Friday, 20 October 2017

European Council: United we’re stuck?

After the 18 October 2017 tripartite social summit the president  Donald Tusk offered an optimistic view on the role of the European Council (EUCO) for the future of Europe in general and the deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU) in particular:

From all quarters, there is now a new willingness to energise and enrich our work, draw on new ideas, maintain our unity and increase the dynamism of the EU. I will be calling on leaders to work together according to a strict timetable on the issues we have identified as the most pressing, from migration to EMU reform, where we are deadlocked and where the Gordian knot needs to be cut.

The day before, Tusk had presented his Leaders’ Agenda, based on how the heads of state had implemented the tasks they had set themselves in Bratislava last autumn and in their Rome declaration in March 2017. On twelve pages the document Implementing the Bratislava Roadmap ticks off various actions without analysis of effectiveness or efficiency, nor does it offer a critical framework for evaluating if the goals and actions are commensurate with the the challenges.

On the basis of this implementation report, who would know that due to the member state governments the economic and monetary union (EMU), with a euro area population of 341 million and the second most important reserve currency in the world, still stands on clay feet: feeble, complicated, opaque and undemocratic?

As an indirect, but honest admission of the failings of the national governments, Tusk’s Leaders’ Agenda proposed to the European Council that “we should further step up our efforts and re-energise our work, and, to this effect, set out clearly what we intend to deliver.”
According to the so called Leaders’ Agenda being discussed by the European Council right now, between now and June 2019, thirteen regular EUCO meetings or summits are supposed to deal with a number of subject headlines, a few EU reform issues for each meeting. For the deadlocked issues - quite a lot of them there are - decision notes are promised along the road.

The idea of a longer period of thematic European Council meetings was tried, as proposed by Herman Van Rompuy, the then president of EUCO. Even if I appreciate a systematic and structured approach to strategic issues, I really don’t know if the interests of EU citizens and businesses were better served by these thematic meetings (or the erratic crisis summitry which was the imprint of the Sarkozy era in France).  

Let us see if president Tusk’s optimistic description and principles in the EUCO invitation letter are going to make the heads of state or government change their spots more easily than the leopard.

Is it going to be easier, or even possible to advance according to Tusk’s unity mantra; he keeps repeating: as long as I am here, I will be the guardian of European unity. It is not only my formal role as the President of the European Council, but - above all - it is my true belief. Because unity is, in fact, our most important strength.

It is great that all member states of the European Union are invited to participate and to advance. But does Tusk mean that treaty reform and flexibility are excluded, leaving only enhanced or structured cooperation as a way forward for a group of frustrated member states? (Opaque, ineffective and anti-democratic intergovernmental cooperation is not exactly the future of Europe model I would want to see.)
Tusk’s invitation letter and Leaders Agenda discuss issues as if EUCO were part of the solution. But what should be done if the union of heads of states or government (member state governments) is the cause of poor outcomes for EU citizens and businesses, powers at the European  insufficient for real security and progress for Europeans, and if the European Council is an obstacle on the road to full democratic rights for the citizens of the union?

Ralf Grahn

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