Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: FR DE

SPEECH/01/13

Michel BARNIER

Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional policy and Institutional reform.

"The outlook for the European Union after Nice".

Conference before the Regions of Aquitaine and Emilia-Romagna and the Land of Hesse

Brussels, 18 January 2001

While there is no denying that there was unanimity amongst the 15 Member States at the Nice European Council meeting otherwise it would not have resulted in a text this unanimity was not mirrored amongst the observers. As for the people of Europe, that is another story.

Much has been said about the method. It has had its hiccups and progress has been slow at times. I have never considered it fair to make the presidency Dutch the last time round at Amsterdam, French this time in Nice a scapegoat for a result which is, let us not forget, a collective result.

Let me just say that in another collective discipline which is very familiar in Aquitaine in particular and perhaps also in the Land of Hesse and in the region of Emilia-Romagna, a discipline which also involves 15 I am referring to rugby there is no result without sacrifice, without some friction. The fact is that we had both at the same time in Nice. Undoubtedly, if I may stick to the rugby image, there was not enough team spirit.

Which is why I prefer to look at the outcome.

It is also unfair to get worked up about it. Why do I say this? Because:

  • the scope of the discussions was from the outset limited to certain specific subjects. No one could expect the Nice European Council to provide solutions to problems which were not even being discussed there! The Commission had admittedly proposed a wider agenda but not everyone was of the same idea;

  • it was the first time for 40 years that adjustments were being made to the institutions. The previous waves of enlargement transposed the system in order to accommodate the new members. Nice succeeded where Amsterdam had failed;

  • technically, the Union is ready to take in new Member States. Enlargement has been given the green light.

Institutionally, we cannot therefore speak of a failure. Some progress has been made but it is too little and the overall impression is that there was no real platform.

In the wake of Nice we have to move forward with clear ideas.

Let me give you a few which are personal, firstly by rapidly summing up what was done at Nice and then looking at the future of the Union.

Nice has heralded a new phase for our 15-state Europe.

The Nice European Council was in actual fact the culminating point of a single series of very long negotiations started in 1995. It thus brought to its conclusion a discussion which Amsterdam had not managed to conclude (outstanding business):

  • qualified majority gains around 30 areas, in some cases with immediate effect and in their entirety, in others on a partial basis (e.g. commercial policy) or on a deferred basis (e.g. cohesion);

  • size of the Commission: maintenance of one Commissioner per Member State until the European Union has 27 members, after which point there will be a ceiling;

  • amendment of the number of votes allocated to each Member State, thereby better reflecting the relative weight of each country. It is on this latter point that concern is most justified. The new system is less transparent and more complex.

The starting mandate was respected and the Nice European Council leaves no unfinished business:

  • the collective ethos of the Commission can be maintained if the ceiling is actually introduced and its President's powers are increased;

  • the Parliament sees its influence enhanced a little with the extension of the codecision procedure to seven new areas, some of which are politically sensitive (justice and internal affairs);

  • the organisation of the Court of Justice has been comprehensively revamped;

  • enhanced cooperation can henceforth be established in a more flexible manner (threshold of eight Member States and dropping of the veto option) and on a broader basis (extension to the CFSP).

So the institutions are moving.

Yet we are left with the impression that the results have fallen short of expectations.

Why ?

Most of the Member States gave the impression that their objective was to be able to block the others rather than to be able to decide together.

The right of veto has not been reduced in qualitative terms. Essential issues (e.g. taxation, environment) remain bound by the rule of unanimity. Yet this is the main reason why Europe remains so powerless collectively.

The Treaty concluded in the small hours in Nice is therefore a short-term Treaty. It simply marks the beginning of a new phase. Those who helped to draft it do not however feel that they have finished what they had to do inasmuch they have decided to embark upon a fresh phase together.

The post-Nice period has therefore just begun. What it means in fact is that the discussions on the future of the Union are being continued and expanded and it is on this debate, its method and its platform that we now have to concentrate our efforts.

Yesterday in front of the European Parliament, Romano Prodi outlined the three stages of the process which will lead up to the new intergovernmental conference of 2004:

  • firstly, a discussion, open to everyone and potentially to all subjects, on the future of Europe. This marks the start of the broad debate announced in Nice. I know that the presidencies, in particular the Swedish Presidency, are actively involved in its preparation;

  • then, following the Laeken European Council next December, crystallisation of opinions and alternatives: still a phase of reflection, but also already one of distillation and structuring;

  • lastly, the necessary organisation of an intergovernmental conference which should be short and resolute.

So the way ahead is clearly marked out and fortunately the Commission and the European Parliament once again share a commitment of convergence and partnership as regards the process now starting and which will take us up to the ICG of 2004.

I personally should like to take this opportunity of sharing with you three ideas on the post-Nice context and the future of the Union which I feel to be three points which can serve as a basis as we together ponder the issues.

First point: the public debate

I am very pleased to see that our consideration of the issues our "open reflection" will be informed and fuelled by a broad public debate from the outset.

I have been personally committed since the start of my term of office as member of the Commission to opening genuine European dialogue on the future of the Union.

I hoped that the dialogue on Europe would bring together citizens, parliamentarians, political personalities and anyone wishing to discuss Europe and build up Europe.

A different method has had to be invented from scratch: by thus opening up forums of reflection and debate, creating opportunities for listening and bringing informative responses.

Over the space of a few months 250 public debates on the future of the Union have been held throughout Europe.

I therefore think that no step forward can in the future be made by Europe behind closed doors. And this dialogue is set to take on a new dimension.

There is high expectation of Europe amongst the people of the European Union. In Nice, governments were extremely and even excessively concerned by the reactions which national opinion and national parliaments might have.

There is, however, a European public opinion which throughout the European Union is beginning to express the same concern with regard to the risks of BSE, pollution of all sorts and the dangers to human health, and even the hope of seeing the Union bring peace to its neighbours and partners.

And as a survey conducted in eight countries last month shows, at the time of the Nice meeting that opinion showed a desire for Europe, but for a Europe which undertakes radical reforms.

In Nice, did anyone listen to this desire for Europe? Did anyone take account of this European public opinion?

As long as the Member States refuse to consider its existence, there can only be static compromises between them. To arouse this opinion, inform it objectively of the challenges facing Europe, encouraging civil society to become involved and to debate, should on the contrary be a duty which is shared unanimously by all the Member States.

Somehow or other, directly or indirectly, the people of Europe must be around the negotiating table if the next ICG is to be a success.

Second point: the platform

Before and I would say well before the ICG we must do our utmost to ensure that everyone knows what it will be about and why.

The ICG cannot succeed unless there is a platform which provides answers to the questions and without a public opinion to take it on board.

The ICG which led to the Maastricht Treaty achieved genuine results which were thereafter debated frankly, but the scope of which nobody contested because it was based on a clear platform resulting from two years of discussions on monetary union and political union.

On the other hand, there was no such platform as a base for the ICG which preceded the Amsterdam Treaty. As for the ICG which has just ended, as its starting point was the Amsterdam failure it could not hope to do any better.

It is therefore essential that post-Nice is based on a platform of this kind. The existence of this overall platform prepared by a no-holds-barred debate is in no way means that preparatory technical and legal work cannot be carried out on specific issues.

The four issues mentioned in the declaration on the future of the Union attached to the Nice Treaty the distribution of responsibilities, the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the simplification of the Treaties, the role of the national parliaments must be part of this overall platform.

Third point: a shared conviction so that enlargement can open up new horizons

Ultimately, the real goal for an otherwise unambitious Nice European Council was enlargement.

Beyond the moral obligation (of banishing once and for all the shadow of the Iron Curtain), the enlargement of the Union has to be seen as a shared opportunity:

  • an opportunity for peace. European integration heads off all conflict between those who are partners therein (the original legacy of the Founding Fathers). Without it, tragic events are always possible (Former Yugoslavia);

  • an opportunity for economic growth which is shared and mutually beneficial. All previous enlargements reveal a winwin solution (with all sides winners). Per capita income, for instance, of the "cohesion" countries has moved towards the Community average at the rate of 10% in ten years: development on one side has opened fresh opportunities on the other. I will soon have the opportunity to elaborate on this when I present to the European Parliament a major report on economic and social cohesion;

  • an opportunity for the Union. The countries about to join us are new democracies with sometimes long-established roots but which have had to reinvent everything (a political system, the State based on the rule of law, etc.). The Union supports their endeavour while at the same time bringing them the discipline of the acquis communautaire.

Let me add that the leaders about to join us bring fresh blood to the Union. It is more important for them than anyone else to enter a Union which is functioning properly and which knows where it is going.

As reform is no longer a precondition for enlargement, enlargement can perhaps become an opportunity for reform.

These three mainstays public debate, the need for a clear platform, enlargement as a platform for new ambition converge towards a meeting point, a cornerstone: if we want to cater for this need for Europe which is emerging, how are we going to go about it?

  • The need for the intergovernmental method is still there, but it is not enough to achieve swift and tangible progress. It is showing its limitations in too many fields.

  • For want of a new method, the Community method remains the best we have found for the construction of Europe.

We all know that while these two methods compete with each other they are nevertheless complementary. However, behind the controversy on effectiveness, there is also a quarrel of dogma and it is above this quarrel that we must now rise.

We have to work out a new method which takes due account:

  • firstly of the missions of the Union: do we approach justice in the same way as we approach trade? Is it possible to move forward as quickly on defence as on environment matters?

  • and also of the flexibility of enhanced cooperation.

The Community model is at the same time being shaken up by enlargement and is running out of steam just as a person who has been walking for a long time tires. Consequently:

  • those who have a national idea of the future of Europe believe that it is possible to revert to the intergovernmental method. A method in which only the "big countries" would come away with something;

  • those who have a European ideal of the future of our nations believe that the time has come to relaunch a federal vision but within a small group which would represent a minority in a 30-strong Europe.

Have we really reached the point where we are forced to choose between these options?

However disappointed I may be with the outcome of Nice and inasmuch as the door is still open to other solutions, I cannot bring myself to accept that idea, at least not just yet.

I think it is possible to give the Community model a new lease of life and a second wind which can take us through the decades ahead.

This is possible, provided it is accompanied by a radical and unprecedented overhaul.

Summing up, I should like to share with you some personal ideas for this overhaul. They are based on a few simple principles: the legitimacy, effectiveness and capacity of Europe to emerge as a political power.

To do this it is necessary:

  • to keep the Commission at the heart of the Community model. It will have 26 members at most, perhaps even fewer. Is there not perhaps a special place within it for the high representative for the CFSP? The election of its president is also a central issue which needs to be addressed;

  • to find a place for the national parliaments. Why not allow the representatives of national parliaments to participate in certain Council gatherings? Has this not already been possible since Maastricht for certain regions or federal States?

  • to consult European public opinion on historical or symbolic occasions, by using a European referendum;

  • to equip Europe with a constitutional treaty and a genuine breakdown of responsibilities;

  • as Jacques Delors proposed, to create a "European affairs" Council bringing together ministers residing in Brussels and who would together prepare the work of the Council, thus restoring its role and place to the "general affairs" Council.

Those are my own personal ideas but which I am willing to share with others.

I am well aware that by proposing this overhaul I am putting my finger on the meaning of national sovereignty. This is a matter for the Member States, of course.

But shouldn't we be telling the truth? In 20 or 30 years' time, national sovereignty will not have the same meaning or the same dimension. Let us stop saying that Member States abandon their national sovereignty, when sometimes it is this sovereignty which is abandoning the States. This is why we created the euro.

The point is in certain areas to share our national sovereignties to together achieve European sovereignty.

The choice is not between our nation States and Europe, it is between a Europe subordinated to various pressures and an independent, i.e. European, Europe.

We now have to think how this can be achieved.


Side Bar