Premier’s vision an important milestone on the road to Laeken

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Series Details Vol.7, No.23, 7.6.01, p21
Publication Date 07/06/2001
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Date: 07/06/01

Lionel Jospin's recent speech on the future of Europe initially drew a mixed reaction. Stanley Crossick, chairman of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think-tank, argues that the speech benefits from a closer inspection

Parts may have been inspired by Jacques Delors and others - and it certainly followed wide consultation - but it was clearly written by Jospin himself. His contribution to a discussion which is just beginning appears to be an initial reflection and his position will presumably evolve. But this first offering helps to centre the debate, defining and developing the "federation of nation states" concept in a manner likely to attract support.

The prime minister first explains why we need a European Union and what should be its objectives, before he suggests how to achieve them - "contenu" before "contenant". His vision is, unsurprisingly, of a social Europe, with an interventionist industrial policy, a special role for public services, the protection of culture and a robust independence from the United States.

The speech may seem deceptive if read quickly because the many reforms proposed are expressed briefly - but the institutional part of the now famous German SPD paper was also short.

Jospin sees Europe as "first and foremost a political undertaking" and thinks through how he would like to see the EU more politicised to achieve his stated objectives. His audience is first domestic - with the 2002 French presidential election in mind - and then his fellow EU leaders.

The Frenchman proposes that the president of the Commission in future be appointed from the political group which wins the European election. It is not clear what would happen if - as is usual - there is no overall majority. He believes that genuine European parties are needed, being an integrating factor. He also advocates the reform of European election procedures, combining proportional

representation with regional constituencies, to bring MEPs closer to the voter.

Jospin's Europe is a "federation of nation states" not Gerhard Schröder's "European federation". How that translates depends on how the policy is organised and not what it's called. He goes on to say that, if "federation is taken to mean a gradual controlled process of sharing or transferring competences to the Union level, then the term refers to the 'federation of Nation States', the term coined by Jacques Delors. This is a concept which I fully support". It should be borne in mind that Delors is a committed integrationist.

Schröder's federation contemplated the repatriation of key areas of EU competence, such as regional/structural and agricultural policies. While agreeing that there is a need to clarify the respective competences of the Union and the states, the French leader does not want this clarification to call into question shared competences.

To what extent does the prime minister seek to cling to national sovereignty and intergovernmentalism? It is true that he believes there to be an "indispensable" role for the latter. However, he supports the idea of a European Constitution and suggests that all non-constitutional treaty amendments be agreed by a "Congress" or "Permanent Conference of Parliaments".

While it is not clear whether the European Parliament would be part of this new body, the procedure would eliminate national ratification - and thus the national veto on non-constitutional treaty changes. The new Congress would monitor compliance with subsidiarity and hold an annual "State of the Union" debate. There is, of course, a danger in subsidiarity being overseen by a body in which EU institutions are in minority - or even absent.

Jospin regards the equilibrium of the institutional triangle as crucial and their roles as needing strengthening. The European Council should meet more often to discuss general policy guidelines and major Union decisions. It should approve a multi-year legislative programme based on a proposal from the Commission and Parliament (this is similar to an idea floated by Tony Blair in Warsaw last October).

A permanent Council of Ministers should be established with its members having a status tantamount to vice-prime ministers. These measures should improve the efficiency of the Council in its executive, as well as in its legislative role.

But the French leader's boldest proposal for enhancing decision-making is certainly that the voting of laws in Council "should always be by qualified majority".

The Commission's political authority and legitimacy need to be strengthened as the "European general interest must be better safeguarded". The European Council should have the right to dissolve Parliament on a proposal of the Commission or the Member States - the number of which is not specified.

He proposes to broaden the democratic process: direct consultation with civil society through "dialogue forums"; regular consultations on important European political issues; and an enhanced role for the European Ombudsman.

He foresees The Charter of Fundamental Rights being incorporated into law and giving rights to citizens before the European Court of Justice - particularly bold as it is contrary to French legal tradition - and the building up of a "Common law area" facilitating the resolution of cross-border disputes, including a new court of arbitration to handle conflicts of national law, for example in divorce cases.

Jospin wants the Union to be more effective in matters of both internal and external security. He supports the creation of an integrated police force, enhanced cooperation between judges and ongoing harmonisation of national criminal laws, which could ultimately lead to the creation of a "European public prosecutor's office".

Convinced that the European Union is the best tool with which to humanise globalisation, he wishes to strengthen the role of the CFSP High Representative (significant in the light of the original French attitude), to have unified external representation of the euro group and the eurozone countries to "coordinate or even unify their representation" in the Bretton Woods institutions.

He also believes that the merger of the European consular networks abroad into "European Centres" will give European expatriates a heightened sense of European citizenship.

How far apart are the French and German views? It is not unusual for their opening positions to be different. In the past, the compromise would have been worked out behind closed doors. Today, European integration has reached a level that makes a more open and more democratic debate necessary and the Franco-German relationship is also less warm. However, it remains the Union's driving force and both countries know that they must reach broad agreement. We have, so far, only seen the opening of negotiations.

In my view, the Jospin speech is: politically very astute, appealing to an immediate domestic audience but also looking further ahead on the European scene; closer to the German position than at first appears; not simply a drive for more intergovernmentalism; a demand for substantially more integration through increased majority voting. It constitutes an important milestone on the road to Laeken.

Major feature. Lionel Jospin's recent speech on the future of Europe initially drew a mixed reaction. Author, chairman of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think-tank, argues that the speech benefits from a closer inspection.

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