The future European Union – what should it be? An integrated federal state, a free trade area, something else? Since the first enlargement of the European Community in 1973 northward, which saw the inclusion of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, the search for “an ever closer union” has been taking place. When EC recommended on 9th October 2002 that another ten countries should join in 2004, it is believed that the integration of Eastern Europe will push the European Union towards a new level, because it will provide a larger market, which will be the only way for the EU to compete in the new global economy. However, people cannot stop wondering, what the EU should be like in the future, as the new Europe will be highly diverse in all dimensions – not only in the field of economics, but also geopolitics, and social conditions, political priorities. In this essay, it will look at the future EU, being a state with liberty, democracy and solidarity.
Liberty has two meanings. To start with, in terms of The Single European Act, the chapter on the single market committed the EC to remove all internal barriers by the end of 1992, enabling the free flow of goods, services, capital and people in the member countries. There is little doubt that the internal market will become the prime focus of economic interest and activity over the next few years since it has given the EC a new lease of life. For example, potential microeconomic gains in welfare of some ECU 216 billion have been estimated for the EC, equal to some 5.3 per cent of GDP. A virtuous circle of benefits is expected, especially in the long term, from industrial reorganization, the reaping of economies of scale and through greater innovation.
However, the enlarged Community is likely to experience greater internal problems since it now comprised a much less optimal grouping in its memberships. For example, doubts remain about whether sufficient structural funding will be forthcoming for the weakest Southern European economies to enable them to participate fully in EMU. It would
appear that only a looser pattern of integration is compatible and suitable for the new Community in the future, particularly if it is to see continuing enlargement. Secondly, liberty requires openness and subsidiarity to be established as fundamental principles. citizens are informed of the remedies available if their rights, including fundamental rights, are not respected. These remedies include courts, ombudsmen and committees on petitions at all levels in the Union. A future Union should be a Union among the peoples of Europe, in which means “decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.” European citizens in all Member States want a well-managed European administration that is open, accountable and service-minded. In which means, it need to ensure the establishment of an open, accountable and service-minded administration through a European administrative law.
Like a car being serviced and redesigned, but until we have arrived, we don’t know what the roads and traffic conditions will be like. Hence, a second important condition for progress towards closer union is that since nobody knows for sure what the enlarged EU will be like, the work of the Convention should not be underestimated. Much of it is inevitably technical and legalistic. But a huge task of simplification is under way which will increase coherence, transparency and comprehensibility of the political and institutional structures of the EU. Complex and incoherent decision-making rules and multiple routes for law-making are all being radically streamlined. But simplification can be politically sensitive. For example, if the vast majority of decisions in future are to be made by majority voting, getting rid of each country’s veto, then the EU may stand a chance of not seizing up, but governments and their publics will have to decide if they are ready for this kind of pooling of sovereignty and joint decision-making. Certainly, increased simplicity and transparency will help the enlarged EU be more democratic and more in touch with the public than the current one.
But much more is needed to build a democratic Europe. The European Council – of heads of state – and the European Commission (which with enlargement will have 25 commissioner) between them share, in effect, the tasks of a European government – they
share the executive tasks for European policy. Increased democracy must mean these bodies are truly accountable. Currently, the Commission is weakly accountable to the European Parliament. The European Council is accountable to none as a whole – though its individual heads of state are accountable separately to their own national parliaments. More political control and oversight is vital. Democracy is also about active participation and debate of the wider public, with real opportunities for access and input. Yet these aspects are also largely being ignored or lacking- the convention is focused on the institutional and legal elements of a new constitution and so risks leaving to one side creative thinking on how to build participative democracy in European politics. It is not enough that a new constitution is simple and accessible – that can only be the first step.
Thirdly, the new Europe also risks failing to play a strong and progressive role in the world – despite the rhetorical commitments of Europe’s political leaders. The EU of 25 countries and half a billion people may be an economic giant but a political dwarf just at a time when global challenges and uncertainties call more than ever before for a clear European voice. The future of Europe convention is drafting a statement of values and goals for Europe’s role in the world – with welcome emphasis on multilateralism, tackling poverty and discrimination and promoting peace and prosperity.
But these good intentions run far ahead of the EU’s ability to deliver a single common voice and strategy on the international stage. Countries like Britain and France remain highly reluctant to act together, even when their views converge, wanting their own individual profiles on the global stage. And they are even more reluctant to undertake the in-depth political discussions that would be needed to come to common positions when their views diverge. Europe’s confusion and multiplicity of views over the Iraq crisis show how far we remain from having a common and coordinated European position – whether in the UN or in dialogue with the US. With enlargement, diversity of interests and views in Europe will grow. At the Copenhagen summit this week, the EU will invite 10 new members to join in 2004. This should be a beautiful, historic moment – reuniting the European continent and healing the post-war divisions. But it is only the first step in
meeting the European and global political challenges that the new Europe must address. If it fails, then this moment will be seen as a turning point that marked the start of the EU’s decline and not its new beginning.
Therefore, the capacity of the members of the Community to overcome their differences and move towards a common defence and security policy will provide a critical test in the coming years of their commitment to closer union. The prospects for this depend very much on the willingness of a core group among them – and in particular France, Germany and Britain – to concert policies and action. More than anything else it is the path they take on this set of issues which will determine whether or not a real European Union emerges, for without substantial progress towards a defence union it will remain seriously incomplete.
The Convention on the Future of Europe is now drafting a new constitutional treaty that will address many of these problems. But its deliberations are focused on current problems, with too little attention to the new challenges that enlargement will bring – such as dealing with poor and potentially unstable countries along its new eastern border.
The biggest danger to the timetable for enlargement is the unpreparedness of public opinion across Europe. Half of the EU’s population favours enlargement on average, but support varies a lot between countries. That matters because the accession treaty has to be ratified by all the member-states’ parliaments and the European Parliament, as well as by the 10 candidates’ parliaments following national referenda. At present, the risk of outright rejection appears small. But acrimonious battles about the EU budget have done nothing to endear enlargement to the public. The EU is about to complete its biggest and most important project of the decade: the re-integration of the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the European fold. Institutional flaws and money wrangles should not be allowed to divert attention from the significance of this achievement.
Moreover, The EU’s decision-making frameworks need a thorough overhaul. The most obvious problem posed by enlargement is that of sheer numbers. With 25 voices competing to be heard, a real exchange of views will be next to impossible unless the EU undertakes further reform of the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. But the differences will be more than arithmetical. There will also be qualitative changes as the new members add their own priorities to the EU’s agenda. The political balance will change as the new members weigh in on one side of the argument or the other on every issue. For example, Poland will join the UK in opposing tax harmonisation and supporting NATO, but it could be a friend of Spain on increasing the size of the EU budget. The suggestion for realising European Union depend on all members of the EC put their efforts toward this aim, hence the dream for “an ever closer union” will be achieved.