EUROPEAN UNION: Priorities of the Dutch EU Presidency
Bernard Bot

On June 23, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Bot and Dutch Minister for European Affairs Atzo Nicolaï presented the priorities of the Dutch EU presidency  to international media gathered in Brussels.

2004 is a historic year for European integration. On the first of May, ten countries joined the European Union, finally ending the partition of our continent. Just a couple of days ago, the leaders of this enlarged European Union managed to agree on a new constitutional treaty that will make it more effective, more democratic and more transparent.

I would very much like to compliment and thank the Irish Presidency for its determination and effectiveness in accomplishing these monumental tasks. It has provided the first illustration that twenty-five member states can work together successfully on important issues such as the constitutional treaty. The Irish deserve great credit for that.

The Dutch approach, during our upcoming Presidency, can be summed up in two key terms: realism and ambition.

We choose realism because of our demanding agenda. The Union must learn to work effectively and sustainably with twenty-five member states. A new Commission is to be nominated and a newly elected European Parliament will hold its first working sessions. Meanwhile, being a good organiser and chair, and helping the new member states to integrate quickly and effectively into the decision-making process, will be quite a task in itself.

We choose ambition because the geographical, institutional and financial scope of the EU are growing. The Presidency will be expected to provide leadership within the expanded circle of member states in the Council and in its relations with the Commission and the European Parliament. The vision this requires is reflected in our priorities, which I will describe in a moment.

We face these challenges against the backdrop of disappointingly low voter turn-out for the last European elections. European integration relies on the support of the general public. We must explore new ways of communicating Europe in order to keep the public on board.

Before discussing our priorities, I should point out that they are not the result of solitary Dutch contemplation, but firmly based upon the operational programme for this year that we developed in cooperation with the Irish Presidency. In even broader terms, they are embedded in the multi-annual programme which was approved late last year.

The Union`s agenda for the next six months will focus on the following five key policy areas: (1) enlargement, (2) freedom, security and justice and (3) an effective external policy (4) sustainable growth, (5) the future budgetary system.

Making a success of further enlargement
First of all, enlargement. There are major decisions to be taken about Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. We are aiming to conclude negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania. A decision on starting negotiations with Turkey is due in December. On Croatia`s candidate status, a decision has just been taken and acquis screening will begin over the next six months.

Our role is to carefully guide these processes, making sure that our decision-making is fair, transparent and sustainable. We must stick to the positions we have taken at earlier European Council meetings.

Freedom, security and justice
Secondly, the European Council on 5 November will have to address further development in the field of freedom, security and justice. Five years after Tampere and the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Commission has presented an evaluation. The future Justice and Home Affairs agenda will build on this evaluation.

A major emphasis here is terrorism: fighting its financing, implementing a Justice and Home Affairs package that includes closer cooperation between intelligence services and expanding the Council Secretariat`s Situation Centre. We will try to take further steps towards harmonisation of asylum and migration policy, and in judicial and police cooperation, we will focus on implementation and operational issues.

The ongoing JHA programme aims for progress in areas like repatriation, integrated border management, biometry, the Visa Information System, the EU drugs strategy, and integration.

External relations
Our third priority area is external relations. Since the accession of ten new member states, expectations about the Union`s role in the world are higher than ever. The Dutch Presidency will try to meet these expectations by continuing work on the current wide ranging agenda, with a clear emphasis on four topics.

First of all, when it comes to cooperation with third countries, relations with Asia will be our focus. Summits will be held with South Korea, China and India. Unfortunately, ASEM ministerial meetings have been cancelled due to the Burma issue. The EU and its Asian partners must find a solution quickly before the ASEM summit in October. We cannot let Burma hold relations between the EU and Asia hostage.

The EU has an obvious interest in maintaining good relations with Asia`s emerging market economies. But political interests are also at stake; think of non-proliferation, regional instability, human rights, good governance, terrorist threats and diseases such as AIDS.

Another emphasis in our external relations will be the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is a primary source of tension between the Muslim world and the West. It must therefore be at the top of our agenda. With the US and our other partners in the Quartet we have a common goal on this matter. The region is clearly indicating that it wants to see Europe play a more outspoken role. European engagement is in our own interest, but also in the transatlantic and international interest.

We cannot impose peace, but we must help the Israelis and Palestinians to break out of their downward spiral. That will require entering into an intensive dialogue between them. It also implies that the final outcome, including the borders, must be the result of mutual consent by both parties, not of a unilaterally imposed dictate.

Several summits taking place this month are focusing on our relations with the Mediterranean and the Middle East: that includes the G-8; NATO, and EU-US summits. The G-8 declaration is highly compatible with the EU`s Barcelona process. Ownership is essential; we cannot impose change. The reform of the family code in Morocco is a good example of an encouraging development, and was brought about by the Moroccans themselves. In the words of the departing OIC Secretary General Dr Abdelouahed Belkeziz, it is `evidently high time for the Islamic world to take a decisive position on democracy since much hinges on that position, if we are to move away from being the passive objects of others` influence to the active agents of a positive influence on international affairs.`

Our third emphasis in the area of external relations will be the multilateral system. That system has truly been put to the test over the past few years. And it has proved to be indispensable, as we have seen in Iraq.

Strengthening the multilateral system is an integral part of the EU security strategy. We only have to look at the fight against terrorism to understand the necessity of robust multilateralism.

We look forward to the conclusions of Kofi Annan`s High Level Panel on UN Reform. States must consider new ideas in order to fulfil their responsibility to contribute to global peace, security and prosperity - our responsibility to protect. We must think hard not just about military intervention, but about preventive diplomacy as well. We should try to enhance the role, the duties and the powers of the UN Secretary-General, as he is the guardian of the common global interest.

The European Security and Defence Policy, our fourth and final emphasis, is also in rapid development. In these coming six months, a great deal of attention will be devoted to the first major EU-led crisis management operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to the further development of military and civilian capabilities.

Alongside these four priorities, summit meetings with Russia and the Ukraine will permit the Union to intensify relations with these two big neighbours. We will also look for possibilities to contribute to a solution of the so called frozen conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus.
Sustainable growth
Our fourth priority is sustainable growth. The economy is finally showing signs of recovery. But further structural reform is essential to accelerate this recovery and make it permanent. Sound economic policies are needed. The principles of the Stability and Growth Pact must be respected and new member states should be included in the Pact.
As for the Lisbon Strategy, the EU must focus on implementing the conclusions of the March European Council. The report of the High Level Working Group chaired by Wim Kok should play a major role in preparations for the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, which is planned for March 2005 under the Luxembourg Presidency.

We will devote special attention to reducing the administrative burden for enterprises - in other words, to cutting red tape. This burden is in part collateral damage from the internal market, but national legislators are also responsible. Enterprises would benefit hugely from less red tape. We acknowledge the hard work that the Commission has already put into this effort. We want to take it a step further, with a methodology for assessing the costs of the administrative burden. We also look forward to working with the Commission on a substantial package of measures for simplifying legislation.

In addition, the Dutch Presidency plans to focus on a number of initiatives that can tangibly improve competitiveness, such as completing the financial services action plan and modernising the social policy agenda.
The new Financial Perspective and Agenda 2007
Now for our fith priority: a new multi-annual financial and budgetary framework. The current framework draws to a close in 2006. The European Commission has indicated that it aims to present its new package of recommendations to the member states this month.

The Dutch Presidency plans to ensure that negotiations proceed as smoothly as possible. The Presidency will work towards the adoption of guidelines and principles in this area, so that negotiations can be completed on time in 2005.

Cultural exchange
But the EU is much more than a round table for negotiating positions and deals. . Europe is about ideas and values. Exploring and debating those ideas and values is a prudent step, all the more so in the enlarged Union we live in today. We will sponsor a series of conferences aimed at promoting that debate.

Europe is a union of cultural diversity. And the recent enlargement has magnified that diversity. In that spirit, the Dutch Presidency will present a programme of exchange in art and culture between a number of new member states and the Netherlands, entitled Thinking Forward. We will also present, in collaboration with the European Commission, an exhibition in Brussels by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas on the image of Europe.

As I mentioned, the public image of Europe is becoming ever more important. We will follow up on Ireland`s praiseworthy initiative, and respond to the conclusions of the June European Council, by focusing special energy on communicating Europe to the citizens.

This is a historic year for Europe and a historic Presidency for the Dutch, if only because it will most likely be the last Presidency in the traditional form. Our aims are ambitious and our mindset is realistic. For the sake of our economy and our security, realistic ambition is what our citizens ask of us today.