The federalist view of the future of Europe – Initial UEF contribution to the Convention

UEF Federal Committee, Palma de Mallorca, 20-21 April 2002

I. Shaping the future of the EU – Federalists and the Constitutional process

The European Council of Laeken in December 2001 set up a Convention to prepare the next round of European Union reform. The Convention creates a unique opportunity to reach many of the political goals the European Federalists have fought for in past decades. So the Federalists will do their utmost to support the Convention in its task of preparing a refoundation of the European integration process which will soon comprise around 500 million citizens in some 30 or so member states in the North and the South, the West and the East of the European continent.

If the Convention receives an important backing from the European public – meaning especially the European Parliament, the member states’ parliaments and governments, the political parties and NGOs at both member state and European level, the media and the academic community – it can act as a European Constituent Assembly working out a draft text which can be adopted without major changes by the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which we hope will be finished by the end of 2003. There is a good chance that close cooperation between Convention members from all kinds of different backgrounds but with a common will to bring Europe closer to the citizens will create a dynamic process leading to far reaching reform proposals, much greater than those in the Nice treaty.

In recent years the Federalists have campaigned for the idea of a European Federation and the creation of a European Constitution. In the European public debate of the last two years many important voices have supported the concept of a European Federation. Heads of state and government and leading academics in nearly all European countries and regions and from all European political families have advocated ideas very close to the Federalists’ proposals. The Federalists welcome the fact that after the Humboldt speech of Joschka Fischer in May 2000 virtually every leading European politician has acknowledged the need for a comprehensive relaunch of the European integration project.

After an intensive public discussion the reform process has entered a new phase with the establishment of the Convention by the European Council of Laeken. On the basis of the Laeken Declaration on the Future of the European Union the Convention will debate concrete recommendations for the reform of the EU.

The European Federalists will contribute to the considerations of the Convention by submitting proposals during its course. This first contribution will sketch out the broad design of the future European Union that the Federalists believe necessary to prepare the Union for enlargement, to bring it closer to its citizens and to make the EU’s internal and external policies more efficient and effective. In the course of the debates in the Convention the Federalists will submit further documents that will contain more detailed proposals for specific areas of the coming European Constitution.

But the Federalists will not only support the Convention work by submitting texts. We will also continue our public campaign to give as many European citizens as possible their say on the Future of Europe. In these public activities we will closely cooperate with Convention members and the organisations taking part in the Forum, the structured network of civil society that is set up alongside the Convention.

II. Fundamental Elements for a new design of the European Union

According to the Federalists the coming treaty reform should be comprehensive and transform the treaties into a real federal Constitution for the European Union.

1. Founding principles of the European Union

At the beginning of the Constitution the founding principles of the European Union should be laid down: Peace, Democracy, a Guarantee of Fundamental Rights, the Rule of Law, Accountability, Freedom, Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Sustainable Development. In the constitutional practice a balance between these principles has to be reached. It should be made clear that the European Union is based on several levels of public power and that all federated units are expected to cooperate to fulfil in the best way possible the tasks conferred on them by the common constitutional order. Finally it should be mentioned that the dynamics of the European integration process should be retained after the adoption of the Constitution.

2. Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights worked out by the previous inter-institutional Convention must be integrated into the treaty without changing the Charter text, thus making the charter legally binding. It will be necessary to differentiate between the legal status of those rights that can be enforced by the Union itself and, on the other hand, those that mainly express political goals.

3. EU competence and activities

The European competence order has to be clarified and in some fields adapted to the current political environment – it is now very different from the 1950s when the treaties were first written.

According to the principle of subsidiarity public activity should generally be conducted at the lowest political level where effective action is possible. This rule should be the basis for the competence chapter of the Constitution. The Union should only be responsible for the matters expressively conferred to it by the Constitution.

a) Clarification of the competence order

On the clarification of the competence order several proposals are being discussed. For the Federalists it is important that all provisions on competences are integrated in one single framework giving up the current 4 treaties – 3 pillar system. To strengthen the clarity of the competence order the EU competences could be allocated to different competence categories, varying by the intensity of EU activity permitted in the different political fields.

The execution of EU law should as a principle be the responsibility of the member states and their regions. In certain fields like Competition Policy or Foreign and Security Policy the executive power however should remain the responsibility of the Union.

b) Reallocation of competences and EU taxation powers

The EU competences have to be strengthened especially in the following fields: Foreign, Security and Defence Policy, Development Policy, Trade Policy, Environmental Policy, Research Policy, Economic Policy, Social Policy and Immigration and Asylum Policy.

In some other fields where the EU is active the intensity of EU regulation might be reduced without endangering the integrity of the single market and the principle of solidarity. To name only the two most important examples where changes are especially urgent with view to enlargement: the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural Funds.

Finally the European Union should acquire – like every other level of public power – a taxation power to become independent from the blackmail by individual member states that has often been witnessed during talks on the long-term financial perspective of the EU.

4. EU institutions and decision-making process

The EU institutional design must respect its character as a Union of citizens and member states and follow the principles of democratic accountability, transparency, balance and separation of power, responsiveness, fair representation of all citizens and member states, efficiency and effectiveness. The current institutional triangle of the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission does not follow these principles and needs to be comprehensively reformed. The perspective of an enlargement to 27 member states in the near future makes these reforms even more urgent.

The role of the European Council, made up by the heads of state and government, also needs to be reviewed. According to the current treaties it should only give broad guidelines, but in practice its powers have been continually extended. Today all major decisions inside the EU are taken at the European Council level that acts on the basis of unanimity and without sufficient democratic legitimacy, democratic control and transparency.

Respecting the above mentioned principles the functions and the composition of the five major EU institutions should be developed in the following direction:

a) European Parliament

The European Parliament must be given the right of co-decision on all EU legislation and on the whole of the EU budget, both income and expenditure.

The distribution of the EP seats to the member states should take place on the basis of the principle one voter – one vote, with a minimum number of seats guaranteed for the representatives of the citizens in the smallest member states.

The elections shall take place on the basis of a common electoral code. A small number of seats, perhaps for example 10 per cent, should be reserved for European lists of European political parties. This would foster the development of coherent European-level parties, allow for a more lively election campaign with heads of the various lists competing against each other and thus strengthen the European political debate. It would help to focus European elections on issues of European scope and prevent them from being captured by national politics. The rest of the seats could be distributed in the member states according to a system that is based on the principal of proportionality but secures at the same time that every MEP is accountable to a certain not too large constituency.

b) Council

The Council should be transformed into the second chamber of the EU legislature (a Chamber of States) deciding – in public sessions – on all legislation and the budget together with the European Parliament, and should give up all its executive functions.

The internal procedures of the Council and the coordination of its work have to be made more transparent and efficient, acting as a normal legislative body.

In the Council double majority voting (i.e. a majority of member states representing a majority of the population) should be introduced for all issues. The right of veto for a single member state should be abandoned.

The Council has to provide greater continuity and clarity to the Union’s legislative procedures. It should be considered to transform the Council formations for the different policy areas (Economy and Finance, Agriculture, Environment etc.) into preparatory committees and let only a single Council formation adopt the legislation and the budget together with the EP plenary.

To end the discontinuity which presently forms an important hurdle for efficient and effective Council work the rotating Presidency of all Council formations at the same time could be replaced by the separate election of individual chairs of the Council and the Council committees for a period no shorter than one year, preferably 2½ years like in the European Parliament.

The members of the Council should be representatives of national (or regional) executives.

c) European Commission

The European Commission should in future be responsible for all executive business of the Union including the external representation of the EU in Foreign and Security policy matters and in international organisations. This means transforming the Commission into a true European Government.

To enhance the democratic legitimacy of the institution the Commission president should be elected by the European Parliament directly after the EP elections. This creation of a direct link between the European electorate and the executive power is the most important single element of the whole institutional system. It could be foreseen that the Council as second chamber must give its consent to the Commission president.

The President should choose the members of the Commission according to their competence, as s/he deems necessary for the best execution of his/her political programme by nominating members from the ranks of the European Parliament or other eminent European politicians. The whole team then must get the consent of the EP.

d) European Council

The European Council should in future refrain from any interference in the daily business of the Union and the legislative and budgetary procedures. It should take over the role of a collective Presidency of the Union and hold general discussions of the overall development of the integration process. The chair of the European Council should continue to rotate from one member state to another every six months.

e) European Court of Justice

The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice should be extended to all acts of the Union, and the right to stand before the court should be extended to all natural and legal persons in the Union and not restricted as at present. The ECJ must become the real Constitutional Court of the Union.

5. The overall reform project

These proposed reforms would make the EU decision making process more transparent and responsive to the needs of the European citizens, enhance the legitimacy of the EU institutions and foster a public debate on the EU. The provisions on the distribution of competences between the EU and the member states would allow the Union to concentrate on the matters where there is real value added by common EU activity.

6. Adoption and amendment of the Constitution

The Constitution has to include a new procedure for its subsequent reform. All future amendments could be negotiated by a Convention composed by representatives of member state governments and parliamentarians, MEPs and Commissioners. The Convention proposal would then be submitted to the EP and, according to member states’ laws, to their parliaments or to a public referendum in each member state. The introduction of a European wide referendum should also be considered.

No individual member state should have the right to block constitutional developments proposed by the others. If one or a small number of member states are against the proposed amendment a compromise has to be negotiated, which could result in certain exemptions, transitional periods or the leaving of the Union with a consecutive membership in the European Economic Area or a specific association status.

III. What should happen after the Convention?

The IGC should work exclusively on the basis of the Convention proposal. The intergovernmental negotiations need to be concluded no later than end of 2003 to give the European citizens the opportunity to vote on the Constitution at the same time as the EP elections in June 2004. This would intensify the debate on the principal topics of the European integration process during the election campaign.

If the Convention fails to submit sufficient reform proposals enabling the EU to fulfil its tasks in the era of globalisation and with an enlarged membership, or if some EU governments attempt to block the introduction of the reforms proposed by the Convention, the idea of a pioneer project of the member states which are ready to proceed should be seriously considered.

About the Author