Reforming Europe needs vision
Podium; From a speech by the Austrian diplomat to the Federal Trust, in London
Taking a look at the preamble of the EC Treaty, we learn that the member states were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe". The preamble of the EU Treaty tells us that the member states are "resolved to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
The treaties contain objectives, and provide the legal basis for attaining them. But the treaties remain silent on the final destination. This concept of continuous development is seen as reassuring or threatening, depending on your viewpoint.
For federalists it is seen as a comfort that, even though only small steps are achievable at any one time, further progress will follow.
But from the "intergovernmental" viewpoint integration is a source of mistrust and fear. They see the sovereignty of member states under permanent attack by a power-hungry European Commission.
When the last IGC concluded its work at Amsterdam in June 1997 my reaction, as well as that of many colleagues, was a sense of profound relief.
The negotiating process of two years - if you count the reflection group - had been interesting, but also quite tiring and frustrating. The process of moving 15 divergent positions on dozens of different items towards a consensus on a final package is extremely slow and cumbersome. There is indeed a rather thin line between consensus and "nonsensus".
There is no doubt that there will be a new IGC. The question is only when, and with what kind of mandate - all the more so since Amsterdam, like Maastricht before it, left some unfinished business which already today - before Amsterdam is even in force - is leading to demands for a new IGC.
On the questions of the composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council and the extension of Qualified Majority Voting - the so-called Amsterdam triangle - the last IGC reached only an interim result - and even that was immediately put into question by a number of member states.
Institutional questions are often seen as the most difficult and intractable issues of Union politics. First, institutional questions are about efficiency, but they are inherently complex and extremely difficult to communicate to the public. Secondly, institutional issues are not just about efficiency; they are also about power.
Otherwise you might as well charge a consulting firm with the design of an institutional framework. What is at stake is the relative influence of the various institutions, but also that of the individual member states. Institutional issues are not just about efficiency and power, but also about vision.
Whether you consider an institutional arrangement as adequate or as thoroughly wanting, depends largely on what you believe it should deliver in the future. Very often power interests or ideological considerations come under the guise of efficiency arguments. Sometimes power hides behind vision.
Has the moment come when the EU can "settle down" in constitutional terms, in the sense that its dynamic constitution could turn into a static, and at the same time more elaborate, constitution (still in the form of treaties)? The clearer the final destination of European integration was spelled out, the easier it would be to shape, give the final touch to the European "constitution" and adjust it to the needs of the entity for which it is supposed to serve as a legal framework.
Although a lot of former supporters of a European federal state have given up the notion (if not their dreams), there would still be disappointment if anything less than a European federal state were defined as the final objective. And if it were possible to agree on "something less" - clearly falling short of a federalist state - that would not guarantee agreement.
So it appears that a successful outcome of such an exercise is far from being a foregone conclusion. It would, nevertheless, be an effort worth making; as soon as the current enlargement process becomes reality, there will be little time left for a broad discussion on democratic legitimacy, and changing the European "constitutional" foundation will have become even more difficult than it is today.
Arts & Ents blogs
What a wonderful way to end this momentous series in the 50th year of Doctor Who. From the start of ...
Let's talk book blurbs, those quotes you get, usually from other writers, that are meant to entice y...
Fela Kuti, Jewish food and The Great Gatsby are just some of the reasons why the rainy weather ahead...
- 1 Heading for America? Prepare for the longest US immigration queues ever
- 2 Notes from a small island: Is Sealand an independent 'micronation' or an illegal fortress?
- 3 You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
- 4 'Swivel-gate': Cameron goes to war with press over 'swivel-eyed loons' slur
- 5 It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.