Not out of the woods yet

Article published on June 23, 2003
community published
Article published on June 23, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A few steps in the right direction have been made but Europe has not yet found enough strength to solve all of its problems. It will be up to our generation to provide the final burst of speed.

At a time in which the world seems to need Europe more than ever, the old continent has inevitably failed to reach the objective of constitutional reform which would confer it with true political subjectivity on the international stage. There seems to be little room for doubt in the matter if stated in these terms.

If, however, the conclusions of the work of the European Convention are judged, perhaps a little more realistically, on the basis of the 'meagre' mandate that it originally received (and which was greatly exceeded) and of the difficult political conditions around which the convention had to work, then the perspective changes appreciably.

In praise of Giscardian pragmatism

The truth is, however, that it will only be possible to make a definitive judgement on the effectiveness of the Convention after the Intergovernmental Conference takes place, for a very simple reason. In order to avoid the text of the constitution passed by the Convention becoming a mere first draft, (as happened, disgracefully, to the Spinelli project approved by the European Parliament in 1984!) destined then to be completely distorted in the following IGC, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has, from the outset, discussed the various institutional innovations that were being made directly with national governments. This political choice, whose nature is debatable but not foolish, has facilitated the achievement of an agreement which may not sparkle with originality but which implicates, and gives responsibility to, governments who will have the final word on the text of the constitution.

I believe that the important point is this: if, despite all the efforts of extra Giscardian pragmatism, the IGC destroys the text presented by the Convention, then it will have been an absolute failure. If, on the other hand, as I believe it will, the agreement manages, for the most part, to withstand any assault, then the result could be precious.

After all, do we want to pretend that the current situation in Europe is any less historical than it actually is?

French truculence

One of the first matters that the Conventions Presidium had to confront was the question of whether to make the effort to keep the English, with their well organised intractability, within the constitutional process, accepting to pay the high price that this entailed (notably the decision against greater use of qualified majority voting in the Common Foreign and Security Policy) or whether to get rid of them straight away. I believe that that the decision to hold onto them, at this time, when Britain has its most pro-European Prime Minister for the last fifty years, and to support them even over the internal battle to achieve Great Britains entry into the Euro, was the right one. In exchange, London has given way over the creation of the European Foreign Minister, vice president of the Commission, which had seemed a fantastical idea when put forward in Prodis draft.

The conduct of the French has been another major stumbling block. Rather than making, thanks to the exclusive authority that it historically holds within Europe, a gradual effort towards the attainment of consensus regarding the smaller countries and those countries about to enter Europe, France has had a negative attitude from the start (leaving aside any idle speculation over its attitude during the Iraq crisis), which politically weakened the four important contributions which it presented to the Convention together with Germany, a country whose position is still too subordinate.

Italian Irrelevance

This absence of a European leadership created a deadlock between small and large countries over all of the main institutional themes which, until a few days ago, seemed destined to compromise the whole process. This disagreement has, in fact, found an important focus for mediation in the form of the newly created Presidency which is stable but lacking real executive powers (a chairman rather than the Superpresident initially requested by Blair, Chirac and Aznar). It is, nevertheless, having a worrying after effect over these last few days thanks, although it pains me to say it, to Spains disheartening behaviour. Fuelling the discontentment of some smaller countries, Spain is really conducting a very nationalistic battle to maintain unchanged, until 2009 or 2012, the decisions made in Nice regarding the number of seats in the European Parliament, the weighting of votes in the Council and the number of Commissioners. They do this at the risk of diluting a large part of the reform.

Against this less than stimulating backdrop, Italys total irrelevance has become palpable. Driven obsessively by the aim to develop the IGC during its term of Presidency of the Union, the Italian government has tried not to compromise itself in relation to any other country, making almost no official contributions to the Convention. What is more, crushed by Franco-German activism, Italy has failed to carry out the initiative, inspired by Ciampi, of a paper including the six founding countries around which a significant consensus could be consolidated and which would break up opposing factions.

And now? All hope is not lost on some of the important points still under discussion: the introduction of a superqualified majority for the CFSP, the establishment of a legislative Council which would ratify the division between executive and legislative powers in the Commission, and finally the possibility for the President of the Commission also to be elected President of the European Council (as a long term prospect).

All in all, the feeling is that steps are being made in the right direction, but that Europe has not yet found enough strength to solve all of its problems. It will be up to our generation to provide the final burst of speed.