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Considering the Future of Europe

Considering the Future of Europe

Source: Letter from Hubert Védrine, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. Paris, 8 June 2000.

Dear Joschka,

I read carefully the speech you delivered on 12 May of this year at the Humboldt University in Berlin to express your personal views on the objectives of the European Union and the future of its institutions. As I said immediately, I thought this was a welcome initiative, coming at the right time. Since I became Minister of Foreign Affairs in June 1997, I have felt that the consequences of future enlargements were not being assessed properly by European public opinion and that it was high time to study the best way of tackling them. I would now like to let you have my personal comments on this issue.

This major enlargement from 15 to 27 or more was both made possible and necessary by the return to democracy of Central and Eastern European countries. To succeed, it must be well negotiated and prepared. Even then it will bring about a change in the nature of the European Union which will experience an upheaval, unlike previous enlargements when the Union's membership increased from 6 to 9, from 9 to 10, from 10 to 12 and from 12 to 15 in the space of 20 years. The problem facing us today is unprecedented in the history of the construction of Europe owing to its magnitude, its complexity and its implications.

How can a Europe of 30 or more be made to function? I asked this question at our first meeting in November 1998, saying that, in my opinion, this challenge would soon dominate the entire future of Europe. No improvised, careless or even ingenious answer can be given to this question. It can only stem from a true, loyal, comprehensive and democratic debate. No one can, a priori, pretend to hold the key to this issue. It was time for this debate to start. In this respect, the decisions we took at the Helsinki European Council last December with the other EU Member States had a triggering effect. In accepting to open negotiations with six new candidate countries in addition to the six candidate countries with which we opened negotiations in 1999, and in accepting to register Turkey's candidacy - a country whose "European calling" was recognized back in 1963 - we helped a large part of public opinion to become aware that the major enlargement had begun, although no one is capable today of saying in an arbitrary and abstract way on what dates any of them will in effect join the Union, as from January 2003.

Pragmatic solutions were proposed initially to the issue of the functioning of an enlarged Europe. Countries wishing to should be free to join forces to implement concrete, variable geometry projects together without having to secure the participation of all Member States. This without questioning the acquis communautaire, i.e. common policies and the single market rules which bind all Member States. Many initiatives, ranging from Airbus and Schengen to the euro, were taken in this way in the history of European construction, long before the introduction of the legal term "enhanced cooperation". This mechanism, as introduced into the Treaty of Amsterdam, is subject to so many preconditions as to make it unworkable. Provided it is made more flexible it is still, however, a possible solution allowing escape from the enlargement-paralysis cycle.

Nevertheless, several present or former European political leaders think this will not be enough to avoid paralysis and that we need to go further. Over the past few weeks, they proposed that the countries determined to make a big leap forward into political integration should create a "hard core" or a "vanguard" together. This is tantamount to accepting the idea, that was challenged vehemently for a long time, of a two-speed Europe. This is the line you adopted, after Jacques Delors and others, by suggesting the creation, in stages, of a "centre of gravity" that would one day become the core of a future federation.

Firstly, I wish to say that I think it is quite legitimate for the German Minister of Foreign Affairs to express himself forcefully in this debate. And the timing also seems to be right. Although this was a month and a half before the start of the French Presidency, once again, the public debate on this was launched at Helsinki. The IGC opened in February and I fail to see why the other European countries, including Germany, should wait for the end of French Presidency and the IGC to hold a public debate on the Union's long-term future. On the eve of its EU Presidency, France, however, is not in the same situation as that of the other Member States. Launching ideas on Europe over the long term and usefully presiding the Union are two different but equally necessary things at a time, moreover, when we will have to conclude the difficult institutional reform.

The role of the country holding the presidency is to do its utmost to get EU Member States to seek together the most ambitious solution possible. But given European decision-taking rules, this decision must be consensus-based. It is not possible to fulfil this responsibility and at the same time put forward a project which is most likely, as can be seen already, to reveal and stir up the deep divisions between Member States.

Clearly, therefore, France and Germany are in different situations with different roles to play, while showing the same determination to make Europe go forward. That is why, at Rambouillet, the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Ministers concerned found it easy to agree on the fact that the success of the IGC in Nice was the prerequisite for all further, subsequent progress. This does not mean it should be concluded at any price. Should the Fifteen fail to agree, despite the efforts of the French Presidency and full support from Germany, on the reweighting of votes, qualified majority, the size of the Commission and enhanced cooperation, what would be the point of speculating about or even clashing over the possible future of Europe in 10 or 20 years? The IGC is a test of Europe's determination to implement reforms.

In this respect, working together as we have done since Rambouillet towards the convergence of French and German positions on the issues on the IGC's agenda is the greatest service we can do together to the Europe of today and of tomorrow. Shunning this immediate responsibility and focusing solely on the long-term debate would have been just as irresponsible as refusing to hold it under the pretext that we have a more urgent task to fulfil. We need, therefore, to work simultaneously to ensure the success of the IGC and to advance the debate to which your recent contribution attracted a lot of attention.

As we were able to note in the statements of a number of French commentators and politicians, not only the idea of "federation" no longer frightens people, but is even quite appealing. It seems bold, it seems simple, it seems effective to ward off the spectre of paralysis. Many reservations or hostile arguments seem out of date at the time of globalization. In addition, elements of federalism already exist, as for instance the Court of Justice and the euro. So, why not? Yet this state of mind and diffuse sympathy do not justify support from the key political leaders of a country for such a radical upheaval without very careful consideration. All the more so as the federal solutions suggested by people here and there differ on key aspects.

It seems to me therefore that the best way of proceeding at this stage would be to avoid theoretical controversy about the various meanings of the word "federalism", to formulate the precise questions that come to mind in order to define better the points that need to be clarified, and to seek the best possible answers by democratically weighing up their advantages and disadvantages, as I have attempted to do below.

- How should the members of the eventual hard core be chosen? Could we envisage drafting a predetermined list, as in the case of the 1994 Lammers-Schauble document? This is an error which you have not made. Should it be decreed that the members would be the six founding countries, those of the Rome Treaty? Certain countries, however, which do not belong to the six initial ones, have let it be known that they definitely intended being members of any hard core. There is a further hypothesis: that the hard core should be made up of the 11 euro countries. But some day those 11 countries will be 12, 13, 14 or more, rather a large number for a core group. Strengthening economic policy coordination among the euro countries is absolutely necessary but will not automatically entail strengthened political integration. This means that the euro area is different from the Schengen area and that of Defence Europe. The most convenient solution could be access on a voluntary basis or free access to an open core group. But if everyone wants to belong to it, would it still be a core group and in what way would its members go further compared with other ones?

- The second question is even more decisive: what competencies might possibly be devolved at the federal level, to do what and managed by which institutions? And, in consequence, what competence would be retained by nation-states?

I noted that you took the precaution, and rightfully so, to recall that the disappearance of nation-states was ruled out, since you are aware that many Europeans are still deeply attached to this framework of identity and democratic life. This is essential for France, inter alia. But what will nation-states be left with in the end if one envisages electing by universal suffrage a federal President who would conduct the Federation's foreign and defence policy under the control of the Federation's Parliament? What role would still play the Heads of State and Government of the countries having joined the Federation? To put it bluntly, for how much longer would there be a President of the Republic and a Prime Minister in France, a Chancellor in Germany, and a Head of Government in the other countries? It is in this respect that the debate, which is obscured today, should become explicit. It is not enough to affirm that one wants to and can reconcile the creation of a Federation with the maintenance of nation-states. In a spirit of subsidiarity, it is necessary to see whether it is possible to determine precisely what must go on being managed - or be managed again - at the national level, and what would be managed at the federal level.

This delimitation is indispensable. It is in effect the rightful role of a federation to organise this delimitation, and those who advocate a European constitution also share this objective.

But the debate must be clear on this point also; does this merely entail codifying the sharing of competencies between the Federation and Member States, or does having a federation imply major transfers of sovereignty within new areas, and if so, which ones? Justice? The police? Defence? Foreign policy?

- This raises the issue of the nature of government, of a possible form of government. Would it be formed on the model of the Commission as we know it today, i.e. along classical federalist lines? In this case, the problems we are very familiar with would undoubtedly reappear, namely legitimacy, transparency, efficacy and political control. Or would this government stem from national governments, such as the present council of ministers, as a hypothesis for a sort of intergovernmental federalism, an option you introduced into your speech, notably following our conversations, and which would be more acceptable from our standpoint? Would this be a revival at federal level of the current dual structure consisting of the Commission and the Council? All these points need clarification.

Related question: which parliament would control this federal government? The present European Parliament? The national Parliaments? A parliament with two houses, as you suggest, one of which would be made up of elements from the national parliaments, would this be an interesting idea to study further?

- This brings me to the question of the articulation of the different tiers of power in Europe, where there are three such levels today. Assuming there would be a Federation preserving the nation-states, there would be at least four tiers of power in Europe:

  • the regional or local authorities (with several tiers of their own);
  • the nation-states, with their executive, their legislature and their legal machinery;
  • the Federation, with its President, its Government, and its Parliament;
  • the enlarged European Union, having retained its Council, its Commission, its Parliament, and its Court of Justice.

Whereas European public opinion is calling for more clarity, simplicity and readability, as expressed by those asking for the drafting of a constitution which they hope will clarify the situation, this would bring about the piling up of structures and the entanglement of powers in an even more inextricable way than today. This overlap between institutions would soon become unbearable and this difficulty would be resolved by the disappearance of the national level. We must be aware of this as it poses to most existing national States and their peoples an identity- and democracy-related problem of dizzying proportions: we should remember that, unlike in the United States, there are nations in Europe. One can also hope, as you imply at the end of your speech, that one day the Federation would merge with the entire Union, however unrealistic this may seem.

Today, I think that ensuring the success of the IGC - notably by making the possible forms of enhanced cooperation radically more flexible, this being the first stage of your plan - is the best way of revitalizing the Union, of giving it once again a dynamic vision of its institutional future while providing the instruments for subsequent progress, however far-reaching. This without spotlighting all the European contradictions nor turning an institutional malaise into a crisis. This is also a way of giving those who would really want to take political integration further the time to prepare for it. This is what I suggest we do. We will soon find out which countries are interested in one or several forms of enhanced cooperation in key areas.

I think that the concepts of Federation and of a Federation of Nation-States are at the core of this debate. Does this boil down to the same thing in the end, namely classical federalism? If so, we are heading for deadlock. Or conversely, the concept of a Federation of Nation-States, an original path opened by Jacques Delors and which you are now following, contains the seeds of a different solution that provides a satisfactory answer to the questions raised above. This is a path to be explored.

It is only by holding a long, transparent and loyal debate on all these issues between us, the French, and the Germans, and also without keeping out all the other European countries concerned, that we will succeed in better determining core and related issues, and in sorting out practicable solutions from impracticable ones. In any case, those solutions which will enable us to square this circle in the end will have to be original, as none of what has been achieved, none of what has been successful in the construction of Europe ever corresponded to predetermined policy./.


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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).