Francisco Aldecoa, Professor of International Relations at the Complutense University, President of the European Movement in Spain and Director of the Civil Society Representation of the Conference on the Future of Europe, reviewed the challenges facing the European Union in the microphones of 'De cara al mundo'.
Right now, the future of Europe is a challenge and a challenge, how do you see the future of Europe?
Profound changes in Europe have taken place since the elections to the European Parliament on 19 November, where a new political cycle is beginning. This new cycle manifests itself in several ways, for example, in the fact that the President of the Commission was elected on 28 November by nearly 70% of the House, which is unprecedented. As a result, she has had a strong legitimacy of origin, which, together with the adoption of federal measures to deal with COVID-19, where, in addition to health measures, political and social measures have also been taken, has achieved even greater legitimacy. On the other hand, the most important thing is the agreement between the institutions, the famous 750 billion, half of what was requested, of which Spain will receive 140 billion. However, the most important thing is to see that important federal steps have been taken, because this decision is a federal decision because it is distributed according to needs, not according to GDP or other considerations. The same can be said about the New Generations fund and the way in which the debt is pooled being a wiser decision, because in such extraordinary situation extraordinary measures were demanded, these measures seem to be starting to take effect. From our point of view, the political change in Europe has begun to be quite profound, which means that the Conference on the Future of Europe has a new responsibility, to make this change possible, making improvements in the political model and even in the treaties.
What are the improvements that need to be made?
At the moment there are many, for the moment the Conference is bringing together for the first-time representatives of civil society and citizens and representatives of the institutions. This new exercise is the first time this has been done anywhere before reforming the treaties or taking measures. The two legitimacies represented by representative democracy and participatory democracy come together to make proposals. At the moment there is an agenda with nine points, the positions of which are not yet clear. Next week the second plenary session of the Conference will meet, there are no proposals yet, but we do have the agenda and the perspectives, which are democracy. On the subject of Poland, which is being talked about quite a lot, article 7 will have to be reformed to make the social model more effective. The guide is the European Union, which, for example, has hardly any competences in labour matters, it is a subject where the summit is the taking of important decisions on agreements between trade unions, workers and employers, where issues such as the minimum wage or the length of working hours, matters which until now have been strictly national issues, are dealt with together. On the other hand, in economic matters, it seems that we are taking a step towards a banking and fiscal union, in health matters, which has affected us so much in recent months because of COVID-19, it seems that there will be competition in health matters, or at least there is a need for it. At the moment, there are up to nine themes, such as European youth, foreign policy, defence and migration. The Conference is trying to deal with this new situation in a material way, under a legal formula.
Sometimes we are afraid of words or of a new form of organisation. You spoke of moving towards a more federal model. Can we aspire to be the United States of Europe?
I don't like that expression, and I don't like it above all because it causes confusion. If we talk about the United States, it sounds as if we are going to create a new state, but that is not in the nature of things. The European project, since 48 in The Hague and after the Schuman Declaration, is to create a European federation, not a superstate, but an intermediate situation, a federation where the states continue to exist and where they cede competences in those areas where it may be more useful for them to be exercised jointly. That is what the current European system needs to be strengthened in addition to areas such as those we have discussed. We now need fiscal union, health policy, areas where we have seen that they are best exercised in a common way, that is federalism.
The fundamental basis of Brexit has been that they do not have to give up their sovereignty, in my case, I am more in favour of thinking that the correct term is sharing rather than giving up sovereignty, sharing in search of common objectives that benefit us all.
Perhaps it is both, in order to maintain the sovereignty, we have, we must exercise it in common. It is clear that we cannot deal with issues such as the one we have now experienced with health on an individual basis. These situations must be dealt with jointly. Now we are starting to talk about European sovereignty, Macron likes the expression "European sovereignty", in other parts of the world, such as Germany, they like it less. In the end we have to find a common path.
So, sooner or later, there will be important advances...
I think so, within six months to a year, progress will be made for three reasons: the first is that in Europe society is very united, unlike in the United States where it is completely divided into two camps, but not here. There may be a specific problem in some countries, such as Poland, but I am sure that in the next elections there will be a change in the government, in any case 80% of the population wants to remain in the European Union. The second reason is that the majority political forces are completely united. I am convinced that, as was the case with the appointment of the President of the Commission herself, where 70% had a common consensus, they will be the ones to draw up the new proposals. Finally, the third reason is the governments, despite the fact that here you are assuming that there is a huge division between the governments of the states, there are only one or two with difficulties.
One of the novelties of the Conference is citizen participation. How important it is for citizens to have a voice and to contribute ideas and proposals so that they are taken into account. The European Union has always been accused of initiating processes from above, from the political class, and giving everything to the citizens. Now, citizens have the option of being able to participate in the cooking that is the European project.
Since its origins, the European project has been born from the bottom up, from civil society to the Conference. Now there are two ways, through civil society and through the citizens. I have to say quite clearly that I do not like the system of panels of 800 representatives, I do not think it is representative. Furthermore, I am concerned about the fact that the representatives, whose names we are not going to know in principle, have been chosen by means of a lottery system. I do not quite understand this, especially because the profound changes are not going to be made through these proposals but through organised civil society. However, there are proposals such as the declaration of 10,000 young people in the European Parliament that have a lot of substance, which will serve as a basis for discussions. What strikes me is that in Spain the media, public opinion and even politicians are turning their backs on this process of relaunching the European project, when the novelty is that for the first time Europe is having an influence.
I have always been on the side of what is good about the European Union, if it did not exist it would have to be invented, because it is one of the best things we have experienced in the last century in terms of humanity.
I have no doubt, above all, that very positive decisions are being taken for the citizens in this regard. For example, the issue of Afghanistan, it is said all the time that it has been a failure of the West, and it is not considered that the only embassy that is still there, defending European interests, is that of the European Union. The United States has left, and all the member countries have left, but there has been a great deal of work done there in terms of humanitarian development cooperation. The military issues may have gone badly, but the issues in which Europe has played a leading role, which has been the backbone of civil society abroad, will surely be dismantled, but for the time being 600 schools have been left there. Before the United States held the Doha talks, the EU has not stopped talking because it is there, and what is more, the European Union's development cooperation is going to double.