Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Two visions for Europe

Tuesday and Wednesday the European Parliament was presented with two different, but perhaps converging, visions on the way forward for the European Union.

Tuesday’s speaker took the high road.

The Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, spoke for the 18 countries which have approved the Constitution.

He stressed that it is to achieve results that the EU needs stronger and more effective common institutions. Italy could not accept radical changes to the Constitutional Treaty of 2004. The only true realism is to build a Europe able to keep up with challenges.

Key points to be preserved were the strengthening of foreign policy and common security by means of a European Foreign Minister, a stable Presidency of the Council, the extension of qualified majority voting, the abolition of the three-pillar structure, and the Union’s legal personality.

If the resulting agreement is unconvincing, a vanguard of countries could advance towards a more integrated union, always keeping the door open to those countries willing to join later.

Wednesday’s guest speaker took the low road.

Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, spoke for one of the two countries where a national referendum in 2005 caused a constitutional crisis for the European Union. He noted that enlargement and deepening had advanced rapidly and that the citizens of the Netherlands needed time to adjust.

Calling the new treaty a constitution may have given voters the feeling of loss of say. EU intervention and regulation may have contributed to the negative reception of the treaty.

Mr Balkenende said that the last two years had seen improvements in how the European Union handled affairs, and he thought that it would be possible to find a solution for Europe, based on common ground and a constructive attitude.

The Prime Minister laid his foundations for an agreement: Treaty reform as one more step, not a Constitution. The democratic functioning of the EU, including subsidiarity and a voice for national parliaments. A more effective Union, able to tackle climate change, immigration and terrorism. Clear criteria for further enlargement.

Time will tell if the high road and the low road will join on common ground.

Ralf Grahn