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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
EU Commission President Romano Prodi
European Commission President Romano Prodi
European Commission President Romano Prodi answered your questions in a LIVE forum.



Mr Prodi has controversial ideas about the future of the EU, calling for all foreign policy to be run by Brussels.

He's also been critical of the economic performance of EU member states, saying they're holding back progress and expansion.

Mr Prodi oversaw the launch of the euro and is central to negotiations on a future EU constitution.


Transcript:


William Horsley:

Hello and welcome to this BBC Interactive forum. Today, we're joined from Brussels by the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi. He is here to answer your e-mail questions about the European Union.

Mr Prodi oversaw the launch of the euro and of course is central to negotiations on a future EU constitution, both of which are the cause of deep controversy here in the UK. Mr Prodi believes the Commission should be strengthened to make it more like a government for Europe. What do you think? How much control should Brussels have? Will enlargement work?

Mr Prodi thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning. We've had hundreds of e-mails from all over the world. I'll start with one from one here in Britain. Simon Edge in Essex, who asks about the constitution: would you agree that all citizens of member states should be allowed to vote on and approve the constitution?

Do you believe there should be referendums in all countries?


Romano Prodi:

Well in theory I could agree but it's so difficult now to have a referendum on that. But in principle of course the idea of voting at the same moment, everywhere in Europe about the constitution, would be a good idea. But I don't think that we are ready - that the European governments are ready to do this. But in theory I should welcome it very, very much.


William Horsley:

At the same time do you believe that there should be a vote - a popular vote - for your position, that of President of the Commission? You've said that you'd like to stand again, would that be a good idea?


Romano Prodi:

Look, now this is the outcome of course, but how long you need to do that is difficult to say. For a direct vote you need strong campaigning - you need people going together in front of people and so there is a problem of language. Can you imagine a campaign with an Italian, or a Briton, or a Finn or a Slovenian for the position of President of the Commission - it is difficult to express themselves in front of the people with the same expression. So for a while, I think that an indirect election can be more honest in terms of democracy.


William Horsley:

Let's move on because here in Britain in particular, people are very concerned about the issue of whether this country should join the euro. We have a question from Stuart Bonar, London, UK who says: How do you react to the wilder reports in the British press that the EU is a threat to Britain?

But let me ask you first one from Chicago - DF in Illinois, who asks: What are the primary fundamental national rights that Britain will give up by signing up to this new constitution?


Romano Prodi:

The other countries they have come into the euro - they are national countries - euro is based on nations there is nothing happened so they've given up to their sovereignty and they will not give up their sovereignty to this if they sign the constitution - the problem is completely different. Do you want politically to make progress in the direction of European unity or you don't want this. Like the euro - do you want to get into the euro or not?


William Horsley:

And what is your idea Mr Prodi of what areas should be given more control by the European Union level or by the commission as opposed to by national member states?


Romano Prodi:

It's clear there is one sticking point. We have to put together things that the nation states are unable to do alone. Let's say the single market, foreign policy and defence - they must stick together. But put everything else in the hands of nation states or regions or cities. It's so clear because the problem is simple - what can the UK do alone or Germany do alone, or France do alone in a globalised world?


William Horsley:

But the question was, in what areas should Britain give up its national sovereignty. What areas should the EU take more powers over the member states?


Romano Prodi:

The clear coordination of economic policy, foreign policy and defence they might be together. But many other areas - culture, areas concerning technical aspects, all of that - they can be brought back to nation states. It is clearly the problem is not to include the number - to choose the powers, the aspects that cannot be performed by a nation state alone.


William Horsley:

Mr Prodi you said economic and foreign policy - on the euro which of course is a big topic - a hot topic - here in Britain. The decision is to be made by the Government announced within the next two weeks about Britain's immediate intentions on the euro. I've a question here from Tracy Horsburgh, Glasgow, Scotland: At present joining the euro doesn't seem very attractive, especially with the problems that Germany is suffering.

Another e-mail from Faisal Haq, Paris France who asks: Can the euro establish itself as a major global economic force without the entry of the UK into the euro?


Romano Prodi:

Well, the euro is already a global force in the world and this may be one of the reasons for the tensions between the United States and Europe. The euro is spreading everywhere and is becoming a strong cornerstone of international financial markets - this is clear. I don't say rate of exchange, I say how is it used in the international markets. Of course, I should like to have sterling in because it would be even more important. But it is a complete British choice. So I cannot neither interfere nor express any evaluation on the choice.


William Horsley:

Here, one concern from people in North America about the growth of the European Union's power in foreign and defence matters. One from Jay Paleja, in Toronto, Canada: With the fear of terrorism and national security at the forefront, what are the plans for a European Army or security force?

Do you back the moves by France and Germany for an independent military capacity for the European Union, independent of Nato?


Romano Prodi:

No - no, no, no, please the conclusion of the four countries meeting, is not independent of Nato. I never accept it but I do accept a European force inside Nato and I need it and the Americans asked us to have it in the past. They told me, when I was the Italian prime minister, please spend 60% of our budget and you have a defence capability of 10%. So I think that we have to put our forces together in order to be more efficient. Nato is an arch, there is the American pillar - we must be the European pillar. There is no need that the European army or European common defence is against Nato or is independent from Nato.


William Horsley:

But should there be a European Army?


Romano Prodi:

There is an American army - why not? I tell you why not - why not in the future - within decades maybe - why are we obliged to be inefficient and weak?


William Horsley:

Good, we've got hundreds of e-mails pouring in. Here's one from Stephan Grech in Gozo, Malta who asks: What is your vision for a united Europe in the light of the global threats like terrorism?

I suppose he may be referring to the splits within the European Union over the response to terrorism but also to Iraq. Can there be a united Europe with these deep divisions between France and Germany on the one side and the others?


Romano Prodi:

Please tell your correspondent, Europe was not split about terrorism. Europe is split about Iraq. But in the fight against terrorism, I personally had agreement with President Bush to coordinate all our efforts and we did it and everybody has been happy and the Americans have been grateful. Completely different is the problem of Iraq in which we were split. But please don't make everything foggy because otherwise we don't understand our policy. Iraq is one thing because there was part of Europe, well some European governments and the overwhelming percentage of Europe public opinion against the war. All Europe is against terrorism.


William Horsley:

We have an e-mail from Matthew, Bridgwater, UK: A Common EU Foreign Policy is a complete non-starter. You only have to look at the recent Iraq events to see that Europe-wide agreement on these issues is not going to happen.

You haven't faced that fact have you?


Romano Prodi:

Well look how many Nobel Prizes told me in the '90s that the euro was impossible and was against any economic rule? Of course now there two different opinions in Europe but what I want is to build one foreign policy in Europe in the future. We shall need time. But it will be in our common interest. Remember it will be in our common interest. Not now because we have a heritage of the past but I ask you to remember what happened about the euro.


William Horsley:

OK, Mr Prodi, onto current matters - the question of corruption and the fraud investigation going on about your own data agency - Eurostat. We have a question here from Colin Perry in Britain: How can corruption and bureaucracy be eradicated?

I suppose the sharp question is can you expect to have the trust of citizens in the European Union as long as there are big problems like this that are unclear?


Romano Prodi:

No, we open all our books, our functionaries took a step back, waiting for the controlling authority for a decision and if there is a mishap this will be put on the table. This is what we have done and I don't tell you that nothing happened. I don't know. But what I tell you is that we have opened all our books and making all the analysis and then we are ready to establish justice and to be severe but only if there are responsibilities.


William Horsley:

But this comes to the central question doesn't it of the transparency of a supra-national democracy which you would like to see - Thomas in Bolzano, Italy asks: Mr Prodi, what is Europe doing to increase the transparency of the decision making process in Brussels? There is a clear lack of control by the people.


Romano Prodi:

My answer - please my good citizen probably does not know what we have done because now all our decisions, also all our correspondence is completely available on the web. There are hundreds of thousands of contacts everyday on the web and if I can compare - this is not a scientific comparison - there is probably one or two governments in Europe that are more transparent than we are now and in the future we shall overcome that also. But I repeat that transparency is real and everything is completely available Please try it - the questioner should go on the European web and you will see everything.


William Horsley:

Can I just ask you myself, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who is chairing the convention, has said that the constitution that comes out may be the framework for a true European government with a cabinet, with a directly elected president and so on, perhaps in 50 years time. Is that your own vision?


Romano Prodi:

It's unavoidable - it depends, but I repeat a government does not mean that it is the same government as say the United States of America or others. Europe will be always a union of nations and people. So the nations will preserve a lot of their power but if we don't put together some essential decision in the economic and political field, we shall no more exist in the world - this is clear. Like it was for Venice, Florence or Rome in the Middle Ages. They didn't stick together and Italy disappeared.


William Horsley:

Very quickly on EU enlargement - vital of course for the member states involved. We have an e-mail from Sydney, Australia from Ted Tony: will countries joining the EU have the same rights as the current members?


Romano Prodi:

The same, same, same - nothing different.


William Horsley:

But that's not quite true - there's a period of up to 7 years when they won't be able to move and work freely in the new member states. And Mr Chirac, the President of France, has said they are junior members of the family.


Romano Prodi:

Look, please - they asked for adaptation. They asked also that we don't buy land in Poland for 12 years. We accepted it because you need adaptation because it was their request - for most part of the case, this is the situation. But starting from 1st May next year, there will be a commissioner for each new member state - equal rights and they are not junior. If you look at Poland, they are not even members and they have taken a lot of autonomy. They have taken it and I think it was their right to do it - like it or not like it because states are equal. And this is the reason now why the small member states are sticking together for the new constitution in order to preserve their role and not be overcome by the big states.


William Horsley:

Mr Prodi, President of the Commission, joining us from Brussels, thank you very much indeed.

I'm afraid that's all we've got time for today. But my thanks to Romano Prodi and all of you how have sent in questions. From me, William Horsley and the rest of the interactive team here in London, goodbye.




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