Building a safe European home; Podium

From a speech by the President of Finland to mark Europe Day, delivered in Turku, Finland
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IN RECENT weeks Europe has been experiencing a brutality that had been believed to belong to history. People are being driven from their homes and made refugees. Extreme nationalism has brought enormous suffering to innocent civilians. Albanians who have fled Kosovo put a face on this suffering. For them, reaching a safe place is a welcome relief, but it does not get rid of the pain caused by injustice, cruelty and being violently expelled from their homes. The events in Kosovo pose a serious question to us: how can we build a common European home if ordinary Europeans have no right to a home of their own?

The most important goal of European integration is still that of building and strengthening peace. There is no peace in Europe unless human rights are respected in every part of the continent.

Europe is integrating and the EU, as the locomotive of this development, has enlarged. The benefits of integration have not yet been distributed evenly throughout Europe. In Western Europe we have been able to enjoy the fruits of co-operation. In Central and Eastern Europe democracies are being built now that the restrictions of the Cold War have been removed. In Russia and many other parts of the former Soviet Union, the work of restructuring society has only just begun. In the Balkans we see hatred between neighbours, violence and massive floods of refugees. We are a good way along the road of integration, but when we look at the challenges of the new millennium, we have taken only the first steps.

Today the Union faces major challenges, internal and external. The Kosovo crisis has shown how important it is to find the most effective institutions and methods for preventing and solving crises that we can. The European Union is growing into a significant economic and political actor everywhere in the world. The European Communities were originally created because the integration that they promoted would make new wars both unnecessary and impossible.

This does not mean that the Union should not now, in new circumstances, have the capability to intervene, militarily if necessary, in crises that erupt in Europe.

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Union's common foreign and security policy will be developed by creating the post of High Representative for the common foreign and security policy, as well as a policy planning and early warning unit.

During the Amsterdam negotiations, the member states failed to reach agreement on developing the work of the Commission, increasing the use of qualified-majority voting and adjusting vote weightings. The resignation of the Commission has brought the need for administrative changes more sharply into focus.

The Commission's work should be made more effective especially where external relations and resource management are concerned. The portfolios and directorates-general should be reorganised. I would propose a system in which the President of the Commission is assisted by two vice-presidents responsible for broader totalities, ie external relations and management of resources. They and the Commission members responsible for the appropriate sectors would constitute a distinct team. Where external relations are concerned, changes of this kind would facilitate cooperation between the new Council's High Representative and the Commission, as well as between the Commission and the member states.

European integration is going through a rough period, but it must not end. Far from it! Right now, Europe must be able to shoulder central responsibility for taking care of the massive refugee problem. A lack of co-ordination between international organisations and instances of downright negligence were contributory factors in the delay in getting effective relief work under way in the region.

There has been a proposal in EU circles that a stabilisation conference for south-east Europe should be arranged. The various parties participating would draft a comprehensive long-term plan to strengthen peace, human rights and democracy in the region. That would make it possible to begin a development that would give the countries of the region and their citizens an opportunity to participate in European co-operation and share its fruits.

Over the long term, integration and enlargement of the European Union are the best guarantees of peace. They likewise help create the conditions that are essential for broad co-operation encompassing the entire continent.