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EU: Prodi Sets Out Powerful Vision Of Further Integration

Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, has delivered a controversial speech setting out positions on some of the most sensitive issues that face the European Union. Among other things, Prodi says the commission should have a greater role in decision making. And he says target dates should be given to candidate countries negotiating EU accession.

Brussels, 4 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Romano Prodi, in a keynote speech yesterday in Strasbourg, was attempting to win back the initiative that the European Commission has lost to EU member governments.

Since a new commission was sworn in a year ago, the debate on Europe's future has increasingly shifted away from the commission in favor of EU member governments.

To regain some of the initiative for the commission, Prodi took a stand on many of the most difficult issues facing the EU today: from the problems associated with enlargement to the way the EU conducts its foreign policy.

On the issue of enlarging the EU to take in new members from Central and Eastern Europe, Prodi says the EU must give candidate countries clear and binding timetables for accession.

In the past few months, interest in enlargement has waned, partly for domestic political reasons and partly from fear it could dilute the degree of integration achieved by present members. Most EU member governments have said no timetables can be discussed in the foreseeable future.

Prodi also repeated his call for the EU to be ready for enlargement in 2003 in keeping with earlier promises made by member governments in Helsinki last December.

Addressing one of the most sensitive topics, the future shape of the EU, Prodi comes out in favor of a "two-speed" Europe in which member states can choose the pace and extent of integration with which they are most comfortable.

Prodi says no one should prevent a group of willing members from achieving a closer union as long as others can also join. This is especially sensitive for Great Britain, Denmark, and Sweden, all of which stayed out of the euro-zone and fear further exclusion.

Prodi also says urgent reforms are needed in the way the EU makes its final decisions. More weight should be given to the European Commission, which is independent of EU member governments, and the European Parliament, which is the union's only directly elected body. He says the present trend toward increased cooperation between national governments at the expense of EU institutions is a mistake.

He advocates the concept of "dual legitimacy," meaning that important decisions have the support of both the European Parliament and member governments. He says the EU's core democratic values were jeopardized this year when 14 member states bilaterally froze relations with Austria without consulting the parliament.

Prodi also criticized the current system under which EU member governments nominate a high representative for the common foreign and security policy. Prodi says current High Representative Javier Solana enjoys the support of the commission, but he says he believes the post should be integrated into the European Commission.

So far, most EU member governments have fiercely resisted curtailing their sovereign rights in the areas of foreign and defense policy.