Why Europe will never be a superpower

From a speech by David Owen, the chairman of New Europe and former foreignsecretary, during a debate at the Oxford Union

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For most people who support new Europe, all of whom want the EU to prosper, we find much with which to agree in the Prime Minister's recent speech in Warsaw. He has rightly spelt out very clearly that "the primary sources of democratic accountability in Europe are the directly elected and representative institutions of the nations of Europe, national parliaments and governments".

For most people who support new Europe, all of whom want the EU to prosper, we find much with which to agree in the Prime Minister's recent speech in Warsaw. He has rightly spelt out very clearly that "the primary sources of democratic accountability in Europe are the directly elected and representative institutions of the nations of Europe, national parliaments and governments".

We in new Europe welcome his words on enhanced co-operation and his statement that the safeguards to ensure that such co-operation does not undermine common policies must be stringent ones. That must surely mean that it would be a major error to remove the single veto contained in the Amsterdam treaty on enhanced co-operation. The Government must stop peddling the idea of replacing the veto with a new provision where two countries would be necessary to exercise a veto. That is not a stringent safeguard.

The Prime Minister is correct to emphasise that the EU will remain a unique combination of the intergovernmental and the supranational. Yet his own soundbite, "superpower, not superstate", raises many questions.

We have experienced so far in our history only two superpowers, yet both of them - the USA and the Soviet Union - were also superstates. Now only America is a superpower. The EU's unique nature means that it does not now and is unlikely in the future to fit easily into the categorisation of "superpower". It is better to use a new term - "multipower" - for the EU, so as to stress that its power comes from multiple sources.

There is merit in the EU seeking to be able to project collective power. We do that in terms of world trade. We are starting to do that in foreign policy. And we have the prospect of doing that in defence. In foreign policy, the power is exercised primarily intergovernmentally, but, particularly in terms of development aid, there is a legitimate involvement of the supranational Commission. On defence, there is no legitimacy in involving the Commission.

A clear separation of powers will also be necessary for the Prime Minister's proposed second chamber of the European Parliament. It is sensible that such a chamber, made up of national parliaments, should be responsible for the democratic monitoring of the new defence and military initiative, and it would replace the Western European Union Assembly of National Parliaments to monitor the European Council's annual political agenda, if that suggestion is eventually adopted. Monitoring subsidiarity could then be shared between the new second chamber and the European Parliament

But the European Parliament will want to be very clear that this new forum does not overlap with their responsibility for democratic monitoring of the Commission over its supranational powers. What the European Parliament has to accept is a limitation of its creeping role outside its competence in relation to the European Council and the Council of Ministers.

The Prime Minister, while still downplaying the constitutional implications of the euro, appears to be moving towards New Europe's position when he accepts that the post-Nice agenda will be primarily constitutional and argues for a political statement of principles, not a legal document. That view, which we strongly support, will need to be upheld with conviction and courage over the next few years. It is hard to see how the British people will even consider supporting entry into the euro until that argument over the constitution, which is likely to culminate in another intergovernmental conference in 2004, is concluded.

If the Prime Minister would shift his timing for a euro referendum until 2005 at the earliest, he would find a much readier response within British public opinion for taking a positive attitude to our EU membership over the next four to five years.

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