By Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, the French ambassador to the UK and Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador (THE GUARDIAN, 22/01/08):
This is a very important year for the EU and its member states. After last year's unanimous agreement on the Lisbon treaty, one of the most important issues in all member states will be the treaty's ratification. Clearly, each country will conduct its own debate according to its own political traditions.Yet one of Europe's main achievements today is the free flow of people and ideas. Arguments exchanged in one country are closely listened to in others. As ratification begins in Britain, the extended debate at Westminster will be followed with keen interest in France and Germany.
Our nations face daunting global challenges that we know we cannot address on our own: ensuring a competitive and climate-friendly economy, providing for affordable and reliable energy supplies, combating illegal migration, and fighting terrorism and organised crime - as well as meeting the challenges created by the growing economic and political clout of the major emerging countries. Tackling these issues is the responsibility of national governments. Yet sovereignty depends on the capacity to act. The single market and European cooperation enable European governments to deliver better outcomes; and as, for instance, the EU role on climate change proves, they give us sufficient critical mass to be an effective global player.
In this regard, the Lisbon treaty will considerably improve the EU's ability to implement decisions in the national interests of member states. A streamlined commission will help us to give more focus to what the EU does, as will a more effective European council with a permanent chairman and the end of the rotating presidency.
The Lisbon treaty will enhance the democratic nature and scrutiny of EU decision-making processes: the weighting of votes in the council is revised to reflect each country's size more accurately; the division of competencies between EU level and member states is made clearer; and national parliaments will play a greater role.
When cooperating on foreign policy issues we enhance, rather than diminish, our sovereignty, because by pooling our resources we carry more political weight. Currently, for example, the EU strives to end inaction in Darfur, maintain stability in the Balkans (especially over Kosovo), devise a meaningful solution to the crisis over Iran, contribute to the Middle East peace process, and foster a desirable and durable relationship with Russia. By streamlining the institutional arrangements, the Lisbon treaty will make it easier to achieve these and other objectives in partnership with our transatlantic friends.
Of course, member states have specific concerns that need to be respected. With its common law system and position outside the euro and Schengen areas, Britain has a number of such concerns. This is why Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy were ready to accept special clauses for Britain. The EU is, and will remain, united by a common history, shared values and a commitment to a common future.
The Lisbon treaty successfully concludes a comprehensive institutional debate. By rendering Europe more efficient and democratic, the treaty enables us to keep Europe's door open to new entrants and to better cope with the challenges of an interdependent world. The EU of tomorrow will be what we make of it. The treaty is an excellent blueprint for working and growing together, while still retaining our identities, as we continue to build Europe.