European Affairs

A Larger Europe Will Need An Avant-garde     Print

A Conversation with Jacques Delors,
Former President of the European Commission

Since leaving his position as President of the European Commission six years ago, Jacques Delors has remained active and in§uential in the debate on the future of the European Union. As President of the Commission from 1985 to 1995, Mr. Delors was instrumental in spearheading the 1992 Single Market program and in implementing the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which furthered political, economic and monetary integration.

In this interview with European Affairs, conducted in cooperation with John Andrews, Paris Bureau Chief of the Economist, Mr. Delors expresses his views on enlargement and the future of the European Union.


Question: Enlargement is widely considered a major priority of the European Union. Do you share this view?

Answer: For Europeans, enlargement is both a duty and an opportunity. It is a duty because history has tragically split Europe in two, and we must now have a political approach to rebuilding what in French we call "the European space." But this also presents us with an opportunity, as it is a chance to create an exemplary institutional system to manage the issues raised by globalization.

We should ask ourselves two questions: What are the goals of the so-called Greater Europe? And how can we create a decision-making process that is simple, effective, democratic, and accountable?

I do not believe that it is possible for Europe to fulfill all the objectives of the Maastricht Treaty with 27 to 34 countries. We must be more realistic, and aim for the free circulation of persons, goods, services and capital on the one hand, and a minimum of regulation on the other. Such a goal implies complementary policies to help all the member states succeed in the new framework.

Q: Did the European Union summit meeting in Nice in December

1999 offer any answer to these questions?

A: No one raised these questions in Nice. Most European leaders seemed to think that they could resolve the new challenges presented by enlargement in the same way as with previous enlargements. But we are in a different phase, because the membership applications of the ten Central and Eastern European countries create new problems.

We must understand what these countries want. While they have many traditions in common with Western countries, there are also many differences. One important question is to know exactly what lessons they draw from the past.

Q: Does the European Union provide a framework in which these questions can be resolved?

A: The European Union needs a revival of "common" or "community" methods in the European Commission. The Commission must recover the ability to act on behalf of all the member states without being permanently challenged by each of them. This implies a smoother interaction between the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission.

This institutional triangle will be able to work more easily in a larger Europe if its goals are limited. Those goals should include: management of a bigger single market, application of common policies including social and economic

cohesion, and achieving, step by step, the free circulation of people, goods, services and capital.

It is not easy to achieve these goals with 15 member states. Reaching the same goals within the external frontiers of an enlarged Europe will be even more difficult. With the prospect of a new Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004, an extensive debate should take place, not only among politicians, corporate representatives and trade union leaders, but also among the citizens of Europe.

Q: Four years ago, when an Inter-Governmental Conference produced modest results, European leaders said, "There will be another one in four years." We have just had another conference with disappointing conclusions, and we are now told: "Let's have one in 2004." In the meantime, the system does not work as well as it could. Is it sensible to postpone decisions? Will a real crisis be necessary in order to find better solutions?

A: I hope that in the post-Nice debate, it will be possible to reconcile public opinion and the way European affairs are conducted. It will be necessary to clarify and to simplify the decision-making process. I emphasize that this implies reducing ambitions for a larger Europe. I also propose a so-called avant-garde: let us limit the ambitions of an enlarged Europe while allowing a core group of countries, when they are ready, to go ahead on specific projects. This is an idea that would offer temporary solutions until others are ready to join the core.

Q: How do you visualize the avant-garde? Do you see it as a group cooperating on specific projects, or as a transitory solution because not all countries are ready to move forward?

A: Many countries, including several EU member states, think that the European project conceptualized by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman is no longer relevant because of the significant changes that have taken place in the process. This is not a criticism of the European Union's "founding fathers." It is a simple recognition that today's questions are different.

The founding fathers dreamed not only of a peaceful Europe, but also of a Europe that would not be marginalized by the evolution of history. They dreamed of a Europe capable of playing a role in world affairs.

Europe hesitates between these two visions. Do we override the dreams of the founding fathers, or follow their dreams and adapt the project to the present world situation? My answer would be the latter. This is the reason why, at the beginning of 2000, I initiated a public discussion on what an integrated Europe means, and what sort of institutions can make it possible.

While I am not entirely satisfied with the results of the Nice Council on Institutional Affairs, I am pleased with the conclusions of the first European Council on Security and Defense, which also took place in Nice. It is necessary to make a distinction between the two European Councils. One demonstrates that the system continues to function, while the other is a terrible illustration of Europe's lack of perspective.

There were interesting conclusions on security, maritime security, food security, the application of the precautionary principle, the new European company law, and also a good start to the defense project. But we need to reform the decision making process. Nice did not succeed in that.

Q: How do you define being marginalized?

A: Europe's in§uence has been declining since the beginning of the 20th century, yet it wants to have a say in world affairs. It is not a matter of arguing with the United States. It is possible for Europe to pursue its own objectives in the context of fruitful Transatlantic relations. But it seems to me that in the world of tomorrow, it will be important for Europe to share the task of coming up with new and responsible answers to world problems.

Q: Does this avant-garde really mean keeping the center moving forward while waiting for the rest to follow?

A: It should be an open avant-garde, which means that any country that wants to go further in the integration process should have the opportunity to do so. Without such a feature, I fear that the larger Europe will be nothing more than a free trade zone.

Q: Will there be several avant-gardes for different policy areas, or just one?

A: Just one. I do not believe in the future of the "enhanced cooperation" process agreed in Nice. We have built a sort of supermarket, in which each country chooses to pay for and benefit from one aspect or another. This highly complex system is far from being understood by Europe's citizens. Europe suffers from being too distant from its citizens, and we are not doing enough to address this issue. We need more simplicity and more transparency.

Q: But if you have just a single avant-garde, isn't the risk then that it becomes a hard core, which is difficult for other countries to join?

A: No, because the avant-garde remains open to the other European countries. There are two possible positions to take: you will join and you can join. Britain has said we can, but not we will.

Q: Let us say that you have an avant-garde that has an element of defense, for example, and tax harmonization, and a single currency. Some countries might not be willing or able to be part of all three of those, but they might be able to manage two.

A: You are right, but this is the challenge. It is too complicated, indeed impossible, to guarantee the future of the type of organization that has one form of enhanced cooperation for defense, another for economic and monetary union, another for tax harmonization.

Using my formula, it is possible for the European Commission to guarantee the good functioning of the larger Europe on one hand, and the avant-garde on the other, because the avant-garde does not undermine the success of the larger Europe, and fully respects the basic laws of the larger Europe.

Q: Is not the avant-garde in practice the euro zone?

A: No. It is a question for each member state. Democratically speaking, however, it is necessary to pose the question both to a member country's government and to its public opinion. Let us consider which countries are enthusiastic and ready to enter into the avant-garde. If the result is negative, I sadly predict a degeneration of the concept of Europe.

Q: From the point of view of financial markets, the world now sees Europe through the euro, of which only 12 of the 15 European Union countries are members. Many people think that the only way to make the euro zone work is through well-managed and advanced integration. Do you share that view?

A: The future is not always guaranteed. There is a choice between two interpretations of Economic and Monetary Union. The first interpretation, presently endorsed by the Commission, is that each member country has a duty to adopt the single currency. In other words, "no single market without a single currency."

In that case, it would be possible to have an avant-garde without having to address the problems of a single currency. All the members of the single market would have a single currency, even if there were 27 or 33 members. Inside that larger Europe, however, it would be possible to form an avant-garde on other subjects.

The second interpretation of the euro zone is that in practice it is a sort of avant-garde of the future integrated Europe. That is not the thesis currently accepted by the member states.

I want to emphasize these two interpretations. The reality is that only history will decide which one is ultimately accepted. It will depend on economic and monetary developments and on the quality of governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

Q: Does this mean that the avant-garde would require its own secretariat?

A: No. The avant-garde would have a different Parliament from the larger Europe. It would also have a different Council of Ministers, because the Council would be composed only of the members of the avant-garde. There would be one Commission for both the larger Europe and for the avant-garde. The Commission would, therefore, be the institution that guarantees the functioning of the two unions. In my view, it is clear that having two Commissions would create risks of daily con§icts within the European Union.

My proposal is not one that should be implemented immediately, but rather a theme for a discussion on the future of Europe. What do we want together? I was impressed by the fact that this question was never asked in Nice. What is the point of discussing the management of the Union if you are not defining its ultimate goals?

Q: Why do you feel that there is such a lack of vision in Europe at this time?

A: The mood has changed in the past ten years. If it is to achieve its ambitious goals, the Union must include some visionary men and women who are capable of articulating their ideas. This is not the case at this time.

Q: The German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, came up with some interesting suggestions in his speech in Berlin last May, in which he proposed a European federal government.

A: This is the type of discussion that we need following the Nice summit. Mr. Fischer and I have a number of very important views in common.

Q: What happens if the debate has no conclusion? Normally in a debate, one side wins because it convinces the other. What happens if you have a grand debate in which no majority is convinced of a single vision?

A: A majority is not necessary. Six or seven countries are enough to take the initiative of forming an avant-garde.

Q: What role do you see for the European Parliament in the future?

A: The European Parliament functions well in the co-decision process in which it works with the other institutions. No one seems very interested in this aspect of the Parliament's work, but it is very successful. The Parliament's challenge is to create a link with public opinion, and with the different political traditions in the member states.

Q: How would you describe the European system as compared with the United States?

A: There is no analogy between the European Union and the birth and development of the United States. I do not share the federalist belief in the decline of the nation state. It seems to me that even in the present process of globalization, it is necessary for the nation state to feel a specific identity, and to retain its social and economic cohesion in policies relating to education, culture, and social security.

But if we are to communicate what we are doing to the citizens, we must explain the practical federalist elements of European integration, and not just federalism as a theory. It is important that we have a strict demarcation of the limits between the competency of the Union and the competency of each nation.

As President of the European Commission, I pushed for more integration and the 1992 goal of the single market, but I always maintained that we should allow each nation to preserve the cohesion of its people. For example, I do not advocate a European education policy. Education should remain in the hands of each national government. This should not, however, exclude consultation between Ministers of Education to develop student exchanges, as was done through the Erasmus program, and the harmonization of courses.

Q: How do you envisage the relationship between the European Union and the United States in the future, particularly with regard to the creation of a European defense system?

A: In Saint Malo, in December 1998, Britain and France proposed a specific, joint defense initiative. It was a good idea to keep it outside the theological debate on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was a pragmatic, intergovernmental initiative. We must avoid using this as an opportunity to re-discuss our NATO commitments, and we must consider that it implies that the Europeans should be willing to increase their share of the defense burden.

This relates to the notion of Europe's marginalization. The infrastructure of defense is in NATO. If the Europeans do not accept burden sharing, there is no basis for them to have any in§uence when they have differences of opinion with the United States. We must have both a political will and the means to support it.

Q: Should the Europeans make their own plans for military intervention?

A: It should not be possible for Europe to intervene without a resolution of the United Nations.

Q: American officials often say that Europe's defense budgets are too small. Europe may talk about sharing the burden, but unless it actually spends more, will not such talk be meaningless?

A: If European countries want to play a significant defense role, they will have to reconsider their defense budgets, and they will need more coordination among their arms industries.

Q: Will it be possible to convince the European public that there is a need for larger budgets at a time when there are no obvious major threats?

A: Our societies increasingly react emotionally. They relate instantly to stories in the media and forget five days later. There is also a decline in the feeling of "citizenship." Good governance would imply asking more fundamental and long term questions.

Q: Yes, but there seems to be a difficulty in explaining the criteria for military intervention.

A: It is always possible to explain the facts to the public. We must be conscious of the likelihood of an over-emotional public reaction. This is why we must communicate to the public that Europe is an ambition that implies duties and courage. Unfortunately, there is currently a gap between public opinions and governments, because governments present their proposals with reference to the national interest only.

I remember what happened in 1987 when we had the last realignment of exchange rates in the European Monetary System. Each government had a position based on separate, national interests. Had it continued, it would have been impossible to maintain the system. Fortunately we have transcended the problem and today we have Economic and Monetary Union.

Q: It has been widely reported that Germany emerged from the Nice summit as the key country in Europe, and the most powerful. Is that not because other countries lack more ambitious European policies?

A: In the past, the most in§uential European leaders were able to explain to their electorates that it was necessary for their countries to accept compromises with their neighbors because the European ideal was more important. This type of leader is rare today.

But I remain optimistic because without the European Union it will be impossible for any European country to play even a minimal role in the world of tomorrow. With globalization, the rise of China and India, and the prospect of all of the Americas having a trade agreement soon, the future belongs to regional unions and not to national entities. Regional unions, such as the European Union, Mercosur, and eventually the Association of South East Asian Nations, are tools to manage globalization.

Q: The more regional unions you have, the more popular discontent arises, because they often imply a disenfranchisement of ordinary people. The protesters in Seattle and, since then, at most other important multilateral gatherings, object that decisions are no longer being made democratically. They are being made through agreements negotiated between governments and international companies, with no input from individuals.

A: There are two lessons to be learned from these events. First, politicians must increasingly explain how the world is becoming more globally interdependent if they are to succeed. Second, it would be impossible to reach agreements if the views of every single critic were taken into account. These lessons may seem contradictory, but they are both equally important.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number II in the Spring of 2001.