Geert Bourgeois at the #CoppietersAwards

"Scots put internal enlargement and independence on the agenda," says Geert Bourgeois at the #CoppietersAwards

News / 31.1.17

Last 14 December 2016, Centre Maurits Coppieters foundation recognised Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party (SNP) International Affairs Spokesperson, at an award ceremony in Brussels for his service to Scotland and Europe with the first ever Coppieters award to honour individuals and organisations that stand out in defence of diversity, rights of minorities, self-determination, peace, and democracy in united Europe.

The Coppieters award ceremony featured, speakers from across Europe, including Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of Flanders. You can read his full speech below:

FULL SPEECH by Geert Bourgeois Minister-President of Flanders and Flemish Minister for Foreign Policy and Architectural Heritage:

“Mr Chairman, Members of the Bureau and of the General Assembly, Members of the Advisory Scientific Council, Guests, But above all, Mr Salmond,

For my part too, I sincerely congratulate you on the Centre Maurits Coppieters foundation award. It is the first time that this distinction has been awarded, and I hope that you will be the first in a long line of recipients.

As you know, Flanders and Scotland have long had close ties, and still maintain intense relations. Not least because both nation states have long been striving for self-determination, for independence.

You have played a prominent part in that self-determination process for Scotland for 40 years. In the spirit of Maurits Coppieters, you do that as a nationalist in a democratic manner, with respect for cultural diversity and cooperation in a united Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In an open country such as Flanders, the international context increasingly determines the domestic agenda. Partly for that reason, Flanders wishes to conduct a confident international and European policy. In the imminent post-Brexit era, we will have to find a new balance with the remaining Member States with a view to a better Europe.

In the Flanders vision statement on the future of the European Union, we advocate a more efficient, engaged and vigorous Union. In order to preserve and strengthen its legitimacy, the EU must be built from the bottom up. It must seek a connection with the citizen and continuously demonstrate the added value of its activities.

Therefore, the EU should take into account the aspirations of the European peoples. National and regional parliaments are the emanation of such aspirations. The Government of Flanders believes strongly in the principle of subsidiarity. It ensures that the European Union is built from the bottom up, rather than top-down. If the EU could manage to establish the link with national and regional parliaments, this would go a long way towards addressing the mistaken idea that the Union is some kind of “centralising intangible hand”.

Earlier this year we had excellent debates within the Flemish Parliament with Commissioners Marianne Thyssen and Cecilia Malmström defending their policy proposals within the heart of the Flemish democracy. That’s exactly what we need. That’s the kind of Union that listens and argues the need for EU action, while taking into account the specificities of each of its peoples.

Multi-level governance must be geared to take account of that firmly rooted and rich diversity. Article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union determines that the “Union shall respect […] their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government.” For the Government of Flanders, this therefore implies that the EU should maintain an absolute respect for language, culture and the rich diversity of Europe. It also means respect for all the peoples in the EU.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Flanders is already doing much to have its voice heard in Europe. As the only federated state – together with Scotland –  we are setting up our own Flemish Reform Programme in the context of the European Semester. We deliver this Programme directly to the European institutions.

In general, Flanders wishes to report directly to all the EU institutions and enter into dialogue with them wherever possible. By means of position papers we communicate priority EU dossiers at EU level. For example, we believe that the Juncker Plan, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, requires greater additionality and should invest more in cross-border infrastructure projects. And our proposal to spread writing-off of sustainable investments over a longer period than the construction phase is sufficiently known at EU level.

In this year of 2016, around 40,000 European civil servants work in Brussels. This is a boon for Flanders. The Government of Flanders wishes to make its positions even better known at every level of the EU civil service, including via the Vleva network of Flemish EU officials.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since European policy is also domestic policy, it is only logical that, in a multi-level Union, other federated states too wish to weigh more proactively in European policy. I am thinking not only of our Scottish friends, but also of those in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Bavaria.

Last year, Flanders and Catalonia undertook to strengthen the role of the federated states in the European project, with a view to cooperating on a Europe of citizens which is built from the bottom up. During a visit to Scotland at the end of last year, First Minister Sturgeon and I agreed to cooperate in the future.

Both the Scots and the Catalonians have put a particularly important item on the agenda: internal expansion and independence. Mr Salmond himself once put it thus: “Nations are nations if they feel themselves to be a nation. And Scotland overwhelmingly feels itself to be a nation”.

In the event that a new referendum in Scotland should lead to independence and the Scots vote for EU membership, the political issue immediately arises concerning membership of the EU. The EU membership of a former federated state should be automatic.

Federated states of Member States, which become independent by legal and democratic means, should enter the EU with a simplified entry procedure. That is the standpoint of my government.

Indeed, the inhabitants of that new country are already EU citizens with the associated rights and freedoms. Their enterprises, research and knowledge institutes enjoy free trade and form part of a Member State, which by definition complies with the acquis communautaire or European Union Law.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Salmond,

I conclude by again congratulating you on your award. I wish you every success in representing Scotland’s interests in foreign affairs within the United Kingdom and – if the Scottish people so wish – within the European Union.”