IGC 2000 - Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century?
"I have been asked to speak about the Intergovernmental Conference on institutional reform that has been opened on February 14th this year. For me it is the 4th IGC as a member of the Luxembourg Government, so I suppose you will believe me when I say that I know what I am talking about.
I would like in particular to confront the agenda - or, let us rather say the likely agenda, because this question is not settled yet - with the challenges that lie ahead of the European Union. Let me thus start by addressing these challenges.
The raison d'être of the European Union can be described with just one word: peace. Two generations of Europeans have by now been brought up in times of peace - in fact they take the absence of war for granted.
When discussing Europe with young people, I always have to explain that peace remains the paramount aim of European integration and that it still is a challenge at the beginning of this century.
You know that the founding fathers of Europe had just one concern: to ban the demons of war from the European continent. I consider it naive to believe that those vicious demons, which brought terror and pain over our peoples have been chased away forever. They are still there - waiting to be woken up by those who are ready to invoke them.
Just look back one hundred years to the start of the 20th century: Europeans felt safe and secure; they were expecting a bright and peaceful future.
But, at that time, those monsters, which would be responsible for the death of millions of people and for the suffering of even more millions were already born. Yes, Hitler and Stalin were already born. So, can we be sure that similar monsters are not among us today? Who can tell? The atrocities of Bosnia and Kosovo should remind us of the looming danger.
The zone of peace and stability we know today in the Western part of Europe has to be extended to Central and Eastern Europe - that is the EU's challenge at the start of the 21st century: build in that part of Europe what the mothers and fathers of my generation did for us.
This will consume a lot of our energy, but there is absolutely no alternative. At the end of the day, we will all be winners, because enlargement is nothing else than peace policy.
Enlargement is not only a historic chance, it is also a political and historic necessity. We have to reconcile European history with European geography.
You know, when I speak to Central and Eastern Europeans, I come to understand one thing: that they have always been there, and that they have always known where they are belonging to; it was us who had forgotten them. Over here in the West, we seemed to discover our Eastern neighbours only after the revolutionary period of 1989-91.
By the way, there is no such thing as the end of history - I hardly heard anything more weird. In reality European history has accelerated and the EU is struggling to keep pace with change.
In the preamble to the Treaty of Rome we appealed also to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe to join us. It was not our merit that the old world order came to an end. It was them who, after having suffered under the weight of history for decades, set themselves free. So, who would we be to tell them now, that we are not willing to make some sacrifice in order to enable them to join our peaceful and wealthy family? Solidarity is one of the fundamentals on which the European Union has been built all over the years.
And we should stop being paternalistic - enlargement is a give-and-take exercise. There are many virtues which we can learn from these new democracies - modesty being one of them.
But the key question is: how can the EU integrate so many countries which all bring in their culture, their history, their traditions, their language, their hopes and their fears? Have we completely understood on what geo-strategic journey we have embarked upon? Managing diversity will not be easy.
When enlarging the EU to the current candidates, the EU's territory will grow by 58%, the population will increase by 45%, whereas GDP will grow by a mere 7%. If we leave out the rather special case of Turkey, the corresponding figures are 34% for territory, 28% for population and 5% for GDP. The EU will be enriched by about 20 new peoples - and I do not even take Turkey into consideration here: there are about 45 ethnic groups in Turkey alone.
And while enlarging, we have to deepen too. We have to build a Europe that is prosperous, a social Europe, a Europe that stands as an answer to globalisation, a secure Europe. Only then can we broaden acceptance by our citizens and answer critics saying that we have too much Europe already. Deepening Europe is peace policy too. I said a few years ago that the common European currency, the Euro, the example for deepening, is peace policy with different means.
Where the EU still has to deliver is to find an appropriate and credible answer to the plague of unemployment and social exclusion - a terrible waste of human talent and energy. It is no wonder that those people who live in social misery have become disillusioned by traditional politics and are tempted to vote for parties at the extreme-right or extreme-left of the political scene.
And it really is perverse that the shares of a firm are rising when this company announces lay-offs, whereas shares are falling when the company announces job creation. It should thus not come as a surprise that some conclude from this that Europe and its political classes are only working for the rich and powerful.
Europe is also a matter of the heart and we have to ask ourselves how we can foster a sort of "Europeaness" in an age where citizens are afraid that globalisation and an enlarged European family will make them loose both their identity and their well-being.
Well, I am convinced that nations are no temporary phenomena of history. In the Europe of tomorrow, just as in the Europe of today, national and regional identities are going to be preserved. The abundance and variety of cultures, languages and traditions is a universal asset and the source of new impulses and ideas.
I am among those who consider that the so-called Monnet method has outlived its usefulness. The period when we could bring Europe further by promoting economic integration in order to attain a political objective - without any precise idea of that objective - well, this period has come to an end. I am of the opinion that we should not nurture this ambiguity any longer. It is time now to think more seriously about the final picture.
I am aware that academics tend to try to fit the European Union into models of federalism. But do not forget that the EU constitutes a unique form of integration - that it is a sui generis construction and more complex than any theoretical model can ever be.
Now, what has the IGC to do with all of this? You have noted that I have put a question mark at the end of the title of my speech and I am certainly not taking away any suspense when answering the question now: the answer is definitely "no". The IGC will not meet all the challenges of the 21st century!
In other words, the EU needs more than one IGC - and more than IGC's as such - to manage the next one hundred years. The question is thus to what extent the IGC 2000 can contribute towards making the EU able to cope with the challenges ahead.
I have said that one IGC is not enough - so you might ask why EU governments are not just deciding to get it right with the ongoing IGC? And you probably know the answer: because some changes to the institutional framework have to be made right now, before the EU can open up for the next enlargement.
We cannot just ask candidates for accession to achieve painful transformation processes - we ourselves have to get ready - and our reforms are certainly less exhausting than theirs. As the first candidates will be ready by 2003 onwards, the Fifteen have set themselves a deadline for finishing the current IGC under the French Presidency at the end of this year in the City of Nice.
Now I am not of those who consider that the broader the agenda the more time it takes to conclude negotiations. No, if there are more issues to settle, there are also more possibilities of compromise. But I agree that we must not sink the boat by trying to do everything at once.
I also said that the EU needs more than IGC's as such to get ready for the challenges of this century. What do I mean by this? Well, that we need visions, ideas, courage and political will.
Currently we could achieve much more with those instruments that are at our disposal today - but unfortunately we do not have the political will to make full use of them. On the other hand, you can fulfil ambitions with hardly any instruments - after all what instruments did our mothers and fathers - or, for some in this room, your grandmothers and grandfathers - have when they started building up Europe on the ruins of the Second World War? They had a vision - they had a dream.
I would like to stress this point because especially this IGC 2000 is what I would call a "technical" or "instrumental" IGC. Indeed, an intergovernmental conference cannot be a goal in itself. This particular IGC is neither mobilising nor inspiring. It is rather defensive in nature and merely aimed at oiling the wheels of the EU's institutions.
I do not want to give you the impression that I am of the opinion that this IGC is not important - no, on the contrary: there can be no strong Europe with weak and ill-functioning institutions.
Our institutions do not always work properly, yes, we have indeed to reform them, although I would like to reply to those who criticise the slow decision-making process that quick decisions are only taken in autocratic systems.
Allow me also another thought. As with this IGC we do not seem to address directly the concerns of our citizens, we have to be careful not to alienate them from Europe. The arguments that national governments have about the set-up of the EU's institutions and the subtle decision-making process will leave our citizens unimpressed. Yes, they might wonder whether their governments have nothing more important to do.
What's more, we explain to our citizens that we need this IGC because of enlargement. Five years ago already, I was claiming that enlargement would become the single most unpopular exercise - and I was right, unfortunately. So here too, politicians have a job to do.
Before entering into the different elements of the IGC, let me emphasise that a particular feature of our common venture is the harmonious living together of small and large entities. This will become even more important after successive enlargements to mainly small and medium-sized countries. With this institutional build-up we have brought the European continent to peace - my point is: let's be careful before reinventing the construction completely and dismantling the fundamentals.
I say this because when hearing some representatives of larger member states speak about the IGC, I sometimes get the impression that they want to use the IGC to crush the smaller ones. Well, demography and democracy are not the same. The EU is not a mathematical construction.
Anyway, there is no such thing as a 'small nation' - there are small countries, but only big nations with governments facing their own national public opinion. So, no arbitrary polemics please and no IGC as a playground for a boxing fight between big and small.
Let us apply common sense - although I am aware that this can be difficult as common sense has been unevenly spread by nature. Large member states should also recall that a flea can drive a lion nuts, but that there has never ever been a lion capable of harming a flea in the same way...
Let me now turn to the so-called left-overs of Amsterdam, which are no "left-overs" at all, but extremely delicate and complicated issues.
First of all the Commission. It is the most original institution of the European Union. It is the guardian of the treaties, acts in the interest of the collective and has in Community areas the sole right of initiative. Especially small member states are very much attached to this role of the Commission.
Here in the midst of the world of academia, I am probably venturing on dangerous ground now. I suppose that many essays on the Commission have been written in this University, essays coming to the conclusion that 1. not every member state has to nominate a commissioner in a college representing the interest of the Community as such and 2. for reasons of efficiency the college of commissioners should not exceed a certain number.
Well, I am looking at the question of the number of commissioners from a political point of view. And I can tell you that every national sensibility has to be reflected in the college of Commissioners. I stress the word 'reflected' - I did not say 'represented'.
I just said above that the Commission has the exclusive right of initiative. Well, I am sure the British Commissioner does not know how a particular draft directive will affect Greece. Nor does a Luxembourg Commissioner know the effects of a regulation on Eastern Poland.
Furthermore, can you seriously envisage that the candidate countries would quietly acquiesce to not having a Commissioner in Brussels? After all, these governments will have to sell the accession treaty to their national parliaments and to their people who made great sacrifices before being allowed to join the EU.
And then, is it not contradictory that on the one hand we are entrusting the Commission with more and more tasks, and that on the other hand some claim that there is not enough work for 27 Commissioners? If my sources are correct, here in Britain, there are about 90 positions in government, from ministers to parliamentary under-secretaries
. I agree that the Commission should be better organised and that its functioning should be streamlined. I am also very much in favour of strengthening further the power of the President of the Commission and to write down into the treaty that if the President is asking a commissioner to step down - he or she has to comply.
What I am fervently against is individual responsibility of commissioners before the Parliament - because we would then end up with a different composition of the Commission every week. Just recall that the allegations against the former commissioner Marin proved to be wrong - with individual responsibility he would have been unjustly sacked by Parliament.
The issue of the re-weighting of votes in the Council, the second left-over of Amsterdam, is an overestimated one. It is absolutely clear that in compensation for the loss of the second commissioner, large member states are entitled to an increase in their relative weight in the Council. This has already been decided in Amsterdam.
It is also perfectly understandable that because of almost all the newcomers being small and medium-sized countries, big states want to have their weight somewhat increased.
But demography cannot be the exclusive criteria on which voting is based. Don't forget the principle of equality of states and that the essence of any federal-like system is that smaller entities are over-represented.
By the way, I have been attending Council meetings since 1982, be it as Minister for Employment, Minister of Budget, Minister of Finance. Never ever has there been a voting configuration where the large member states were outvoted by the wild pack of dwarfs.
This is pure theory - this is fiction. It has never occurred that the large member states wanted to make Europe progress and were hindered by the reluctant smaller members. If only big countries had always been able to agree! Then Europe would have been farther for a long time.
Based on my experience of the Amsterdam negotiations, I would favour the introduction of dual simple majority, meaning the following: each member state has one vote and you need a majority of votes for a decision to be adopted. In addition, it would be checked whether this majority of states also represents a majority of the population.
Equality of states would be balanced by a demographic safety net. This system would also enable us to avoid another clash between Belgium and the Netherlands, address the concern of France with Germany and hopefully meet Spanish requests too.
So, again, let us not over-dramatise this weighting issue. You very well know that all animals are equal but that some are more equal than others. Large European states have always preserved their special influence, due to their size, their resources, their history, their experience. Nothing can change that and nobody is trying to.
I think you know that very often when a large member state has a problem with a European directive to be adopted by qualified majority in the Council, the issue is not put to vote precisely because it is a large state that has a problem. The same can't be said if a small state is in the same situation. That is the reality of things.
The third left-over of Amsterdam concerns the passage from unanimity to qualified majority voting. European-minded as I am, I consider that a great number of the 75 articles still governed by the rule of unanimity should pass to qualified majority and that it should be the general rule.
We should be ambitious here and brave, but not foolhardy or blinded by a quasi-religious ideology. We should always be aware what the introduction of qualified majority means in terms of national parliamentary sovereignty.
Unanimity guarantees that the point of view of each member state is heard. With qualified majority you can stop the debate once you have gathered a sufficient number of votes - I know what I am talking about because I have done this a great number of times when chairing the EU Council. I do not have to explain in this country that democracy is about debating and then voting, and not about voting without debate.
So let us be very careful when we venture into fields where sovereignty is directly touched. Let me take a very prominent example: taxation. Do you really think that I would allow my European partners to decide by qualified majority an increase in the European tax level because they have to raise money to finance their deficits resulting from unsound financial and budgetary policies? Thank you, but I have a budget surplus and public debt at 4,3 % of GDP - so I prefer to keep control over the tax level in Luxembourg.
For the unconditional defenders of qualified majority in all fields, I have a question: are they willing to do away with the so-called Luxembourg compromise, this very 'un-european thing'? You remember that the Luxembourg compromise dates back to 1965/66 when France boycotted the EU's institutions after a deadlock in negotiations on agriculture. The Luxembourg compromise was a way out of this deadlock and represents in fact a right of veto for reasons of 'vital national interest' in areas where qualified majority applies.
I am of the opinion that it is more appropriate to keep a veto possibility inside the treaty - by keeping unanimity - rather than have it outside and available for the big member states only. Because the smaller states cannot make use of the Luxembourg compromise - that would not be accepted by the big countries.
As far as the European Parliament is concerned the IGC should deal with the issue of the number of parliamentarians after successive enlargements. You know that in Amsterdam the upper limit was fixed to 700 MEPs and this ceiling should not be touched. In my view the reallocation of seats should be done by linear regression - with a lower limit of course.
I very often hear that in order to respond to the so-called democratic deficit the powers of the European Parliament should be increased. I say 'so-called' because in my view there is no such democratic deficit.
The European Parliament is not the only legitimate representative of the people's of Europe. National parliaments and national governments have their place in the decision-making process, they have their role to play.
Are you aware of the following: in almost all cases the parliament follows the opinion of the rapporteur designated for a particular draft directive or draft regulation. This means in practice that an MEP from Sicily can co-decide on the composition of English Christmas pudding! I think that is a very weird thing. I am in favour of introducing co-decision everywhere where the Council decides at qualified majority, but we should be aware of what that could mean in reality.
Finally, I consider that we need in the treaty an article empowering the European Council to dissolve the parliament under certain circumstances; for example when Parliament is repeatedly refusing to invest the Commission. This is elementary in parliamentary democracies. I do not know many Parliaments in the world that cannot be dissolved. So this is a matter of checks and balances and a way to resist the attempts of the European Parliament to make out of the Commission a sort of executive secretariat.
Now do not get the impression that I am an opponent of the Parliament. On the contrary, I am very often in Brussels and Strasbourg to discuss with parliamentarians a variety of issues and most of them are doing a brilliant job. But institutionally speaking, some things have just to be readjusted.
There would certainly be much to say about the Court of Justice. My thinking on the matter is however still ongoing. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Court of Justice becomes increasingly more powerful because the texts produced by the European legislator are of increasingly bad quality. As compromises are necessary, texts produced are vague and unclear. This in turn gives the Court leverage for interpretation. For the citizens, that is a good thing - they almost always win their case against national governments. For us, politicians, it is a real nuisance, because we run into trouble when having to implement these court decisions. But that is yet another story.
Let me now turn to one of my favourite subjects, which is closer co-operation, "coopération renforcée" in French. You probably know that the Benelux countries are very much insisting on this to be included in the agenda of the IGC. Why is that so? Well, because we consider that it is THE answer to the consequences of enlargement.
I clearly see the risk of Europe being watered down by successive enlargements. But a looser Europe is not what we need. A free trade area is too simplistic a concept to apply to a complicated continent. And, do not expect that the story will be over with the current 13 candidates. What about Ukraine, Moldova and the Balkans - there can be no peace one day in this region of the world as long as they do not have got a perspective to join the community of stability and prosperity that we know - under clear pre-conditions obviously. Serbia too, belongs to the European family. What about the Caucasus? One day, the EU will seriously have to address the question of its geographic boundaries and of the eligibility of certain countries.
But let us go back to the short and medium term. We have given ourselves very precise criteria - the famous Copenhagen criteria - to check whether a country is ready for entry or not. And I would wish that we have the courage to stick fast to these objective criteria even if it means that some countries will not enter as early as they hope.
Being a politician, I know that things could be different. I still believe that what we have decided in Helsinki on enlargement was the only viable political alternative, especially after the Kosovo crisis. But sometimes I wonder whether we have engaged into a 'fuite en avant'. For how long will we politicians be able to resist to the clamour of candidates for a quicker entry? Will we not sooner or later consider that the corollaries of frustration and disillusionment of candidates bear greater risk than allowing them in a little bit earlier and granting them long transition periods and some temporary exemptions?
I do not know how we could possibly explain this to our public opinion, but that is another issue again.
But we must not plant the seeds of future disruption and let the EU die from asphyxia. We will have to resort to closer co-operation.
You should thus see the flexibility clause as a sort of safety net. It safeguards the EU from a situation where a hard core of European countries is unable to progress further up the road of integration because others are unable to follow - or unwilling. Closer co-operation is an instrument to manage diversity and to reconcile enlargement with deepening of the Union.
It is thus not a diabolic device to keep some countries away from the hard core. On the contrary, we might find out that some of the newcomers embrace our integrationist ideas more than older member states - I say this very consciously even though being in the UK. It is not going to be a Europe à la carte either. No, it is just that an avant-garde of countries can show the direction - a sort of locomotive of Europe. There would be no opt-outs - only opt-ins. Some advocate flexibility outside the EU framework, but I strongly warn against it.
I agree that we have to be cautious not to kill the patient with the medicine. We must preserve our community; we must preserve solidarity. The Amsterdam Treaty already clearly states the conditions for closer co-operation: it must be aimed at furthering the objectives of the Union and at protecting and serving its interests; it must respect the principles of the treaties as well as the single institutional framework; it must not affect the 'acquis communautaire'; it must not affect the competence, rights, obligations and interests of those member states which do not participate; it is open to all member states and allows them to become parties to the co-operation at any time.
The Benelux countries do not want to touch these preconditions for closer co-operation. What we have suggested is 1. to fix the minimum number of member states that can enter into closer co-operation; 2. to abolish the possibility for a member state to veto a closer co-operation and 3. to introduce closer co-operation into the second pillar.
If I would stop with closer co-operation here, I am pretty sure that you would ask me later on, in which fields a closer co-operation could be implemented. We will work on this question within Benelux, but I would intuitively list the following areas: environment; free movement of persons (a sort of Schengen plus); the economic dimension of EMU; foreign, security and defence policy.
As far as the famous Charta of fundamental rights of the EU is concerned, I must say that I am somewhat uneasy about the direction the work on the Charta is taking. It will be up to governments do decide on the fate of the text which is being produced by the Convention: integration into the treaty or political declaration. I would prefer to cling to the initial idea of a document of political nature. In the longer run, Europe should have its own Constitution. But right now, minds are not yet ripe for changing the treaties into a Constitution and this particular and decisive debate will take longer than just a few months.
What is more acute than the Charta, is common security and defence policy. I am somewhat cautious when taking the floor on defence issues, because demography and military might are not on my side. But let me just say that what we are currently doing in that field is long overdue. We should be quite ashamed that it took the dramatic events in Kosovo - after we already witnessed the same in Bosnia - to pull ourselves together and take decisive steps towards a common security and defence policy. Because it is a question of political will, more than of anything else. The EU's mission here is war prevention and peace keeping. We should concentrate on prevention and proactive engagement and not just resign ourselves to react after having been overrun by events.
So the present IGC - and the Nice Treaty - or should I say nice treaty - will it be of some help to the EU in the decades to come? Yes I think it will. It will enable the EU to cope with forthcoming enlargements. If closer co-operation is seriously handled, it will enable an avant-garde of countries to play the role of locomotive and bring Europe forward.
For decades many architects have been designing a European House, but nobody has ever seen a final drawing of this home. My friend Jacques Delors is suggesting to create a federation of nation states. Why not? I have an open mind on this.
This kind of question is a matter of political will and of leadership - responsible leadership. Because we politicians have to address on a day-to-day basis the issues that are of concern to our citizens - that's the essence of subsidiarity. The EU as such can only help by creating the framework, the house.
Speaking about leadership and political will: I would like to express my appreciation of what my colleague Tony Blair has been doing for Britain in Europe since he took office. There is no contradiction in being pro-British and pro-European at the same time. Britain's natural place is not only in Europe, but it is in the heart of Europe. Constructive engagement - that is indeed what we expect from the UK. Britain and Europe are belonging together."
(Publié le 2 mars 2000)