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Why Does Europe Need a Constitution ?

Why Does Europe Need a Constitution ?

Remarks by Michel Barnier, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Vilnius University. Vilnius, Lithuania, February 10, 2005. Source: Quai d'Orsay, Paris.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Fifty-four years ago, on May 9th 1950, my illustrious and distant predecessor, Robert Schuman, suggested a method for Europe to heal its wounds and its divisions. Here it is, in a few famous words: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity".

This de facto solidarity, as we know, was not established rapidly, and certainly not spontaneously. It has experienced crises; it has slowed down and then restarted, and moved ahead.

But today, Europe has more than progress ahead of it. It has a Constitution. This is therefore another step in an already long history. But what a step!

Let us be aware of the message we are conveying to the world - a message of unity and of action. Here, in Lithuania, where the outside world is so close, you can measure better than others the impact of the constitutional message on the new neighbours of the Union. And note that this message echoes just as strongly wherever I go, in the Balkans, the Middle East, and in Africa.

It resonates as far as the United States, which needs a strong Europe. With which it can fight terrorism. With which, in harmony with NATO, it can share the responsibility for peace and security in this part of the world. With which it can manage the politics of our ever-increasing economic, commercial and environmental interdependence.

This is why the constitutional issue is important to all of us, but not just to us. It is not a matter for European domestic policy that each country - mine, or any other - can handle in a narrow, egotistical and egocentric fashion. The whole world was riveted on the US elections. Let us not doubt for one moment that, above all if the European Constitution fails, our collective image is in the balance.

  • In reality, we are faced with two questions.

The first is whether, yes or no, we want to adopt the instrument of this new Constitution.

The second, however, is to demonstrate whether yes or no, we have the determination to use this instrument to serve an ambitious project for Europe. And this project, over and above the deadline for ratification, must be given substance as of today.

  • The Constitution, an Indispensable Instrument bringing with it Unhoped-for Progress

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Though I am not a venerable diplomat, I have taken part in the preparation of three different European treaties, three negotiations and three intergovernmental conferences. This constitutional treaty is the fourth European treaty project in twelve years – 1992, 1997, 2001, 2004, one every four years, or almost.

We need a Constitution that is a long-lasting treaty. For a decade, the European Union has experienced permanent negotiations, intermittent IGCs and, in practice, a certain institutional insecurity. This situation must be remedied permanently.

The Constitution enables this. It even does more than this – it enables us to re-found the original pact, put it back into perspective, by re-validating all of the existing provisions. This is far-removed from the Nice treaty. This treaty has been of service, since it enabled you to join us.

But it is already behind us - today we must commit ourselves via a new Treaty of Rome. A new era is dawning, marked by a constitutional break. And on the starting blocks, there are no longer new members or founding States. We are all becoming, Lithuania and France, Germany and Poland, and all the others, re-founding States.

Above and beyond this, thanks to the work of the Convention, which prepared 95% of the final text, thanks to certain improvements contributed during the intergovernmental conference, this instrument has many advantages. I will cite four of them.

  • First advantage: this Constitution represents real progress for the democratisation of the European Union. It was prepared by a Convention that was pluralist from an institutional and political point of view, and its work was public and transparent.

The content of the text itself enhances the democratic nature of European integration: consolidation of the prerogatives of the European Parliament; recourse to the double majority for qualified majority votes at the Council; creation of the right of citizens’ initiative; increased control by national parliaments and the Committee of the Regions over the legislative activity of the Commission.

  • Second advantage: this text contributes, as never before in our common history, a certain amount of progress for the people of Europe.

To enter into and remain in the Union, a State must adhere to certain values, such as non-discrimination, respect for minority rights, solidarity, and gender equality. Full employment and social cohesion are found among the aims of the Union, on which its policies are founded.

Integration of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution places the respect of certain social entitlements under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. These include, for example, protection in case of unwarranted redundancies, the right to strike and to belong to trade unions, the obligation to inform and consult employees, and even access to public services, which will be able to be protected and recognised by European law.

  • Third advantage: the Constitution will make the Union more efficient.

It reduces the scope of the right to veto. Not enough? Probably not. But the text provides bridges that we can use to go further.

It also carries out an unprecedented overhaul of our instruments, procedures and above all the jurisdiction of the Union, which is currently unclear for its citizens.

Finally, the Constitution supports and facilitates the implementation of enhanced co-operation. This point is one I believe is crucial for the future - I will come back to it.

  • Fourth and final advantage: the Constitution provides the Union with the means to exist on the international stage.

It provides a legal status with which to conclude international commitments. It provides high-level political representation with a stable President of the European Council and a Foreign Affairs Minister supported by a European External Action Service, carrying out tasks that are currently artificially separated between the Council and the Commission. Our global counterparts should finally know who to talk to to talk to Europe.

And, last but not least, after decades of maturation, European defence policy is finally acknowledged. This policy is no longer an idea or a theory. With the creation of the armament agency, it becomes real. It proposes a solidarity clause for all members of the Union, in the case of a terrorist attack, for example.

With this policy, the Union finally shows a unified face, and asserts its vocation to carry out all the duties entrusted to it, with no taboos. We can now explain to citizens that Europe is also watching over the security of Europe - which I believe is the least it can do.

  • Do We Have the Determination to Use this Instrument to Serve a Project ?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With my experience of several treaties, I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best European text devised for a long time, perhaps since the Treaty of Rome.

It places better tools, new tools to build Europe, in the hands of Europeans. Lithuania is well aware of this, as the first country that chose to approve the Constitution. I would like France to follow suit very soon.

I do however know of a proverb that says: "a bad workman blames his tools". The Constitution is a quality tool. Let’s be quality workers!

As a citizen and politician, I have bitter memories of the first years of the common foreign and security policy. It had only just been defined by the Maastricht Treaty, when it was revealed to be powerless in the Balkans. Was this because it was imperfect, still badly organised? That is a possibility, but I am not one of those workmen who blame their tools. It was not the CFSP that failed in the Balkans up until 1995 but the will to use and to impose it. Without this will, nothing could be done.

If, tomorrow, the will to bring the European project to life is not there, the same will happen, and the Constitution will become a false hope for Europe's citizens.

Let us ask ourselves frankly, right now, above and beyond the constitutional issues, the central question of the European project. Let us listen, during the ratification campaigns, to what citizens expect from Europe. Let us assess what we have done, and what remains to be done in the future, with the help of the Constitution.

  • Building the Union as a Human Society

My first observation is a simple one - the European Union is not yet a reality in human terms, a society.

At present it remains an area, in which European action attempts to close divides and remove disparities. The role of the major solidarity policies – cohesion, rural development – is to support the development of Lithuania and other countries. The only thing I can wish for, for you and for Europe, is that you cease to be beneficiaries as rapidly as possible, following the example of the remarkable growth of Ireland.

For the rest, and despite this concrete funding, the Union is not an area that is familiar to all citizens. Few Europeans choose to live elsewhere in Europe than their native country. This remains an adventure fraught with difficulties. One had to be a little demagogic at heart to assert, as many in fact did, that the accession of new members to the Union would see, in the space of a few months or a few years, their populations taking the route West.  

It is legitimate for each society, each nation to intend to keep its identity. Indeed, this is a right, and the Constitution recognises it as such. It is not to you, who have fought for it for centuries, that I will teach the importance of identity. Indeed, I appreciate the fact that you accepted that I speak in French today. It is in a way my contribution to linguistic plurality in the European Union…

But let us be honest! Our diverse and scattered societies face the same challenges - the challenge of migration, the challenge of demographics, the social challenge, the environmental challenge, the challenge of security. For the outside world, even if this does not please us, we form a single, relatively homogeneous entity.

  • This is why several ways are open for European action.

We can control and choose our immigration, rather than being subjected to it by selecting common criteria, by guaranteeing rights, by controlling access jointly to the European territory - the qualified majority vote could help us in this.

We can define, by pushing the Lisbon strategy further, a development model that takes into account demographics and social balances, and lay the foundations for a more homogeneous European society displaying greater solidarity.

We can accelerate the synchronisation of our police forces and legal and judicial systems to guarantee greater security for European citizens. The European Council of 5 November 2004 made real progress in this area, such as the European criminal record.

And yet, one of the major challenges of the years to come still has to be faced - that of controlling the Union's external borders. This is mainly an issue for the States. But this could be an ideal opportunity for them to work more closely together and pool their efforts. We must be aware that, in this area, what happens at the Union's borders concerns all members.

In any case, this is a first project for the future - organise the awakening of a European society in which citizens have true common reference points available to them.

In passing, this raises a difficult question - how can European citizens identify with or at least feel familiar with an entity that is constantly expanding, with the risk of appearing limitless? This question, with that of the possible accession of Turkey, has become an "existential" one for the Union.

In reality, the question of Turkey is that of our definitive border in the Southeast - do we want this border to be internal or external? What is the best choice for us? That is the question.

This question also applies, under different conditions, to the new Ukraine. I think it is extremely important that Lithuania and France, along with Poland and Germany, have wished to voice together far-reaching and common ideas vis-à-vis Ukraine. As from today, Europe is proposing to Ukraine a plan of action aimed at bringing it closer to Europe. Europe understands Ukraine’s hopes. This action plan forms the basis for a genuine partnership, with genuine rights and genuine duties. It is Ukraine’s challenge to implement this partnership.

  • Provide the Union with an Economic Policy

A second project is to provide the Union with an economic policy that matches its economic and commercial activity and its currency.

By this I do not mean economic governance - which also remains essential. The issue is that of agreeing on a common vision of our economy.

Is the stability and growth pact sufficient to achieve this? It is undoubtedly a necessary element of the solution, but probably not sufficient on its own. It will need to be adapted, as the European Commission has understood.

  • A more ambitious response, in my opinion, is in three parts.

Part one: think about new fields for European economic policy. Can we, sustainably, conceive of the European economy without a certain tax convergence, without a certain homogeneity of social rules, when these are clearly extremely important factors for economic activity? We need to assert, as the people demand, that the Union is not simply a large market that is indifferent to their rights and their problems. We need to show that Europe can support its economic development with the right dose of regulations, political will and redistribution of wealth so that development benefits the greatest number.

Part two: provide ourselves with the means to build a common vision, not limited to the sole issue of the Community budget. In the coming months, we will have heated debate to establish whether this budget should represent 1% or more of the gross national income of the Union. We shall see.

But I am convinced that with control over expenditure, we can make the Community budget more effective in areas that are important for growth. And in parallel, in some areas such as education and research, we must co-ordinate much more closely and concretely the power of our national budgets.

Part three: the content of our common policies must not be set in stone, but evolve with our needs. The question is not whether we need "more" or "less Europe". But is it not time, for example, for competition policy to take into account new criteria, such as the requirements of a European industrial strategy? Is it not time to support this policy, which is insufficient on its own, with new regulatory elements? For industry and for the services sector, the central issue is that of our collective capacity to improve our competitiveness and maintain employment in the face of the economic emergence of the major Asian countries.

Over twenty years, we have successfully made the European Union into a true single market. But have we really built a European economy that is not simply a juxtaposition of our national economies? Not yet. More than harmonisation, we will need a true determination to ensure the convergence of our economies above and beyond purely financial criteria. This determination is objectively the antithesis of the belief that tax or social competition encourages European integration.

  •  Assuming the Union as a Global and Political Player

Finally, the third project – perhaps the most fundamental one – is to enable the Union to become a true global and political player.

Probably subconsciously, the Union has already crossed a decisive threshold towards this, in a short space of time. It proposed and enabled the creation of the Quartet in the Middle East. It has successfully led civilian and military operations in the Balkans. It has played a peacekeeping role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In reality, Europe's security is currently experiencing a strategic parenthesis. NATO can be the framework for joint action. But first, among Europeans, we have to define our own security strategy.

The Union can be the framework for this vision. European security strategy asserts this ambition, as does co-ordination within the SITCEN or around Mr. de Vries.

Let us not lose sight of the aim, which is to decide what we, as Europeans, want. The sole area in which we are approximately sure of this at present is trade. The comparison stops there. Europe's foreign and security and defence policies will be the fruit of our diversity or they will not exist. The Union's diversity is seen in the ambitions, capacities and history of its members.

This is why we have much to contribute to one another. France knows Africa and the Middle-East well. We need you to better understand Belarus and Ukraine, and to improve dialogue with Russia. Together, we possess all the elements of a common vision, in order to act.

  • Act? Certainly, but how?

With a few clear principles in mind: compatibility with NATO; the action of the Union potentially available to serve NATO or the UN; a system where participation means weighing up this participation; and where the weight corresponds to the participation.

And finally on one condition, which does not depend on us alone - that of a re-launched and rebalanced Transatlantic dialogue. Americans and Europeans must trust one another. And Europeans must be confident in themselves.

There is a long list of issues of insecurity and instability that concern us all - conflicts or countries frozen close to us, in Europe and the Caucasus; destabilisation of the Near and Middle East; African countries in conflict; proliferation; terrorism; not to mention the number one world threat, global warming.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been rightly said that this Constitution is the last chance for a united Europe.

Yes, it is a great opportunity - to enable all those who want to and who can to light the way to the common path.

I have always believed that precursors are needed. They have always existed: Schengen, the single currency! It is truly better that they be within, rather than outside the framework of the European Union.

I am convinced that with a methodical effort to explain and inform, that the people, after the States, will unanimously decide to bring this Constitution to life.

This will be my conclusion - the European cause remains, and will for some time yet, the responsibility of the States that compose Europe. They cannot pretend to believe that, with or without a Constitution, European integration will happen spontaneously. It is their responsibility to co-ordinate, to imagine and to ensure that progress is made. There is nothing pre-destined about Europe. All the States can lead our common ambition.

Never before in history, nowhere in the world, has a project similar to the European project, built on peace and not on force, seen the light of day. No other continent has assembled to become, voluntarily, not an empire, but a community of nations. The European project must continue to be an example for its time. Let us be unanimous in giving Europe its constitutional chance.

Thank you./.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).