Friday, May 28, 2004

Political Europe – the next step

"…this constitutional treaty will merely be the starting point in the transformation of Europe into a political union".

Reading the document "Building a Political Europe" is a chilling experience. Its purpose it clear – it sets out the next phase for the development of a "political Europe", a template for a European Union after ratification of the constitution.

The product of the "round table" comprising "eminent figures from political and academic spheres and civil society", it has been created on the initiative of Romano Prodi, and it pulls no punches – although you need to get as far as page 98 to understand the overall context.

Here, what emerges – with utmost clarity – is the admission that the constitution is only a first stage. "Real but limited progress" is the round table's verdict on that constitution, undeniably an important step forward. But it is not the end of the process. It is the beginning. Read their own words:

"The transformation of the Commission into the government of the Union has begun. For the first time, the Commission is losing its political neutrality. From now on its President will be elected by the European Parliament and chosen by the political majority that has won the elections.

"His status will be close to that of the head of government in a parliamentary democracy. His commissioners will no longer be imposed on him by the national governments; he himself will have the power to appoint and dismiss them, and he will thus be able to form his government team and determine the political line to be taken by it. These changes will make the status of the commissioners similar to that of national ministers.

"The Commission's overall political role will at last be recognised. Whereas under current legislation its role is limited to ensuring the proper functioning and development of the common market; the draft constitutional treaty entrusts it with overall promotion of the general European interest.

"The other institutions will also become more political in nature. The President of the European Council will have the task of the external representation of the Union (he will thus be the political face of Europe) and of ensuring that the political guidelines laid down by the European Council are put into practice.

"The Council will have greater decision-making capacity; the principle of qualified majority voting has been established and the qualified majority threshold has been lowered.

"In other words, the Council will become more supranational and less intergovernmental in nature, while the powers of the European Parliament will be considerably increased, in particular through extension of the co-decision procedure and by giving Parliament the 'final say' in budgetary matters".

However, the report goes on to say, the progress achieved by the draft constitutional treaty is not sufficient to lay the foundations of Europe as a political union. Whatever compromise is reached by the IGC, "this constitutional treaty will merely be the starting point in the transformation of Europe into a political union". A "second phase" is "both possible and necessary".

On the front of the document there is the caveat that the report "does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission". Furthermore, the commission, according to the Times "is so worried about the reaction to the report, received officially last week (although it is dated April 2004), that it did not announce its publication" Commission spokesmen have declined to answer questions on it and one EU diplomat said: "It's living in a fantasy world. This is now the time for a period of retrenchment and calm, which allows Europe to get ahead with things that really matter".

This notwithstanding, we have been here before. The history of European integration is replete with such reports, setting out objectives which, in part, have been fulfilled but which, at the time, were denied.

This report is not just a Europhile tract, but one initiated by and presented to the commission president and it represents a serious strand of thinking within the "project". It would be unwise to ignore it, or dismiss it. What starts off being dismissed as fantasy in the EU world has a nasty habit of becoming reality.

More analysis to follow.

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