The European constitution after the failure of the Brussels summit

Debate at the AGM on 13 March 2004 introduced by John Pinder

Is the constitution likely to be agreed this year (or soon afterwards)? When the Federal Union committee discussed the question, it was divided between optimists and pessimists.

The policy the committee finally agreed is that we want the constitution agreed and ratified unless it is emasculated by the IGC. The reason is that the constitution is an important step in the federal direction leading to a federal European Union.

For example, the European Parliament will acquire increased legislative power. The choice of Commission President will depend on the results of the European elections, and the European Parliament has to ratify that choice. The increase in the use of QMV will lead to greater effectiveness in the European Union. There will be more openness in the legislative process. Double majority in the Council will be a simple and comprehensible system.

Joschka Fischer has argued that the legislative process should be something that the citizens can understand – otherwise, you do not have a proper democracy. And Joschka Fisher is the leading federalist among contemporary EU governments.

Double majority will also mean that further enlargements will not upset the whole system again.

The Commission President will get a greater choice of who will be the other European Commissioners and will have the power to dismiss them.

As far as CFSP is concerned, these reforms apply much less. Partly this because the UK went into the Convention with red lines around QMV on foreign policy; partly it is because of Giscard’s French presidential approach – he accepts the Community method for the single market but not for foreign policy and defence.

If the constitution is agreed, this is good for Federal Union. But what happens if it is not agreed?

What happens if the constitution is not agreed by one or two member states having been agreed by all the others, or if ratification should fail in a member state? We cannot let the European Union be hostage to a small minority in this way. It is difficult to say exactly what way through would be; there would have to be negotiations to find a solution, but it would have to be based on a firm policy that it would be something like association in the European Economic Area.

Of particular importance to Federal Union is what happens if Britain is the country that prevents the agreement of the constitution. If so, we have to argue that the constitution should be adopted and implemented in those countries that support it. We cannot allow Britain to prevent the others from developing European integration. The alternative would be that the Union would begin to unravel if it cannot get the constitution ratified. A viable Union would be better for Britain even if as a closely related associate rather than as a member; and past experience indicates that Britain would sooner or later join.

What else does the constitution provide? Enhanced cooperation can go ahead in social security, although there are still serious issues to be dealt with in economic policy-making, particularly relating to the Stability and Growth Pact.

Regarding foreign policy, this should be done in the framework of European Union as far as possible. But there are two main problems. First, it will not work if there are fundamental splits in European policy orientation from one member state to another. And secondly, there is the question of the system: France, Germany and most other countries wanted to extend the scope of QMV in foreign policy (although not defence) but Britain has been opposed to this. This is the most damaging British red line.

Thus concerning relations with America, individual European countries have little influence of on their own but can be much more influential if united. The European Union can take on a role around the world in peace-building but only if it can establish a proper foreign policy. This in turn will be credible only if there is a common defence. And it is very important that Britain be part of this.

So a lot rests on Britain’s attitude to Europe. The alternative is that we are left behind again and find ourselves having to catch up later on terms that are relatively unfavourable.

We need to build up Europe as a soft security superpower with a respectable defence capacity, which will work for more effective and democratic world institutions and will be an influential partner of the United States. Ten thousand people joined Federal Union in 1938-40 because our way of life and life itself were threatened by war and they wanted to do something constructive about it.

The huge demonstrations a year ago showed that people are again deeply moved by the dangers of war, this time against a background of terrorism, the prospect of ruinous climate change and an unstable and ungoverned global economy. They can again be receptive to the federalist message.

What view should we take of a vanguard group at the core of the European Union if the process of constitutional reform produces no adequate result? It would be desirable only if it has an explicitly federal vocation, as distinct from being purely intergovernmental, and would thus offer a basis on which to continue the process of building a federal Europe.

I am an optimist – federalists have to be. The British will sooner or later become supporters of federalism. If they do so soon enough, a federal European Union could be developed without a great deal of difficulty.

The inability of Britain to discuss federalism seriously is damaging for Britain, for Europe and for world. It is up to us in Federal Union to do what we can to put this right.

John Pinder is a member of the Federal Union committee. This text is based on the introduction he gave at the Federal Union AGM on 13 March 2004. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

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