EU federal reform to respond to reality

Conferencia sobre el Futuro de Europa

The European Union's (EU) effective response to the health, economic and social crisis provoked by COVID-19 can and, in my opinion, should be an accelerator of the reforms of all kinds that the Community edifice has long needed.

It is worth stressing this, because there is bound to be an opposing view: if, with the instruments established in the Lisbon Treaty, we have been able to manage a challenge such as the pandemic, which the united Europe has never had to face since its birth, why look for three feet to the cat?

Moreover, this "conservative" thesis (far from being Eurosceptic, but legitimately pro-European) will argue that, given the unanimity required for any substantial reform of the Treaty - from the attribution of competences to the division of powers - it is best to remain in a situation that allows us to act with what we have in order to avoid situations of deadlock or, worse still, constitutional processes doomed to failure.

It is worth recalling at this point, before moving on, that it is common to cite as an example the "failure" of the European Constitution, which some attribute to the ambitiousness of the text, in order to set minimum objectives.

Well, let us be clear that it was not the ambitiousness of the Constitution drawn up by the Convention that led to the failure of some governments - France and Holland, but not of the text or of those who drew it up - when it came to ratifying it nationally, but rather the internal political problems in their countries, which ended up being allied with a simply unsustainable treaty reform procedure: unanimity.

Precisely because of this, the response today to what happened in 2005 can be neither a lack of ambition nor a fear of going down the road, but the opposite.

On the one hand, because the pandemic has demonstrated the need to deepen the political construction of Europe if we do not want to act 'ad hoc' in the crises that arise - and they will arise, let no one be fooled - in all areas. Acting 'ad hoc' in each case may be synonymous with gambling that it will turn out well again... or very badly. It would be foolish not to take advantage of the public support for going further that all the polls show.

On the other, because the lack of Community competences in certain areas is already untenable, as is the lack of the checks and balances that are inherent in any democracy to manage them.

If we make progress in these two major areas (competences and division of powers), we will be moving towards a federal Europe. This is something, by the way, that we have not stopped doing since the Treaty of Rome, more or less rapidly or more or less openly or discreetly. 

The latest steps in this direction leave no room for doubt: the Treaty of Lisbon (a faithful reflection of the European Constitution) and the decisions on the purchase of vaccines, the digital certificate or NextGenerationEU are there for anyone who wants to see them.

In that sense, we should understand the Conference on the Future of Europe as a means to an end, not as an end in itself which would only lead to a Europeanist depression.

Conferencia sobre el Futuro de Europa

Indeed, we can debate and debate for months without reaching conclusions or, even worse, reaching them, but without realising them. Frankly, I do not know which would be worse.

The Conference must make clear proposals calling for a Convention and an Intergovernmental Conference to translate them into the Treaties. It is up to the most pro-European governments, institutions, parties and citizens to take the lead in this effort and to succeed.

All the more so given that the political situation in the Member States is not going to worsen in terms of pro-European commitment but is likely to improve. 

What progress should be made on competences and division of powers to bring the federal horizon closer and thus increase the effectiveness of European democracy?

Conferencia sobre el Futuro de Europa

In terms of competences, the following:

  • complete economic and monetary union with the recognition in the Treaty of the ability to set Community taxes, issue European debt and establish permanent counter-cyclical mechanisms similar to the NGEU,
  • define a social Europe with Community instruments such as supplementary unemployment reinsurance and minimum wages,
  • create a European health union with Community capacities going beyond coordination and complementarity,
  • To set up a European army in the framework of the Defence Policy.

With regard to the division of powers, the following:

  • extend the ordinary legislative procedure to all areas, including those relating to the Multiannual Financial Framework and the own resources decision,
  • extending the European Parliament's powers of scrutiny and decision-making in foreign policy and defence policy,
  • abolish unanimity in those areas where it is still in force, replacing it with a reinforced double majority in the most sensitive areas (e.g. treaty reform),
  • give the European Parliament the power to approve treaty reforms together with the Member States and the legislative initiative,
  • transfer as a general rule to the European Commission the implementing powers currently in the hands of the EU Council,
  • adopt a procedure for nominating the candidate for President of the European Commission that puts the European Parliament on an equal footing with the European Council,
  • set a maximum number of members of the College of Commissioners equal to one third of the number of Member States, without exception,
  • adopting transnational lists in elections to the European Parliament.

Conferencia sobre el Futuro de Europa

It would also be politically relevant if the twelve-star flag and the Ode to Joy were to become the official symbols of the Union, not only in some Member States.

And, firstly, although it is listed last here, that the dual legitimacy of the EU be recognised in Article 1 of the Treaty (as it was in the Constitution): that of the States and that of the European citizenship.

Would it not be logical for a Treaty thus amended to be called the European Constitution? I think so.

Carlos Carnero, former MEP and Member of the European Convention