The Europe@50 Summit -
For New Single Act for a Single Europe
The European Union may have turned 50 but it has yet to overcome its midlife crisis. At its summit the German presidency has promised to do exactly that and fulfil the promise contained in its sober Berlin declaration “to place the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009”. There exists many divides in Europe, between rich and poor states, old and new members, big and smaller states. But none had been more relevant to the German presidency dilemma than that between “constitution purists” who argue that the 18 states who have ratified the constitution cannot revisit their votes and the “minimalists” who point out that, according to rules of the games agreed to unanimously, the French and Dutch Nos cannot be overriden.
The combination of Angela Merkel’s determination to reach a compromise on the way forward and Nicolas Sarkozy’s determination to clear the ground for what most matters to him –his national programme of reform- has meant that we are heading towards a compromise at the Summit around Sarkozy’s idea “mini” or “simplified” Treaty.
Clearly neither side will have won the day. Constitutional purists will have to give up the belief that with a bit of cosmetic surgery, like a social annex, misguided publics can be made to vote the right way a second time is illusionary. Even if they did, how sad and lacking in ambition if the first constitution for Europe were to be passed with the narrowest of majorities, coercive popular re-votes or discrete parliamentary decisions, against wide pluralities of European citizens and a general lack of enthusiasm. But minimalists also will need to accept that the Constitutional ambition will not simply disappear in the name of a Europe of results and pragmatism. Too much symbolic capital has been invested in it. In short, like Shroedinger’s cat, the idea of a Constitution will and must remain both alive and dead in the years to come –even if under a different name like Constitutional charter.
This does not mean giving up on the idea. Opinion polls tell us that an overwhelming majority of Europeans think the EU needs a Constitution –not this Constitution. If “making it our own” is to be the motto of their constituents, politicians must give time to time and resist the temptation to play Russian roulette with the idea of a Constitution. Indeed, pundits tend to forget the second part of Nicolas Sarkozy’s message last fall, which opened up such a perspective for after 2009. We believe even more time will be needed before Europeans are ready to engage in such an exercise, this time in a truly inclusive and creative manner.
In short, the way forward lies with an old recipe of diplomatic and democratic deal-making : sequencing - institutional reform in the short run followed by a Europe of result in the middle term, and a Constitution in the longer term.
In the short term, the name of the game in Europe today is to produce institutional reform while avoiding referenda at all cost. For the constitutional purists this still means asking what is the maximum we can get away with and the minimalists, this means what is the minimum reform we must accept.
In trying to cater to both these side the German fudge will set out the outline of a future text to be negotiated by an Intergovernmental Conference in the fall which will recycle most of part I of the draft Constitution “with the necessary presentational changes resulting from the return to the classical method of treaty change” as stated by the German presidency. In spite of such an apparently straightforward bargain, Merkel, Sarkozy and Barroso should not underestimate the conflictual dimension of this new treaty reform. The success of the whole enterprise depends on publics “buying in” the slight of hand implied in relabelling tricks therein, including droping the word “constitution”. The (semi) consensual adoption of the institutional provisions of the constitutional treaty should not obscure the fact that very painful concessions were made at the time, not in the name of an “institutional package” but in the shadow of a perceived constitutional moment. If the small and medium countries ended up acquiescing the death of the rotating presidency or the loss of their commissioner it was not because they “gained elsewhere in the package” but for fear of bringing down the constitutional dynamic altogether. Why should they do so in the new context ?
However contested some of the issues of the upcoming intergovernmental conference, the second phase, devoted to policies, is both more ambitions and even more necessary. This middle term objective, we believe, has a name, and antecedents : a new Single Act for a Single Europe.
The adoption of such a Single Act would depend on a dramatic surge of political acumen on the part of European leaders and on their commitment to demonstrate that postponing in the long run the idea of a Constitution or Constitutional charter target is not synonymous with paralysis. After the June summit they would commit to launching a wide European debate on Europe’s policies. In this context, the preparation of such a Single Act should be the main challenge for the 2009 elections of the European Parliament. Such an approach broadens the idea of a “mini-treaty” and anchors it where it should always have been : on a functionalist drive. The first Single Act masterminded by Jacques Delors twenty years ago overcame what was called then euroscelorosis by setting out a clear programme of action, with a method, a calendar and a deadline. Crucially, institutional reform, at the time a radical extension of QMV, was accepted by Margaret Thatcher, precisely because it was seen as a means to achieve a highly desirable end : the completion of the single market by 1992.
We can emulate this method today with a new Single Act whose goals are adapted to European reunification in the post-cold war era and to the new challenges such as globalization and demography. In our view, such a Single Act should put forth a coherent and forward-looking programme of action in three core areas. To start with, completing, yet again, the single market, what is after all our proudest and longer lasting achievement, including in clarifying the status of public and private services. Second, bringing together the disparate threads of the EU’s core structuring policies, in climate change, energy security and paneuropean infrastructures. And third, delivering on Europe’s role as a globally responsible actor through a renewed statement of purpose and instruments for coherent action across policy domains.
Ιn a new Single Act, these programmes of action would be flanked with a package of new institutional tools. The Institutional Treaty expected soon will probably be on a minimum package that would include a stable European Council presidency, commission reform, , the institution of a foreign minister or representative along with a diplomatic service, and hopefully, the consensual democracy-enhancing provisions of the draft constitutional Treaty, and extension of co-decision and QMV.
The Single Act would build within this framework to lay out a substantive agenda for the post 2009 parliament and Commission.
Either way, institutional reform and policy agenda cannot be divorced and the single Act approach would link them. This would in turn would pave the way –perhaps in a decade- to revisit the Constitutional story.
The approach we propose calls for modesty and realism. The new President of France has given up the idea of a renegotiation of the Constitution in the short term followed by a new referendum. Britain and Poland should also switch from veto politics to consensus building. On this basis, the passing of a Single Act for a single Europe would re-create the momentum Europe so dearly needs as did its predecessor, before the upheavals which changed the face of Europe forever.
*Philippe Herzog is Director of the think tank Confrontation-Europe ; Kalypso Nicolaidis is Director the European Studies Centre, University of Oxford