Friday, 24 September 2010

EU future: Member states boon or bane?

The previous blog post covered the opening shots in the renewed, mainly inter-institutional debate about a more parliamentary or an intergovernmental European Union.

Even if the protagonists seem to address each other, the future solutions are far from arcane irrelevancies. They will determine our security and prosperity, the fate of 501 million Europeans in a globalising world.

We have reason to listen to what some protagonists had to say in the European Parliament Wednesday: Herman Van Rompuy, Martin Schulz and Rebecca Harms.

How should we interpret the silence of the European People’s Party (EPP)?

Can a look outside this one EP debate shed more light on Guy Verhofstadt and Daniel Cohn Bendit, and what does the commentator Stanley Crossick add?

Herman Van Rompuy

Two days after his speech in Paris, on 22 September 2010 the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, reported on the 16 September European Council meeting to the European Parliament. He presented his efforts to get the national governments to cooperate more effectively.

Van Rompuy remarked that the heads of state or government want more ownership by the European Council (themselves) in EU foreign policy.

With regard to economic governance, all heads of state or government want to continue the work and to keep the momentum. Van Rompuy will submit a draft of the global report to the Task Force consisting of the ministers of finance on September 27, with the aim to reach an understanding in the middle of October, so that the European Council can conclude in its meeting of the 28th and 29th October.

Later Van Rompuy returned to the discussion about the “Community method” versus “intergovernmental” coordination:

Dear colleagues, Mr President, meetings of the European Council should not be considered as "summits" but as regular -- even routine -- meetings of a Union institution.

Indeed, allow me to emphasise -- at this time of renewed debate in your Parliament about the "Community method" -- that the European Council is an institution of our Union and not a summit in the manner of the G8 or the G20. It is embedded in the institutional framework of the Union, but it brings to the Union inputs from the highest political level in the member states, and it gives to the member states a sense of ownership and participation in the Union and reinforces their commitment to its success.

Stanley Crossick

Van Rompuy rallied at least one enthusiastic supporter.

According to Stanley Crossick, on Stanley’s blog yesterday, there is no longer any space for an ideological confrontation between the Community method and intergovernmentalism. ‘Our’ approach should be pragmatic and there should be a mixture of the two approaches, depending on the circumstances. Herman Van Rompuy rightly seeks to bring cohesion within the European Council and between the EU institutions.

Crossick also supported Van Rompuy’s idea of downgrading the European Council summits, with EU leaders meeting more regularly in dialogue as an excellent one.

EPP group dilemma

I failed to find anything immediately relevant in group leader Joseph Daul’s or other press releases on the news page of the largest political group in the European Parliament: the 265 member EPP group.

As the centre-right European People’s Party likes to point out in its press releases:

The EPP is the largest and most influential European-level political party of the centre-right, which currently includes 73 member-parties from 39 countries, the Presidents of the Commission, Council, and Parliament, 15 EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government, 13 members of the European Commission and the largest Group in the European Parliament.

Actually, they forgot to mention the president of the European Council (Herman Van Rompuy).

Mentioning the Council is more complicated: The prime minister of the caretaker government in Belgium, the current EU Council presidency, is the Christian Democratic and Flemish (EPP) Yves Leterme, although it is a coalition government, so representatives of different parties could be expected to chair various Council ‘configurations’.

In other words, it is somewhat uncomfortable for the EPP to come out strongly in public for or against one of the EU institutions, or most of member states’ governments for that matter.

Socialists and Democrats

I failed to find anything in the newsroom of the second largest political group: the Socialists and Democrats.

However, the S&D group leader Martin Schulz has few of the inhibitions of his EPP counterpart. The summary of the debate published by the EP press service tells us:

Socialist Martin Schulz said that…

…the Parliament is calling for the community method in terms of resolving problems. He said his group wanted it to be done at EU level in a community way and that the task of EP is to get the community method through.

Other political groups

The EP press summary was written mostly from the viewpoint of economic governance and the Roma issue, so the extracts concerning Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats ALDE), Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA), Timothy Kirkhope (European Conservatives and Reformists ECR), Patrick Le Hyaric(leftist GUE/NGL) and Niki Tzavela (nationalist Europe of Freedom and Democracy EFD) do not enlighten us much in this respect.

I found no press release with more details from ALDE, but co-chair Rebecca Harms for the Green group clearly warned against the growing influence of member states in ‘very European’ issues, while it is the task of the Commission to defend the general interest of Europeans.

We do know that the ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt and co-chair Daniel Cohn Bendit (Greens) are among the members of the Spinelli Group for a federal Europe. The Spinelli Group network consists of the signatories of the manifesto, 1052 by now.

Are the member states indispensable for or the bane of an ever closer union?

We are still far from a definitive answer.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. In two days, Sunday 26 September 2010, people all over Europe celebrate the European Day of Languages, organised by the Council of Europe and the European Union as an inspiration to language learning.

For bloggers in Europe there is a special event, which takes place on the Internet: the Day of Multilingual Blogging. The blog post behind the link offers suggestions on how to participate, as well as information about the event, the Facebook page and the Twitter hashtag #babel. For a richer life, please join!