Key-note speech at the international conference The Future of the European Union – Where do we go now?

Stanoviska a projevy

Your Excellency Mr. President,distinguished guests and speakers, ladies and gentlemen, 

it is a great pleasure to attend this international conference today in Prague. There has been and is a tradition of open, critical thinking about the current concept of European integration here, in this country. This phenomenon is perhaps rooted in our rather negative historical experiences with „grand“ social projects and schemes as well as in the fact that Czech lands have been part of several supranational complexes during last few centuries, all of which eventually collapsed.

Moreover, it is even greater pleasure for me to have the possibility to address you today. I have became member of one very peculiar EU institution two and half years ago and this institution itself renders a good description – in a nutshell – of all the EU contradictions, paradoxes, shortcomings, imperfections and failures and therefore it is a very useful laboratory for studying the EU from within. I hope I will be able to tell you something interesting.

The title of the conference asks „Where do we go now ?“ . I assume that the way where EU goes now is not the way we – participants of this conference – want it to go. Therefore I suggest to add an amendment to this rather descriptive question.We shall also ask „Where we should go now ?“ and how to arrange things in an order to achieve the EU develops in a way with which we could at least partially agree with in the upcoming years.

From time to time, history offers us something, which we might call „windows of opportunity“, an opportunity we should not let go in vain. In case of the process of European integration such windows of opportunity opens now. 

Why today?

The hitherto paradigm of European integration has ran down. The integration continues to run by its own momentum and self-inertia of institutional mechanisms and political rhetoric. In reality we commence to suspect that we witness only Punch and Judy Show, which is being played against varnished wings that conceal vast emptiness behind them. Those who anticipated such a course of integration history from its beginning – and I count the participants of today’s conference amongst them – have now the unique opportunity to offer a new paradigma of integration. Never ever there has been more pertinent moment to do it than today.

The collapse of EU Constitution, that was intended to laurel life time efforts of integrationists and federalists, led these people into state of perplexity. The EU Constitution was rejected in popular vote in France, which is a highly symbolic event. What is more, in Germany the ratification of the document was suspended by the rulings of the German Constitutional Court. Interestingly enough, the verdict has enjoyed only scarce attention of media.

The symbolic notation of the recent developments stems in the fact that the two countries, whose political elites from left to right were obstinate proponents of an ever-closer union and a gradual transfer of national competences on European level, themselves took care of the demise of the Constitution.

The level of general confusion and disturbance is eminent.

On the one hand, the French presidential hopeful Mr. Sarkozy wishes to write a new document with scissors, this is to cut the EU Constitution into pieces and smuggle this Mini Treaty or Nice+ for a second try ratification – not in a popular vote this time.

On the other hand, the German Chancellor Merkel insists on the pursuit of ratification without any major changes having been done to the document. Neither of the aforementioned solutions are viable or possible.

In the first case it would formally come to the creation of a new document, which would have to be ratified again in all of the 25 or prospectively 27 member states. It is hardly imaginable that those countries that already approved of the document would be willing to be pushed to ratify it once again.

The second case implies that French and Dutch voters would be made to decide upon the document they once rejected before. I think it is not plausible either.

However, we should envisage the scenario, according to which federalists and integrationist will not surrender. Quite the opposite. They will attempt to avail of the coming German EU Presidency in order to implement a part of their plans. The planned publication of the so-called Berlin Declaration in March 2007 may serve as the most suitable occasion.

We, who share different ideas on the cooperation between European states and nations, should also take the advantage of the German Presidency. We should speak out for the new paradigm of integration.

Yet at the same time we should bear in mind an important fact. Any shift from the current integrationist and federalist paradigm to the new one will not be possible in a revolutionary way.

It will not be a revolution, it will be an evolution.

It will not be an abrupt overthrow but a series of gradual steps done in a course of years.

In order to achieve the new paradigm we have to learn how to take advantage of the present power relations and treaty mechanisms of the EU and gradually alter them to a state of matter that would be acceptable to us.

About what kind of a new paradigm we are talking about?

To define it, we have to depart from the current state of matters : today’s EU has to deal with an unprecedented increase of number of member states, which consequently and logically lead to an upsurge of EU internal heterogeneity and stronger differences in a wide range of social, economic, geopolitical features. New power constellation that resulted from the reunification of Germany and 2005 enlargement destabilized the old coalition patterns. A global map of the world has changed as well. The old imperial notion stating „the big is beautiful“ or „the size is everything“ (which were underlying inducements of integration) ceased to be valid. In order to be a successful actor on the international field, one has to adhere to the ability of rapid response, flexibility, adaptability and to the principles of competitiveness and networking. These qualities and principles have nothing to do with a geographical extent or the number of inhabitants or the volume of legislative regulations and not even with any institutional settings.

The EU cannot find a suitable response to these challenges. It has progressively become apparent that the effort for political consonance, that found its expression in the pursuit of an ever closer union, should be replaced with the need for more economic dynamism, decentralisation, and diversity of nations. That defines what could be called new paradigma of European cooperation or – if you wish – integration.

Instead of linear and irreversible development, instead of continuous shift of power to European level, instead of the creation of a closed regional power bloc, the key objective of EU integration should be flexible network of closely cooperating nation states which can integrate to various levels, according to their own will, commitment, option and ability, which can create variable alliances, groups and clusters without any attempt to define final stage of such cooperation and – moreover – which always would enjoy the advantage of reverse move if they are not satisfied.

All that of course supported by adequate treaty basis. The key word in it is flexibility.

However, instead of such development, we are caught in a trap of an ever-repeating, notorious and never-ending debates on institutional architecture of the EU and on the possible revision of EU decision-making procedures. All these more or less formal questions connected have evolved into a body of self-initiated EU mythology. One of the cornerstones of the EU mythology is the myth of QMV benefits. Allow me a more in-depth look into this problem, as I am of the opinion that our quest for a new vision of Europe should start with an analysis of QMV phenomenon.

Institutional reforms in the 90’s were implemented under the assumption that a continuous extension of the QMV in the EU Council – which represent national governments – is the only way how to secure an efficient decision making process in the EU. The idea was underlined by an assumption that a synergy of collective pursuit of interest is in effect better for everybody than everybody following its interest on its own. This assumption proved the false by political practice.

Integrationists and federalists usually pose an argument that the decision making process in the Council is not primarily about voting but also about negotiations aiming at reaching the broadest consensus possible. They tend to think of treaties in a light of very fashionable but in my opinion methodologically completely wrong theory, which is contrary to fundamental logic and is known as so-called „win-win“ scenario. They believe that „win-win“ situations exist and that they are better for everybody than everybody aiming to win alone. They rely on a package dealing method that stems from the premise that while one country may have won the QMV in an area where it wants legislation, it has had to make a concession to another country where it wants a new EU competence elsewhere.

Nevertheless, such an argument does not apply to the practice of EU daily politics, which is principally derived from the overriding premise of the community method. That means, competences and powers, once acquired by the Communities are not ever reversed to national control. They are irrevocably shifted from the national to the community level. Therefore from an outside viewpoint, each power surrendered is a loss; each power not surrendered is only a temporary win. Such tendency wasonly enhanced in the EU Constitutional Treaty by the alternation of the system of vote weighting (degressive proportionality system) by population principle in the EU Council, which happened for the first time in the history of European integration and – necessary to stress – to disadvantage of small countries.

The continuous extension of QMV can be therefore considered as the quintessence of European constitutionalism. The only real alternative to the QMV is the principle of flexible integration. We should rather assume a more political notion that flexibility in effect contradicts the general objectives of EU constitutionalism.

Put it briefly, the principle of flexibility provides us with a choice not to participate, but to opt out, whereas in case of QMV you have to submit to rules voted by the Council, with a minimum space for deliberation.

Today there are already certain features of flexibility embedded in the treaties – the so called enhanced cooperation clause. The enhanced cooperation mechanism embodies in principle two basic models of flexibility, known as ether multi-speed integration or variable geometry. Let me shortly describe both of them but let me stress that it is none of these two I have in my mind as our solution.

 

1) Multi-speed integration

Multi-speed models are predicated on the assumption that it is possible and desirable to devise a priori a set of core policies which must be adopted uniformly by all member states as the price of their membership, with only temporary derogations. Multi-speed models presuppose that all participants share the same commitment and therefore do want and do will sooner or later join the deepest possible integration level, achieved by „hard-core“ countries, but are only temporarily uncapable (for what ever reasons) to do so. The main variables are kapacity and timetable, not will and commitment.

 

2) Variable Geometry

This concept differs from the previous one by expecting more or less permanent differentiation between (the groups) of member states. It is equally unable to reflect the reality of differentiated capacities to contribute and participate in the development of the EU. It advocates integration reorganized into divisions rather like a football league, where it would be possible for a member state to gain promotion into a „higher“ division if it makes necessary improvements in capacity.

These models are unsuitable although they fit into interests of some EU players. Apparently this is not the kind of flexibility we should have in mind.

We should cease to perceive flexibility as only pragmatic and technical device that makes EU „working better“ in terms of of avoiding blockages in the decision making process, bridging differences between the member states and encouraging them to work within the Union legal framework as close as possible.

We should reject such an idea of flexibility that presupposes creation of an integrationist „vanguard“ sooner or later or never followed by the others. Such concept of flexible integration would lead only to temporary or permanent unequality amongst member states by creating either temporary or permanent division into first-class, second-class or third-class membership.

Rather that that we should encompass the idea of real flexibility which must respect equal status of all EU members and their will to select areas where they opt for either closer or looser integration. That would lead to EU with not only one „hardcore“ (or „vanguard“) but more equal „cores“.

We can call it flexibility a la carte.

A lá carte version of flexibility to a certain extent involves the features of the former models, however contains a key difference.

As in multi-speed models, a lá carte approach advocates a pattern of core-periphery relations which differs according to the policy issue, and not a formal separation of the EU into different and essentially permanent tiers of membership

However, like variable geometry, a la carte approach is prepared to accept such patterns of differentiation even as permanent.

But the key difference is that- it is predicated on political will,- it expresses choice not to participate- and does not pursue a common end product of the integration.

In the same vein, it eventually produces EU with no formal core and allows for a different degrees of commitment from the member states.

The greatest advantage perhaps of this concept is that it cannot be simply rejected by integrationists and federalists as it could offer something to both camps : to those who want closer integration as well as to those who reject it.

It could help to find solutions for currently mostly needed EU problems as it could serve as- tool for diversity management,- tool for enlargement management- and tool for solution of democratic deficit.

Therefore we should start right here if we want to fight integrationists and federalists by their own weapons. But a realistic approach to EU reform is much needed, after all we are eurorealists. From political point of view our ideas are in minority today. Therefore it would be unrealistic to believe that we are able – despite the collapse of the EU Constitution – to initiate such a post-constitutional development that would lead to an overall upheaval of the current treaty base into some 100 % new form. There is still a heavy cleavage of vested interests, the burden of integrationist inertia and well-developed and funded propaganda.

But what we should take into consideration is the fact that a new treaty based EU establishment will be explored in a near future. The new treaty basis will be subject to new negotiations, as such it must contain new principles and we must be able to incorporate into it such mechanisms that will allow to modify it more and more in our course in the future. Apparently, this is a long time process.

Obviously, the principle of flexibility is not the only and omnipotent remedy. It should be put into context with other much needed reform provisions – to name few:

revision of the whole of acquis communautaire ( a step recently proclaimed to be implemented by the President of the European Commision – he should be taken at his word)
identification of such acquis chapters that can be reversed back on national level on treaty basis
abolition or significant reduction of untenable fields of EU policies ( CAP used as a means of political pressure towards WTO)

If we had a new treaty that would entail and combine the above-mentioned principles, I would consider it as a success, as it would open us a way to our idea of the EU. So my suggestion and conclusion at the same time is following :

let´s pursue the course of flexibility,
let´s prepare and codify basic pre-requisites of what we would propose for any new treaty
and let´s use first half of 2007 for huge public advertisement of these principles and for challenging the outdated federalist idea of EU.

I firmly believe that this conference will be a major contribution in our efforts. Thank you very much for your attention.