It is all evident that quite soon will come the moment when the federalist-inclined politicians and countries in the EU will have to count themselves. Ideas for the future of Europe have literally flooded the European public domain in the beginning of the new political autumn, which also marks another season of the Debt Eurozone Crisis series. On September 12th, as euinside wrote, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made a bold step forward, during his annual state of the union address, calling, together with the short-term measures for ending the crisis, for debates to begin, initially on expert level, for drawing the way toward a federation of nation states. Although vaguely, he offered some ideas, like for instance his successor (or himself) to be elected directly yet on the upcoming elections for European Parliament in 2014.
According to him, the steps should be as follows: creating a genuine economic union, the work on which is under way; creating a political union, a major part of which is the creation of a European public space where the problems to be discussed from the EU perspective. For the purpose on the same day, the Commission proposed a reform of the regulation for the political parties who will be given the possibility to register as legal entities according to the EU legislation, to receive EU funding and to organise common European campaigns. As a third step, Barroso proposed the creation of a federation of nation states, explicitly insuring himself saying that this was not a super state and noting that such a federation should have a 17/27 dimension (meaning the correlation between eurozone members and the entire EU).
Only a few days after Barroso, with specific proposals in the same spirit came up the ministers of foreign affairs, united in the ad hoc Future of Europe Group, of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain. euinside has presented to you then the joint article of obviously the two leading ministers in the group - Guido Westerwelle and Radoslaw Sikorski of Germany and Poland. In the document, presented on September 18, it is explicitly noted that the opinions of the ministers in their report are personal and that not all participants agree with all the ideas in it. An important remark, given what the proposals are, as well as the time horizon.
When the crisis is over
"We believe that once the Euro crisis has been overcome, we must also improve the overall functioning of the European Union. In particular, the EU must take decisive steps to strengthen its act on the world stage". The idea of the Group is to go beyond another repair of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which is the official name of the euro area. The ministers believe that for many of the ideas legal foundations can be found in the current EU treaties but amendments will be sought too "if that is necessary".
One of the very important proposals is a change in the decision-making process, because the members of the Group believe that a European Union of 28 member states (with Croatia joining in 2013) will be getting harder and harder, especially when it comes to treaty changes and their entry into force. This is why, it is proposed more decisions to be taken with qualified majority. According to the Eleven, a minimum threshold must be introduced that should represent a significant majority of the member states and citizens, that would in the same time facilitate the entry into force of treaty changes. Such amendments should also take immediate effect in those countries that have ratified them. The Lisbon Treaty introduced a complex scheme of qualified majority on certain issues, according to which a decision is enforced when two thirds of the member states, representing two thirds of the EU population, approve it.
When the Fiscal Compact was agreed, however, which is a separate intergovernmental treaty, a new practise was introduced. In order to come into force, it had to be ratified by at least 12 eurozone members.
The eleven EU foreign ministers also believe that the European Commission president must be elected directly. Moreover, they propose he himself to appoint the members of his 'government'. This idea, however, is not shared by all the members of the Group. As a beginning, it is proposed what Barroso himself offered - yet for the 2014 elections every European political group to propose a candidate of its own for that position. It is also proposed the European Parliament powers to be raised further as it is the only EU institution whose members are directly elected and is considered democratic. The European Parliament has been insisting for years on the deepening of the European integration and on more federal steps. What is interesting is that the Future of Europe Group has taken into account the idea of British MEP Andrew Duff (ALDE), who proposed last year 25 of the MEPs to be elected directly from a pan-European list.
The proposal of the Group is not that specific. It only says that a (limited) European list must be created and to organise a public procedure for the appointment of a president of the European Commission. It is also offered the European Parliament elections to take place in one day all over Europe. The foreign ministers have borrowed another of Jose Manuel Barroso's ideas: "European political parties should work towards the building of a truly “European political space”, which would draw European citizens’ attention to key political issues concerning their common future". This is precisely what insisted on President Barroso a number of times during his address on September 12th.
Apart from the election of a European Commission president, it is proposed the institution itself to be enhanced so that it can effectively play the role of a motor of the community method. An option the ministers propose is the creation of specific clusters of senior and junior commissioners, but it is not clear what the purpose of that idea is.
A special focus is put on the EU's role on global stage, in which can be recognised the handwriting of Polish FM Radoslaw Sikorski, who long before he took the position of a foreign ministers insisted on deepening of the EU integration on a foreign policy and defence level. The eleven foreign ministers call for a "significant revision" of the decision for the creation of a European External Action Service, moreover - as early as in 2013. The high representative (at the moment this is British baroness Catherine Ashton) has to receive significant responsibilities in several key foreign policy areas. It is also pointed out that the EU should strongly enhance its Common Security and Defence Policy and to form its relations with the strategic partners more effectively. And if during the drafting of the Lisbon Treaty we were thinking that Ms Ashton's position is in fact of a foreign minister of the EU, it is precisely what is wanted now because the baroness continues to be a weak figure from the point of view of conducting a community foreign policy, the reason for which is not personal but structural.
In the long term, says the proposal of 8 pages of the ministers, must be sought more common decisions in the area of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), together with joint representation in international organisations (wherever that is possible), as well as a European defence policy. Some members of the Group insist that to include a European army, the document reads.
The Group deliberates extensively on the reforms of the eurozone as well, where there are not many new ideas, different from what has already been presented or what is being worked upon. May be what is new is that some members of the Group insist the Euro Plus Pact, from which everything started two years ago, to go from voluntary to legally binding. The pact, which caused furious debates in Bulgaria, although after Prime Minister Boyko Borissov took on his own the decision to sign it on behalf of the country, offers guidelines for conducting national policies in several sensitive areas like pension systems, labour market, the public sector wage levels, etc. An attempt for coordination of economic policies was made with the fiscal compact but the formulations remained too general and in no way binding. After his election earlier this year, French President Francois Hollande vowed to demand the introduction of common European measures boosting growth and employment, which in the end of the day led to the much weaker, in terms of legal powers (compared to the fiscal compact), Growth and Jobs Pact.
Again is revived the idea about the evolution of the just entered into force European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM) into a European Monetary Union in the context of the need for improving the functioning of the European financial markets. On this issue, a very strong role is given to the European Parliament.
And in the end, although quite generally, is mentioned the need the EU to be enhanced in one, recently proved quite vulnerable, area - the community of values. That community was seriously shaken by violations of European values in some of the newer EU members, like Hungary and Romania, but since recently Bulgaria as well joined this group raising the issue of experiencing significant problems with the media environment, as it became clear from the meeting of publishers and independent journalists with Commissioner Neelie Kroes in Sofia, during which was demanded (by the idea of euinside) the media environment to be included in the Control and Verification Mechanism, with which Bulgaria was accepted in the Union in 2007 and which is still active.
The eleven ministers have written only that, with a view to abiding to the main values, a "light mechanism" must be created and be introduced to empower the Commission to come up with reports every time when there are concrete proofs of violations of Article 2 of the Treaty of the EU, to make recommendations and to bring the issue to the attention of the Council. "It [the mechanism] should only be triggered by an apparent breach in a member state of fundamental values or principles, like the rule of law". It is not pointed out what precisely this mechanism should be nor what legal implications it should bring, but nonetheless it is a recognition that such violations will create problems in the future. And they already do destroy the confidence in countries where the EU is investing serious efforts and money in promoting precisely these values, like for example in the process of enlargement toward the vulnerable to namely these values countries in the Western Balkans, but also in building partnerships with the Eastern Partnership countries.
On September 12th, President Barroso called for the beginning of a dialogue on the future of Europe. Although the report of the Future of Europe Group lacks sufficient courage to appeal for federalism, it can be said that with it the discussions have been officially opened. By the way, the document mentions a number of times that the countries that want to benefit from the possibilities of an enhanced cooperation, must do it. In a similar spirit was Jose Manuel Barroso's statement, who reiterated as last year, that the future of Europe should not be defined by the slowest. So, it will hardly be a surprise if, as Chancellor Merkel wished, by the end of the year a new convent is convened to discuss all these and new ideas.