Our noble heads of state and government have finally reached agreement. After a lengthy tussle, the draft treaty on a European Constitution was approved by the 25 members of the Council. But it is far from home and dry: it remains unclear whether national parliaments and the citizens of certain countries will give their backing, particularly in countries such as the United Kingdom and Poland, where voters unequivocally demonstrated their Euroscepticism during the European elections. Agreeing the wording of the Constitution was not a ‘historic’ moment; the historic moment will come when the Constitution enters into force, and we may have to wait a while before that happens.
Power to the Parliament
While agreement about the Constitution was reached, albeit painfully slowly, thanks to the astute role played by Ireland in leading the negotiations, we waited in vain for the important decision regarding Romano Prodi’s successor as President of the Commission. The squabbling behind closed doors in Brussels over several days was a perfect illustration of the Union’s biggest problem: the obfuscated power games between the heads of state acts as an insulator between the people of Europe and their European executive. How can we ever build a political Europe to which people can relate if new names such as Barnier, Barroso, Vitorino or Cox, emerge every few hours from the Brussels round table behind padded doors – names of people that most Europeans have never heard of? The muddled wrangling of Europe’s great and good makes one particular point very clear: if the EU wants to move beyond a mentality based on national interest and wants to overcome internal trench warfare of the kind we are seeing once again between Transatlanticists and Federalists, then the Parliament – as the democratic body and forum for public debate – must be granted a key role, and not just in appointing the President of the Commission. Provided a candidate is eventually found, he needs approval of the European Parliament in any case. Hans-Gerd Pottering, Chairman of the European People’s Party was entirely justified in interfering in the bickering over the top job by proposing Chris Patten, a man who can point to backing from the largest parliamentary group, even if to do so was to incur the wrath of the French President. ‘I am not a member of the EPP and not bound by their decisions,’ moaned Jacques Chirac who, on account of his nigh-on aristocratic attitude, apparently forgot that he is most definitely a member of the UMP, itself a member of the EPP group.
Now, we can take our own view of Chirac’s argument – that the President of the Commission must be from a country that is both inside the Eurozone and the Schengen area (thereby eliminating candidates from 14 EU countries at a stroke) – the will of the people, as represented by the Parliament, trumps the personal opinion of a head of state. The parties ought to have taken the opportunity, even before the election, to come out in favour of a particular candidate: anyone voting for the SPD in Germany ought to know which potential President of the Commission the Party of European Socialists (PES) would support; likewise, anyone voting for Forza Italia has the right to be told about EPP policy before the election. In a Europe of 25, it is competition between ideas and concepts that should determine political life, not national interest and Bismarckian nepotistic alliances. The fruitless bickering over the top job in Brussels results in the Eurosepticism that we come to regret after the election.