The European Summit

The European Council has the wrong Agenda!


The heads of State and Government convened once again in a climate of urgency dictated by the influx of refugees. Similarly to the meeting of Home Secretaries that preceded, the Council published an appeasing communique aiming at demonstrating – though not convincing – that “Europe was capable of meeting the challenge and was facing its responsibilities!”


However, the urgency does not reside only – or even mainly – in addressing the problems, as pressing as they may be, such as managing the flows of refugees and migrants, dealing with the Greek crisis or the broader issue of the EMU governance, facing up to “Brexit” or confronting geopolitical challenges in the Middle East and Ukraine in conjunction with developing a “common defence” policy. The accumulation of key questions, which reveal an increasing number of lines of fracture between Member States, makes it necessary to put the reform of the governance of the EU itself at the centre of the debate to avoid total paralysis of the Union leading in turn to its inescapable implosion. This imperative is the consequence of the obvious linkages between these matters which must be considered together rather than separately.


The reaction of public opinion to the question of welcoming asylum seekers, both in its positive dimension revealed by the many tangible expressions of solidarity as well as in their rejection advocated by national-populist circles, clearly demonstrates that European construction transcends significantly purely economic and financial objectives (free trade   zone) but must also address concretely the humanist values that are contained in the preamble and the articles of the EU Treaty.


It is an unique opportunity offered to elected representatives at all levels to demonstrate that the EU is the only corner stone on which it is possible to build an edifice capable of addressing coherently the multiple challenges confronting the continent. Each Member State will not achieve all of the preferences to which their citizens aspire but none of them, acting alone, will be able to provide solutions that are globally more satisfactory. The overwhelming desire of the Greeks to retain the € - confirmed by their vote to accept the abhorred austerity announced by Syriza – is but one convincing example.


A governance structure that will give European interests a clear priority over national interests is the sine qua non condition for the sustainability of the European project. Such a hierarchy of norms prevails in all the major countries with whom we share life on this planet. If this principle is rejected in the name of the mistaken belief that a Union of 28 democracies must automatically create – without transfers of sovereignty – a democratic Union, then it is better to manage deliberately the Union’s dismantlement and leave each country to face its own destiny within the inevitable decline of Europe’s influence in the world.


It should, nevertheless, be possible to put forward a strong case that would reconcile Europe with its citizens: it goes much beyond the stale “peace” argument, which has lost a great part of its meaning for the younger generations, but which is rapidly becoming relevant both at our borders that we are hurriedly reinstating as within those countries threatened by terrorism. The migration crisis constitutes an indisputable testimony to the attractiveness of the Union in the eyes of much of the remainder of humanity. Europe has delivered to its citizens unprecedented levels of freedom and prosperity which are wrongly taken for granted and the loss of which would be particularly painful. The single currency turned out to be a strong rampart during the financial crisis, not only for EMU members but equally for non-members whose economies were protected by the “single market”. If EMU has not delivered on all its promises, it is because of the failure to complete its structure as well as to having blamed the € for failures in areas which lie squarely within the (in) competence of national governments. As far as prosperity is concerned, it is the global financial and economic crisis which has had a destabilising effect; if EMU members seem to encounter greater difficulties to overcome their problems, it is because they have failed to arm themselves collectively with the necessary  tools (beyond a shared monetary policy) that are available to our partners. This weakness is becoming ever more visible in the context of renewed worries concerning worldwide growth.


European public opinion should be reminded of all these unquestionable advances that should be credited to the European construction rather than presenting purely defensive arguments devoid of both enthusiasm and perspective. Similarly, in the question of “Brexit” that is poisoning relations between Member States, the EU should adopt an offensive position putting the UK in front of its responsibilities rather than seeking dubious compromises that only complicate further the establishment of a constructive partnership. Furthermore, before the Referendum there is nothing to negotiate: as far as I know, the European Council has never formally mandated the Commission (which has created an ad hoc task force for the purpose) to negotiate with the United Kingdom.


In the current context, we cannot afford the luxury of taking a step by step approach as is recommended, for example, in the “Five Presidents Report” suggesting to spread over 10 years further EMU reform; neither is it acceptable that these necessary reforms be obstructed by non-members. Thus, all previous exemptions and derogations granted to EU Member States should be progressively eliminated and the UK should be invited, in the event it chooses to remain within the EU, to join EMU.


All these structural reforms should be negotiated within an intergovernmental conference preparing a fundamental revision of existing treaties, during which all claims by Member States should be considered. The new treaty should foresee that the non-ratification of the resulting text by one or several Member States would signify their desire to withdraw from the Union in conformity with the procedures of the Lisbon Treaty.


In conclusion, while managing the urgencies resulting from developing events, the absolute priority of the European Council should be to define the parameters which will allow a new impulse towards European integration and bring to a halt the trends that are imperceptibly leading Europe to repeat the mistakes of the 1930’s. The aim should be to find an adequate equilibrium between the solidarity and obligations of the partners within an institutional framework that provides the Union with an enforceable hierarchy of norms applicable to European, national and local echelons of power.


If such an agenda proved to be too tall an order for our elected officials, then they should at least agree on measures that would avoid chaos resulting from an implosion of the Union triggered by the markets or social unrest. Inaction or dithering are unacceptable!


Brussels, 25th September 2015


Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.


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