Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Opinion

The future of Europe is much too serious to be left to wise men

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT -The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, told an audience the other day that the European Union would face no further constitutional reform for ten years. I think he meant it to sound like a long time - the foreseeable future in fact - certainly longer than the time in office of most of those who were sitting around the Lisbon tables last weekend concluding the negotiations on the Reform Treaty.

What he did not say, of course, is that even if we assume that the Reform Treaty will be ratified successfully - and we should beware of counting constitutional chickens before all the ratification eggs are hatched - it will have taken ten years to have completed the task. From the early preparations for the Intergovernmental Conference that led to the Treaty of Nice in the late 1990s, to the time when the Reform Treaty will come into force will have been ten years.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • "We all like the thought of approaching some oracle that will make up our minds for us, painlessly, tell us what to do without our having to think" (Photo: Peter Sain ley Berry)

There is no reason to suspect that future constitutional changes will occupy any less time. Indeed, they may occupy more time because additional countries will be involved and the next round of changes will, in all probability, be even more far reaching. Which means, of course, that if we start reflecting on the next round of constitutional change now, we may still only just be in time to meet the 2017 rendezvous.

In a sense this is what President Sarkozy of France has been trying to commence for a little time now with his proposal to establish a Committee of Wise Men to look at where the EU should be heading. Its terms of reference would cover at least two major areas: how many (and which) countries should the Union eventually embrace; and, secondly, what institutions with what competences would a union of this size require in order to function successfully at home and abroad.

These are questions that many of the Union's citizens have been asking themselves for quite a time. A larger number of folk, with little desire to be involved in such matters, have nevertheless noticed that the Union has become bigger recently and wonder what this might mean for their way of life. They are concerned by what seems to be an irreversible drift, salami slice by salami slice, into a future that they have had no say in shaping.

Exploring the future

Mr Sarkozy's plan for a Committee of the Wise is therefore welcome. Politicians and others should surely be exploring and explaining what sort of future Union we want and how this will relate to our immediate neighbours and to the wider globalised world.

His initiative, however, has come under suspicion from the Commission which sees it as a device to undermine progress with Turkey's accession. Mr Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner, took him to task this week on just this basis.

Indeed this may be one of Mr Sarkozy's motivations; all the same it doesn't negate the value of trying to think through one particular policy - Turkish accession - against the wider backdrop of the sort of Union that might be desirable in twenty years time. It is almost inevitable that we shall have to make sacrifices and compromises at some point, whether Turkey accedes to the Union, or not.

So it is odd that the Commission should be reluctant to see the long-term strategy explored. Instead, on Turkish accession as on much else, it seems to be is a case of 'heads down, bully and shove' - get the policy through and move on quickly before the democratic consequence arrives.

Yet it is undeniable that the accession of Turkey would have all sorts of consequences for the Union, as indeed it would for Turkey. One of those consequences would be to make it very much harder to close the European door to other states - such as the Ukraine in particular - that might also wish to join in due course. Turkey and the Ukraine together would have an even more dramatic effect on the Union.

To write this is not to be 'against' Turkish accession or the accession of any other state. It is just a plea to explore and debate the consequences at a distance in time that makes the exploration of alternative options feasible. After all the size and structure of the Union is a profound constitutional matter.

Politics rather than wisdom

The Commission, or so it seems, shows little sign of wanting to engage in this debate, so we are left with Mr Sarkozy's 'Wise Men.' But as soon as we look at alternative long-term options - a wide, but loose union, for instance, versus a smaller but more deeply integrated partnership of states - we are in the realm of politics rather than the realm of wisdom.

The Wise conclusions, I suspect, will depend to a very large extent on the politics of the wise men and women chosen. And here lies a difficulty. Balance the Committee and you will either get a weak and fussy compromise or a minority report. Handpick the Committee and you face accusations of partiality.

In any case from where should these wise persons be drawn? We can expect different views from the Anglo-Saxons and the continentals and between Eastern Europe and the west. Politicians and business folk will differ as will the views of those from small states and large.

There is also a danger in the sobriquet 'wise.' By the time someone comes to be deemed 'wise' - at the end of some illustrious career - they are almost certainly on their way to becoming out of date and out of touch, barely able to concentrate on present politics let alone the politics of the future.

We all like the thought of approaching some oracle that will make up our minds for us, painlessly, tell us what to do without our having to think. Well, that is an illusion.

But so is ploughing on regardless, head down, oblivious to what is ahead.

So let the next ten years of constitutional debate begin. In public. Let it begin among the citizens and in the Parliament, in the think-tanks and advisory bodies, in universities and in newspaper columns. Let us all put on our wise caps and wise bonnets and address the issue of what should be the 'final status' of the Europe to which we aspire.

How big should this Europe be? How democratic? How integrated? How much are we prepared to pay for it? And on what should that money be spent? What role should Europe play in the world? Only when we have an idea of our destination can we properly decide the best route to get there.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

EU should ensure sustainable Cohesion Policy

As the EU Council kicks off negotiations over the post-2020 budget, ministers have have an opportunity to create a framework that will unlock innovative financing and scale up the citizen-led clean energy transformation

How to reset EU-Burma relations

Europe should go back to its pre-2012 policy, wipe away aid and trade benefits, and tie democratic efforts to the reinstatement of benefits.

How to reset EU-Burma relations

Europe should go back to its pre-2012 policy, wipe away aid and trade benefits, and tie democratic efforts to the reinstatement of benefits.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  2. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  3. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  4. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  5. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  7. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  9. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  10. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries