|Vol.7, No.38, 18.10.01, p6
UNION leaders need to do a better job of defining the EU's mission and future role in world affairs if they want to improve Brussels' standing with the public, say two major advisors to the Belgian presidency.
Former prime ministers Giuliano Amato of Italy and Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium, both members of the group of 'wise men' advising Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt on the future of Europe, called for a broad discussion on the issue involving everyone from heads of government to schoolchildren. "First of all, we have to clarify what Europe is for," Amato told a Brussels audience this week at the launch of Blueprint for a Debate 2001-2004, produced by the Friends of Europe think-tank.
The pamphlet offers suggestions for how a "deeper and wider debate about the future of the European Union" might be conducted. The goal, its authors say, is to "remove the obstacles that did so much to deadlock the Nice and Amsterdam" intergovernmental conferences. Friends of Europe, whose board members include Amato and Dehaene, spells out the following timetable:
First, establish a convention on the future of Europe immediately after the December summit in Laeken, Belgium.
This would survey and interpret public opinion in member and candidate states, and then publish a formal report in 2003. A further report would set out options for restructuring the Union and its working methods. Second, and in parallel, the European Commission should make proposals. By mid-2003 the Convention and Commission reports would be submitted to national governments, as well as to the public, so that a Europe-wide debate can be held. "If, at the end of 2003, the Italian presidency is able to agree on these proposals as a basis for negotiations," the authors write, "the incoming Irish presidency would be able to convene the IGC in early 2004, with its guidelines and work programme already determined." Amato, who briefly roused the audience at the Bibliothèque Solvay by comparing Europe to a woman prone to occasional bouts of scepticism, said a new mission for the EU was critical.
Public support for the Union peaked at two earlier periods, he noted: in the immediate post-war effort to use economic cooperation as a means of ensuring peace, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the advent of the single market. In order to restore it to those levels, Amato claimed, a similarly common and easily understood goal is needed. Both he and Dehaene advocated boosting efforts to gauge public opinion, going beyond the traditional Eurobarometer polls and including telephone- and Internet-based surveys as well as forums on radio and television programmes. "I know it may sound naïve but as many ordinary people need to be involved in this process as possible," Amato concluded.
Union leaders need to do a better job of defining the EU's mission and future role in world affairs if they want to improve Brussels' standing with the public, say two major advisors to the Belgian presidency.
|Politics and International Relations