The Austrian Presidency has organised a conference to discuss how the EU can be brought closer to its citizens and what contributions regions, local authorities and national parliaments can make.
Opening the two-day conference “Europe begins at home” on 18 April in St. Pölten (Austria), the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel said its aim was to “address the public’s concerns and fears and answer their questions”. EU institutions and member states were asked to examine which tasks could best be carried out by the regions and member states themselves and which ones should be left to the EU.
To counteract “creeping centralism”, Schüssel said: “We need stronger regions and stronger local authorities as a counterweight […] We want to make the debate on the future of Europe more concrete. We are striving to achieve a new balance and trying to make the added value of the Union more tangible."
Michel Delebarre, President of the Committee of the Regions, said that the principle of subsidiarity remained the only method for the EU to regain the confidence of the EU citizens. But it should not “become a weapon that backfires on us by locking us into conflicts of jurisdiction”. “Better lawmaking” could be achieved by early consultations of the regions, impact assessments and early warnings passed on from the local and regional authorities on laws likely to involve heavy administrative or financial costs.
Paavo Lipponen, speaker of the Finnish Parliament and former prime minister, said that national parliaments should have a greater say in EU affairs. At the same time, subsidiarity alone would not solve all problems, since the quality of EU legislative acts – which often were too detailed – needed improvement. The Finnish parliament had been conducting subsidiarity checks for ten years, but without finding a single violation, he said.
Although the conference is seen as part of the debate surrounding the revival of the EU Constitution, several speakers emphasised that improvements could be made without it.