Eleven European Foreign Affairs Ministers Dare Articulate Their Bold Vision of the Future of Europe (10/4)     Print

By Jacqueline Grapin, Founder and Chairman of The European Institute

A highly significant report issued last month by a distinguished group of European Foreign Ministers is a bold rejoinder to those prophets of doom who predict the end of the euro and question even the viability of the European Union itself. Who said that Jean Monnet, one of the Fathers of the European Union, was wrong when he thought that trade liberalization in Europe would lead to economic and later to political union?

Veterans of European integration know, on the contrary, that it is in times of crisis that the next step in fuller integration is often crafted. Among the many signals confirming this, is the report by the Future of Europe Group, an informal forum of eleven European Foreign Affairs Ministers, which outlines their vision of the next steps to expect in the European Union.

This group includes the ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain, chaired by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Their nucleus is the “Weimar Triangle” which testifies to a successful process of reconciliation between Germany and its two biggest immediate neighbors to the west and east: Poland and France. Of course, the signatories of the document specify that not all agree with all the proposals. And knowing the multiplicity of past proposals for the integration of “a peaceful Europe”, one cannot expect that this report will be the last and final proposition. But it is important that it does exist. And it is astonishing that it tackles some of the taboos of European integration, such as the prospect for a European defense policy, which goes “beyond sharing and pooling.”  Most of its proposals can be implemented within the existing treaties, but the report goes so far as to recognize that any major treaty revision, in a system that now includes 27 states, should be implemented, not by a unanimous vote and ratification, which has become almost impossible to get, but by a super-qualified majority of the Member States and their populations and should be binding to those who have ratified the revisions.

Clearly the strengthening of the European Monetary Union comes first among the priorities. An integrated financial budgetary framework is envisaged, with a reinforced role of the Commissioner in charge of Economic and Financial Affairs, a “European Monetary Fund with adequate powers” and a Common deposit insurance scheme (imitating the U.S. Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation FDIC).

The document does not even exclude a sharing of sovereign risk, but does not recommend it immediately. It alludes to the possibility of a central budget and a directly elected European Commission President, who would appoint the members of his “European Government” himself; a European Parliament with the powers to initiate legislation, and a second chamber for the member states. It considers creating a European Border Police and, in the medium term and  a Europe-wide visa; and it aims at reinforcing the Common Foreign and Security Policy  by bringing responsibilities to the European level that still reside at the national level.  In suggests introducing more majority decisions in the CSFP sphere “or at least prevent[ing] one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives.”  It recommends seeking joint representation in international organizations, and aiming at a European Defense Policy with joint efforts regarding the defense industry, particularly the creation of a single market for armament projects. Finally, the report suggests that the possibilities of “à la carte” Permanent Structured Cooperation created by the Lisbon Treaty be used more extensively.

Even if not all the suggestions contained in the report of the Future of Europe Group are to be negotiated immediately, the very fact that they have been articulated is remarkable. In times of permanent Euro-bashing it makes for refreshing reading.