The EU is 50, time to think afresh – 2

April 3, 2007

This is the second part of my little series of posts on the EU’s 50th anniversary and the state of the European debate such as quite well reflected in the booklet recently published by the LSE and FT Business, “European Union, The Next Fifty Years”.

For post number 1, please see below. It focuses on the EU’s obsession of the moment: its identity and its borders. I indirectly argue in that post there that there is no answer to those questions, and that this obsession does not get the point. This post will focus on what solutions are being proposed to face the European challenges at the moment and the different approaches put forward to achieve particular goals.

How those “50+ thinkers” tackle the challenges faced by the European Union is quite classic. On the question of what we should aim at, there is the “idealistic” approach, and a “pragmatic/concrete-solutions-based” approach. Within those approaches you have the classic lines of division and debates, as well as a few (very few) really original approaches, the most interesting being in my view the contribution of the Director of the Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant.

The big picture, or the “idealistic” approach: the good old dividing lines remain on where the EU should go, but are they relevant?

The book contains your classic antithetic visions of what Europe should be, without real discussion on how to reach these goals.

Federalism. The textbook federalist is of course represented, such as Guy Verhofstadt, Prime Minister of Belgium. He calls for a “United States of Europe”.

“We need a European government with full executive competence for all European matters while enjoying the trust of the European Parliament”.

This is certainly quite idealistic. After the French and Dutch no-vote to the EU constitution, which was a clear step towards more “federalism”, I wonder how this can be achieved.

Intergovernmentalism. On the other side of the spectrum you have the radical intergovernmentalist and eurosceptic, embodied, not in the British Prime Minister, but in the current president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus. He writes:

“We should create the Organization of European States (OES), whose members will be individual European states rather than the citizens of these states directly, as suggested by the European constitution. It will therefore be necessary to geet rid of terms such as “European Citizenship”. Membership of the OES should not be motivated by any ideological objectives, but by a common belief in the ability of member states to act in some areas jointly, in the common interest – and thereby to reach mutually advantageous decisions.”

Well, Mr Klaus, can you roll back fifty years of history? And where is the proof that classic intergovernmentalism works? Indeed, from the OAS (the now dead Organisation of African States) to the United Nations don’t we have mainly cases of failed intergovernmental attempts?

Between those two extremes the book represents different shades of convictions, and I must say, nothing really new. “Back to our core principles”, says Isabel Mota, Executive Trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, “Speak to the people!” says Margot Wallström, EU Commission Vice President. All very nice, but how useful?

Pragmatic approaches

Then you have the pragmatists who don’t linger on these debates, but try to offer concrete solutions on single issues based on what we are having today. One can almost literally see then coming with their hammer, nails, and screwdrivers to get the job done. The Hungarian Secretary of State for International Affairs of her country’s Ministry of Education and Culture proposes “sharing” “an embarrassment of riches” via “a conference and a festival”. Another young woman in that book I will not quote, very seriously proposes “Interrail Vouchers for Students”, the Italian Minister for International Trade and European Affairs Emma Bonino suggests: “Erasmus for all” … After these very feminine proposals, come the “masculine” concerns with money, power, survival and warfare:

Foreign affairs.

Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden: “Heed our History: widen the Union”.

Peter D. Sutherland, former WTO Secretary-General, calls for an “advanced guard” of countries who want to move forward on issues of foreign policy, energy, environmental and immigration policy. In particular, he calls for a “European defence white paper”. His views are echoed by Hans Van Den Broek, Presidents of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations calls for “a core group for foreign policy”.


Franco Frattini, EU Commission Vice President responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security calls for the recognition of “environmental crimes”.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt (a woman….), Leader of the Danish Social Democratic Party calls for “a strict emissions target”.


Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform calls for “nationally elected commissioners”

George Vassiliou, Former President of the Republic of Cyprus: “a president of the EU, more education in EU affairs, more information flow between the Commission and the public”

Loukas Tsoukalis, President of the Hellenic Foundation for European Foreign Policy, “An elected Commission President”

Hardly anybody defends the European Consitution, and hardly anybody insists on reviving it, interestingly. Just one lawyer (a vested interest in legalism??), Peter G. Xuereb, Professor of European and Comparative Law, wants the need for a constitution to be “explained to the citizen”.

Money and prosperity.

Andre Sapir, renowned Professor of Economics, and author of a report in 2003 on EU budget reform says: “Support innovation, not agriculture”. “Since 1967, agriculture has been at the forefront of the EU budget, absorbing no less than 50% of its expenditure… If our leaders want to demonstrate to citizens that the EU is up to the challenges of the 21st century, research and innovation should replace agriculture as the symbol of Europe”.

At the junction between domestic economic regulation and foreign trade relations, Razeen Sally, calls for “A European Transparency Board”, an independent body “with statutory power to investigate EU regulation, particularly at the interface of external policies and the internal market. Assessments should be made public and fed into wider public discussion”.

So, what is the way forward?

In this moment of of questioning and post-Constitutional Referendum crisis, the EU’s way forward will lie in its ability to reform itself step-by-step and provide concrete solutions to given single issues. It is never going to be a federation, but it has grown beyond intergovernmentalism, which is not a viable solution either.

If the EU manages to take this approach, maybe it will really look as beautiful as outlined in the paper by Charles Grant (see the pdf here on his organization’s website: “The view from 2027”), and include:

  • Independent spending agencies to manage the EU’s budget accountable to the Parliament, while the Commission concentrates on strategy and legislation
  • A budget spent in roughly equal measure on R&D, aid for poorer EU regions, assistance for neighbours, and foreign policy, but not increased in terms of its share to the EU GDP (1%),
  • Directly elected commissioners
  • A Commission president chosen by the EU Parliament
  • A foreign minister chosen by the Parliament
  • A Climate Change Agency
  • A more coherent and effective non-violent foreign policy shaped by the need to deal with Russia
  • Avant-garde groups to advance on specific issues
  • Accession of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and even of Turkey. In 2027, “the French are preparing to vote for a third time on Turkish accession. They are starting to look more favourably on the Turks. Per capita incomes in Turkey have overtaken those of the poorer French regions; the Kurdish assembly in south-east Turkey has won autonomy over most areas of domestic policy; Turkey provides more troops for EU military missions than any country; and French companies are having to tackle labour shortages at home by recruiting directly in Turkey. Opinion polls suggest that this time France will vote Oui.”

Ain’t that beautiful? I do admire Grant’s ability to ally high ideals and the proposal of concrete solutions, and in that sense I found his contribution to be the best of all.


2 Responses to “The EU is 50, time to think afresh – 2”

  1. The EU began in 1993, right? …though of course the EEC had some EU qualities (as evinced in the Van Geld decision in 1963). You might be interested in the Economist this week. I just blogged on it at

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