European Affairs

 Ulrike GuérotEven if its new constitution is ratified and enters into force, the European Union will remain a work in progress for the foreseeable future. Neither its final political character nor its ultimate borders are yet in sight. The European Union is like an amoeba, a shapeless but evolving political entity that is always about to change its structure or to absorb another country. In the globalized and flexible world of the 21st century, this might prove to be a decisive asset. The Union's amorphous nature is not only one of its essential features, but also a useful survival strategy. The moment you try to define its characteristics and its final aims, you place it in jeopardy, because there is no agreement among Europe's governments and citizens on what its future, or even its present, shape should be. The European Union is probably a state in the making, but it is unwise to say so, for fear of arousing political opposition.

Now that the Union has expanded to 25 members, and member governments have approved the constitution, a number of European and American analysts are asking whether it has reached the limits of traditional-style integration - involving a gradual, long-term progression from economic to political union - as first expounded by Jean Monnet, one of Europe's "Founding Fathers, after World War II. Some, particularly in the United States and Britain, are hoping that the response to this question is Yes. According to the above analysis, however, the answer is clearly No. First, there is no such thing as "traditional-style integration; and second, there are, in principle, no limits to integration, whether it involves "widening the Union to embrace new members or "deepening it to enhance political cohesion. In the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, "All is flux. The new constitution, which should more correctly be called a constitutional treaty, is riddled with typical EU promises and certainly does not provide the basis for a European "super-state, as many of its critics claim. If there is one clear trend, it is that it will make the European Union far more diverse and flexible than it is now. Different groups of member states will be able to pursue integration ø in defense, criminal law or even the harmonization of tax bases while others can choose to watch from the sidelines. At the same time, the constitutional treaty improves the existing institutional architecture and it is very likely that, over time, the treaty will allow incremental changes in the nature of the European Union. None of this should be cause for alarm.

Nevertheless, there is a considerable risk that the treaty will not be ratified. At least 13 countries, including most importantly Britain and France, are to hold referendums on the treaty, but the European public remains skeptical about European integration, or, worse, indifferent to it. In the European Parliament elections of June 2004, the average voter turnout was less than 50 percent ø extremely low by European standards.

It can be debated whether the constitutional treaty is fundamentally different from the previous treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, and the technical answer is No. It has, however, acquired the image, at least symbolically, of a quantum leap forward. Unlike in the past, Europe has set up a constitutional convention and engaged civil society in the process. For the past two years, the media have spread the somewhat erroneous idea that the new treaty is a "founding act, similar to the U.S. constitution negotiated in Philadelphia in 1787. Of course, if ratification fails, the European Union could still carry on under the Nice Treaty, if more slowly and less efficiently - just as the United States could have done under the Articles of Confederation. Nevertheless, the impression has been created that this time much more is at stake and, in a way, it is true, because for the first time, in theory at least, member states will have the option of voluntarily leaving the Union. The referendum campaigns will probably reduce the question to a Yes or No to European integration as a whole, encouraging voters to believe that they have the false option of a totally new decision on Europe from scratch. In reality, however, it is highly unlikely that one or more countries will really want to bear all the consequences of actually leaving the Union.

For many, for instance, the euro (of which 12 of the 25 EU countries are members) will constitute a strong tie, and, if any countries reject the treaty, legal experts will doubtless devise tortuous mechanisms to bind them to the European Union and maintain current levels of integration. It will also matter which country says No. The UK referendum will be about the UK; the French referendum will be about Europe as a whole. If the French say No, the European architecture will be threatened, as the prospects for a more integrated "hard core Europe built around France and Germany would vanish. If the British say No, the UK will probably try to create a special arrangement, perhaps including other nay-sayers, that would keep it in the single market, without a requirement to engage in further integration. The fact remains that while people often grumble about the European Union, few of them want to miss out on its advantages when it comes to the crunch. Such considerations could also influence Britain, not least because the British could find themselves in a difficult situation if they were the only country to vote No.

If the French accepted the constitution and the British did not, it is unlikely that France and Germany would indulgently negotiate a special agreement with the UK. Both would probably push the other 24 countries to move ahead, and the whole vexed question of Britain's place in Europe would be reopened - not just by the other member countries but by the British themselves. A question demanding a Yes or No to Europe is not in fact appropriate for a referendum, as there are really no other easy options. If one or more referendums went against the treaty, the most likely scenario is that the EU countries would engage in various opaque forms of cooperation, in which not all members would necessarily participate, and remain in the doldrums until new momentum for further integration emerged. One argument that may help the Yes campaigners is that the constitutional treaty radically improves the participation of national parliaments in European decision-making. The treaty, for example, allows national parliaments to object to any measure that they think violates the subsidiarity principle. ("Subsidiarity means that all decisions should be made at the lowest possible level, whether local, regional or national, and that only those requiring Europe-wide action should be made in the EU institutions.)

A new subsidiarity protocol states that if a third of national parliaments object, the Commission has to review the proposal. Although this provision might occasionally slow down decision making, it would make national MPs and citizens more involved in European policy and should help to dispel doubts about the legitimacy of EU decisions. It is an "emergency brake that guarantees that nothing in Europe will get out of national control. The basic problem facing the European Union is that it is trying to both "deepen and "widen itself rapidly and simultaneously. The ten new member countries have not been fully assimilated, psychologically, politically or economically, and yet more candidates are knocking at the door, most prominently Turkey. There is a risk that even some supporters of the constitution will vote No in the referendums simply out of fear of Turkish membership. Although there are many shades of opinion, there is significant resistance to Turkish membership, particularly in France and Germany. The real dividing line, however, is between those focusing on internal aspects of the European Union and those giving greater priority to external issues,especially to the Union's role as a global actor. Those who want a more globally responsible European Union to engage more actively in international relations, and especially in the Middle East peace process, argue in favor of Turkish membership. Although Turkey is unlikely to join before 2015 at the earliest, supporters of Turkish entry believe that the Union would gain influence in the region once it had borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Turkey would dramatically increase the population of the European Union, and over the longer term expand the European economy, the single market and ultimately the scope of the euro. On the other hand, those concerned about immigration and labor markets, agricultural spending and structural funds oppose Turkish membership. The truth is probably that Turkey can and must join, but not the European Union as it is today. The Union is highly unlikely to spend some Þ20 billion on Turkish pistachio farmers, as simulations suggest would be necessary if Turkey joined under current conditions. The European Union will have to undergo deep structural changes before Turkey can enter; and Turkey still has much to do in order to comply with the acquis communautaire, the full corpus of EU rules and legislation.

The European Union will have to be fundamentally redefined. It will have to change from an entity largely concerned with economic and social redistribution via its agricultural, cohesion and structural funds) into a global actor that spends more money on military capability, border protection and perhaps research and development. This process will not be easy politically, since there will be strong opposition from domestic sectors, especially farmers, in nearly every country.And it should not be forgotten that, in the end, Turkish membership will have to be ratified by all the EU member states, which will by then probably number 27 or more, as well as by the European Parliament and by Turkey itself. So Turkey is not yet already almost a member, as some in the United States tend to think. It is most likely that Turkish entry negotiations will last for a decade or so.

Plenty of other countries are also lining up for membership. They include the Balkan states, which have already been promised admission some day, as well as Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Although few take it seriously, there has even been talk in some quarters of Morocco and Israel. All these potential candidates are exerting pressure on the European Union, squeezing it between its desire to expand stability and the danger of importing instability by admitting even more far-flung members. The point is that the European Union has a supreme interest in stabilizing these countries politically and economically, but cannot offer the "golden carrot of membership for the time being. The "European Neighborhood Policy strategy paper issued in May 2004 is an attempt to cope with this situation. The paper spells out policies for tying these countries to the European Union through trade and other assis-tance programs. The "silver carrot would be to grant them access to European markets ø including labor and agricultural markets ø but with a status falling somewhat short of full membership. (Some, of course, might also see that as the best solution for Turkey). It remains to be seen whether the European Union will have the open mind and the economic resources necessary to make such offers. But it is likely to proceed in this direction, if slowly. The EU mindset lies somewhere in between "never say never and "one thing at a time. The future development of the European Union will depend entirely on the political will of its institutions and its member states. But the constitutional treaty does, in theory, pave the way for an international actor role. In addition to the appointment of a foreign minister, the treaty improves the handling of foreign, security and defense policies in many ways. It provides for "implementation decisions to be adopted by a "super-qualified majority (72 percent of the member states representing 65 percent of the EU population), although only on the basis of unanimously agreed strategic objectives. It widens the scope for majority voting by including certain proposals from the EU foreign minister, although the veto would remain if "vital national interests were asserted. In defense policy, the treaty makes it easier for a subset of EU countries to work together more closely on military matters, using a procedure known as "structured cooperation.Member states that met a set of capability-based criteria could choose to cooperate more closely ø subject to approval by a majority of the Council.

So a smaller group of the most willing and best-prepared countries could run the Union's more demanding military missions. EU peacekeeping efforts in Macedonia, Congo and now Bosnia show that the Union is taking its first steps toward greater and more coordinated military intervention, although such operations fall well short of actual warfare. In addition, the creation of an EU diplomatic service should forge common thinking on foreign policy, and, over time, provide fertile soil for genuine, joint European diplomacy. Against this background, it is likely that NATO will soon no longer provide the main politico-military structure for the European continent, and that the European Union will start the inevitable process of cutting the umbilical cord joining it to the United States. In its European Security Strategy, adopted by the European Council in December 2003, the European Union for the first time spelled out its vision of a comprehensive security policy based largely on Á¡soft-powerÁ± instruments. With this step, the European Union is starting to defend its own vision of the world, and opinion surveys suggest that an average 80 percent of all Europeans want more independence from the United States. However slow and limping the process may be, the European Union is undergoing deep changes in its identity, triggered by the constitution. These changes are bound at some point to have an impact on Transatlantic relations, which will have to be redefined. No, Europe has not reached the limits of integration. More than ever it is shaping what could be called a noble adventure. It is forging a European Dream that promises to endow humanity with a Á¡global consciousnessÁ± that reflects the emergence of an increasingly interconnected and globalizing society and emphasizes global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power. In doing so, the European Union might become the real superpower of the post-modern world in the 21st century.

New Constitution Should Make the Union More Efficient The proposed new EU constitution is not a real constitution in the traditional sense, because its authors did not enjoy what is normally considered legitimate constitution- making authority. Instead, it was approved by an EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), a body empowered to endorse changes to the Union's basic treaties. The document should thus correctly be described as a constitutional treaty, a rulebook for relations among the member states, not a constitution governing the relationship between a state and its citizens. Nevertheless, it is a pragmatic and sensible attempt to improve the efficiency and the flexibility of the enlarged European Union, to increase the Union's legitimacy by giving more say to parliamentarians, both in the European Parliament and in national legislatures, and to make it easier for EU governments ø whether all together or in smaller groups ø to collaborate in certain tightly defined areas, such as internal security and defense. The treaty contains a number of opt-outs, opt-ins, "emergency brakesand "accelerators in many sensitive areas, such as foreign policy, defense and police and judicial cooperation. But on both the policies and the budget, the member states ultimately keep the final say. The most important innovations include the appointment of a new, less transitory President of the Council, the end of the current system under which the presidency rotates among member governments every six months and the creation of the new post of European Foreign Minister. The President of the Council, to be elected by unanimity by the other Council members (the Heads of State and Government) for a renewable term of two and a half years, will streamline and prioritize European decision making. Together with the Foreign Minister, the President will give the European Union a "single face and voice,not least in its dealings with the United States. In addition, the constitutional treaty caps the number of European Commissioners at two-thirds of the number of member states by 2014, with all states having an equal right to appoint a Commissioner. This means that each member state will have a Commissioner in Brussels for two out of every three Commission terms. This is a radical departure, in that the European Union is for the first time abandoning the principle of complete national representation in the Commission. Taken together, all this should not only enhance the efficiency of the European Union, but also lay the basis for its future role as a "global actor.Equally significant is the reform of voting procedures in the Council of Ministers, under which a new "double majorityprovision will come into force in 2009. This will be far simpler than the current, fiendishly complicated "triple majorityarrangement, agreed in the Nice Treaty of 2000. Under the new system, a measure will pass if it is supported by 55 percent of the member states, provided that they represent 65 percent of the EU population. The new voting rules should ensure that EU decision making does not grind to a halt in the enlarged Union. The treaty's simplicity and transparency will be somewhat undermined by a series of "safeguards,and by some higher voting thresholds in especially sensitive areas such as foreign and security policy. Nevertheless, recent simulations suggest that the new rules will make it as easy for 25 or more member states to agree on a measure as it was before 1995, when the Union had only 12 members. The constitutional treaty also reduces the number of policy areas that require unanimous agreement, thus preserving the national veto. The good news for advocates of further integration is that the treaty extends majority voting to 44 new areas (admittedly with some "emergency brakes); the bad news is that, apart from justice and home affairs, most of these areas are of minor importance. They are primarily concerned with the implementation of existing policies rather than the development of new ones. The national veto remains on "red-lineissues that some governments have declared to be non-negotiable, such as taxation, defense and the EU budget. But there is also a clause that allows the extension of majority voting in the future, provided all member states agree, without having to re-negotiate and re-ratify the whole treaty. Such modest, innocent-sounding stipulations might hugely accelerate the dynamics of integration in the future, if all the member states are willing. A highly important, if largely overlooked, development is the treaty provision for supranational or "federatedmanagement of the whole policy area of home and justice affairs, formerly run on an intergovernmental basis. This means that home and justice affairs will be subject to procedures for "co-decisionwith the European Parliament and to rulings by the European Court of Justice. The Commission will have the right of initiative. The European Union, in fact, will leave behind the famous "three pillarstructure laid down in the Maastricht Treaty, under which separate policy areas came under different degrees of control by the EU institutions, and become a unified legal body with a legal personality. Together with the recent appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, as "Mr. Euro,these provisions will theoretically enable the European Union to be jointly represented in international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, and, eventually, the G-8. Finally, the insertion into the treaty of the European Charter of Human Rights rounds off the picture of a newly constituted Union.

Ulrike Guérot is Director of Foreign Policy, Europe in the German Marshall Fund's Berlin office, where she focuses on a broad range of Transatlantic issues. Her previous posts include Head of the EU-Unit at the Institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin; Deputy Director, Department of European and International Affairs, German Employer's Association; Senior Research Fellow, Groupement d'Etudes et de Recherches ÔNotre Europe;' and Director of Communication, Association of the Monetary Union of Europe.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number III in the Fall of 2004.