Cecilia Malmström: Those of us who care about Europe must fight for its future

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The Independent Online

Sweden is assuming the European Union presidency in a difficult and very special time. Europe is facing a number of challenges, where citizens rightly expect the EU to deliver on results. If the EU is to be successful in meeting long-term challenges, the union will need more reform and modernisation. One of the keys here is to get a new treaty in place. One of the remaining obstacles to this was removed a couple of weeks ago, as the German constitutional court gave a green light to the Lisbon Treaty. It is now the Irish people who will have the final say.

The Lisbon Treaty is a tool that will make decision-making more effective. But it will also deepen democracy by giving more power to the European Parliament and increasing the influence of national parliaments on the union's agenda. Transparency in the work of the institutions will increase, which is and has always been a priority both for Sweden and the Netherlands.

A second key is a modernisation of the European budget. Today, 40 per cent of the budget is earmarked for agricultural subsidies, which is simply not reasonable. If we are serious about meeting the challenges, we must use our resources in the best possible way and adapt the budget to citizens' reality. In the upcoming review of the long-term budget, we will need to give priority to areas where common action is needed, which also means cutting back on areas where there is no, or limited, European added value.

Just over a month ago, citizens in 27 member states elected the 736 members of the European Parliament. In Sweden, turnout increased from the lowest level in the old member states to just above the European average. This increase is, at least partly, the result of hard work. Still, I am far from satisfied, since more than half of the population abstained from voting.

I am even more concerned about the situation in many other member states, where turnout went down compared to the elections five years ago. Those of us who are engaged in European politics need to do some serious thinking on people choose not to use their right to vote, and how we can fuel the interest in the European elections in the future.

This is an extract from a speech given by the Swedish Minister for EU Affairs on Tuesday at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations in The Hague, Netherlands