boiled eggs and you cannot make an omelet with hard-boiled eggs.’ We must take account of the numerous cultural identities that are such a defining feature of Europe. That cultural diversity is our great wealth. It must be maintained and preserved.
We are all very eager to hear your views on European integration and cultural diversity. I would like to stress, in conclusion, that we have to do our utmost to spread peace, democratic values and prosperity across Europe. That is a moral obligation to our neighbours, and in the interest of our peoples too. At the same time we want to cherish our rich cultural diversity.
We can and must combine these two wishes in a harmonious way so that Europe will be a peaceful, prosperous, just, tolerant and colourful home for all: young and old, men and women, black and white.
Together we can make our European dream come true.