European non-governmental organisations, rooted in European civil society, want to build a European Union for the new millennium to serve the ultimate goals of peace, sustainable development, welfare and participation. A better European Union is built only through long-term planning, interaction with the citizens and a firm commitment to the key European values. These values are democracy, peace, equality, the struggle for participation and inclusion and a commitment to universal human rights. To pave the way for the new millennium it is necessary to realise global and ambitious reforms of the European Union. This reform can be achieved only through transparent negotiation, democratic control and permanent dialogue with civil society, with increased access to information, public participation and justice.
The greatest challenge of the European Union for the New Millennium is to ensure peace in the continent. War - never again! The tragic events in West Balkans has shown the European Union and its citizens that the best way to build a society is to invest in democratic principles, openness, human rights, sustainable development and welfare. The European Union must improve its own capacity in crisis management by civilian means. The non-governmental organisations have a lot to contribute to this work. When contributing politically and financially to the reconstruction of the West-Balkans the European Union should make democracy arid human rights training, civil society and the youth work its key priorities. Special attention should be paid to children, youth, people with disabilities and women - those groups most vulnerable during and after a conflict situation. The European Union must continue to insist Russia seeks a lasting, peaceful solution in Chechnya. The Union should increase humanitarian assistance in the region and Russia must allow this aid to reach the refugees.
The European non-governmental organisations are glad to contribute to the conflict prevention and crisis management by offering their expertise and networks. The younger generation should learn to live their lives without hatred and mistrust. The European Union and its member states must follow the norms set by the United Nations and act together with the Council of Europe and the OSCE in ensuring democratic security an the whole continent. In doing so the Union will best serve the purpose many Europeans feel is still the main goal of the European integration lasting peace. Therefore the Union must develop its common foreign and security policy in coherence with its other policies by promoting long-term conflict prevention and participatory democracy.
NGOs in Europe in general are committed to human rights and the rule of law. These are the two main reasons why we cannot accept defence policies based an weapons of mass destruction. The refusal of US Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has jeopardised the entry into force of the Treaty and has reduced the possibility of the Review Conference of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in spring 2000 achieving concrete results. We call on the European Union to take a more active role in nuclear disarmament, to promote multilateral negotiations an these issues in the UN and to support initiatives like the New Agenda Coalition. The International Court of Justice has already outlawed nuclear weapons since June 1996.
The concept of European citizenship, which came into the acquis communautaire through the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, needs more substance. The low turnout in the last European elections speaks for itself. It is clear that the European project needs a citizens' agenda so as to become relevant to the citizen. The EU must develop policies to contribute to those issues, together with the member states, to the problems which remain the most pressing in out every day lives - employment, education, welfare and a healthy environment and to creating a Europe which is tolerant and free of racism and xenophobia.
The European Union and the Member States must develop a robust employment strategy. This strategy should meet both the environmental and social criteria and must be supported by adequate resources to fight the scourge of unemployment through various methods including the encouragement for entrepreneurship through small and medium sized business. The Amsterdam Treaty's new Chapter on Employment and the National Action Plans, which have followed the Amsterdam Summit on Employment, are a welcome step forward. Therefore, European institutions and Member States, acting together with the social partners, should also involve NGOs more in these processes.
According to the decisions of the extra-ordinary EU Summit in Tampere, the Union is preparing a Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Charter, including the civil, political, social, economic and environmental rights, should comprise the full set of rights guaranteed by all international instruments relevant in this field, in particular the 1951 European Convention an Human Rights and the 1996 Turin Revised Social Charter. There is a strong support among the European NGOs that the Charter must be linked to the European institutions and the Member States and must be an essential part of the new Treaty of the European Union. The views of NGOs, trade unions and others in the third sector must be taken into account in the elaboration of this charter. European NGOs should have observer status an the drafting committee.
Specific attention must be paid to the welfare of women, children, migrants, the elderly, minorities, and people with disabilities to improve the quality of their lives and to enhance opportunities for the development of their full potential. The expertise of these groups, in their NGOs, has to be taken into account in the planning of policies targeted towards these groups.
In order to fight social exclusion, the European Union has to develop a Poverty Strategy, wich takes into consideration the specific needs of different regions. Tighter environmental directives and development in food safety and consumer protection is also necessary to guarantee that the people within and outside the EU will be able to enjoy a healthy environment and food safety.
The European Union has to show greater coherence in its policies. This is necessary especially in external relations with vulnerable states, such as developing countries and Eastern and Central European countries. The European Union must ensure that the principle of coherence is implemented in practice between development co-operation and other policy sectors, for instance trade and agricultural policies. The EU's policy has to have a poverty focus. It has to make the fight against global injustices, poverty and environmental degradation as one of its key challenges in all policy sectors. In order for this fight to be effective, it is vital that the European Union takes third countries as equal partners. It should promote full participation of civil society, also of the third countries, in the dialogue. This requires sufficient financial and human resources directed at social development.
The European Union also needs to implement this partnership an global trade, financial and political fora. It should actively promote the realisation of mechanisms similar to the Tobin tax in order to stabilise short-term financial allows that negatively affect the local economies of the developing countries. The European Union and its Member States should also show a firm commitment to debt relief of the least developed countries, bilaterally and multilaterally. The Union must also demonstrate a strong commitment to Core Labour Standards by ensuring a linkage between trade and these key rights at work (the right to belong to a trade Union, the right to one's childhood, the right to non discrimination and the right to be free of slavery). In particular it must work to ensure that the World Trade Organisation during its forthcoming round of negotiations takes no measures which contradict existing international conventions and agreements regarding human rights, labour standards or environmental protection. It must also ensure that the highest priority is given to safeguarding the interests and needs of the least developed countries in the international trade system.
In the protection of the environment, the EU has to be a leader and show global responsibility. In this sense, fulfilment of the Kyoto target - as well as other international environmental agreements - will be the first challenge. The basis of the European climate and energy policy has to be extending the use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and biomass, energy efficiency and stabilisation of motorised traffic. Biodiversity loss is a major environmental problem world-wide, particularly in areas that are known as "biodiversity centers", i.e. Indonesia and Amazonian rain forests. Species lost today will never come back. The EU must prevent measures that contribute to a further loss in biodiversity. As part of its global responsibility, the EU must take a critical look at trade liberalisation and devise its policy in order to avoid the negative effects of
globalisation, such as the undermining of social and environmental standards and increased pressure an the environment.
The enlargement of the European Union is a historic step forward of great importance for the Union. We stress the commitment of European civil society to the enlargement, a process that must actively include the citizens of the Union and those of the new applicant countries. The European Council in Helsinki should treat all applicant countries objectively and therefore invite more countries to the accession negotiations. The Summit should set a clear timetable of EU membership for those countries which are able to meet the membership criteria's.
The European Union has to ensure that in the forthcoming programme period 2000-2006 enough political and financial resources are allocated for the civil societies of the applicant countries to encourage a comprehensive debate on how to ensure a smooth transition to accession. It is also important that co-operation projects are developed between grass-root civil societies of the member states and the new applicant countries in order to promote common European values of democracy and human rights and to build links between organisations. This investment should not take place at the cost of other external partners of the Union.
Millions of Europeans are involved in civil society organisations as volunteers. The participation in civil society is crucial to the construction of a democratic and accountable European Union. One of the most important contributions of an active civil society is to enrich political discussions by presenting new perspectives and thereby strengthening democracy and to be a link between the citizen and the institutions of government. A new chapter an the relationship between NGOs and the institutions of the European Union has to be written in the Treaty. The next revision of the Treaty should include this legal underpinning of the principle of civil dialogue between the Institutions of the European Union and NGOs.
Immediate improvements are needed on the transparency of the Council to secure access of citizens and their organisations to the decision making bodies and planning mechanisms of the European Union. It is also urgent to ensure that the funding policy of the European Union in various programmes and projects is fair, with equal access and is based on quality and representativeness. The administrative efficiency of the European Commission (including a prompt payment policy) must be improved. The European Union and its member states must ensure that the special status enjoyed by the third sector and the NGOs in obtaining funding from public sources is lawfully guaranteed and not jeopardised by any future legislation of the internal market.
The information policy of the Commission on the applications and decisions must be developed to become swift and accessible. The Community should also encourage its member states to provide adequate programme funding to their NGOs. The key role played by the NGOs has to be fully acknowledged in the forthcoming IGC to ensure that the voice of the civil society is heard in the planning and implementation of policies of the European Union.
We welcome the initiative of the European Commission of a Communication to the Council on the relationship between European institutions and the non-governmental organisations. We confirm our readiness to enhance this important co-operation. We wish to be actively involved in the further elaboration of this Communication.
National preparatory committee
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