Was it the Balearic sun or wind, the splendid hospitality of Guido and José Manuel (respectively the German and Spanish Foreign Ministers) or the presence of the Spanish Prince of Asturias? I am not sure what precisely the reason was, but the ambience at our discussion on the future of Europe was certainly much different from most “Council type” meetings or bruising discussions with media dominated by doom scenarios about the end of the EU.
Eighteen Foreign Ministers, 5 MEPs and myself have been taking part in very open and frank discussions in the reflection group on the future of Europe. We discussed questions, arguments and issues that are more usually kept for private conversations. All the participants were determined that if we want to preserve Europe’s eminent role in the world, we have to stay united and act as a team. The main argument: “If we want to gain more sovereignty globally, then we need to share it more widely within Europe” sums it up pretty well. Nobody questioned the need to deepen economic and monetary union, including the completion of the banking union before the EP elections in 2014. Even the enlarged introduction of qualified majority voting in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy appeared to be acceptable under certain conditions.
Interesting ideas were proposed around the table with respect to possible Treaty or institutional changes. The paper, presented by the Spanish Foreign Minister is a very good synthesis of these ideas. A proposal to merge the post of the Commission Vice-President in charge of economic affairs with the President of the Eurogroup was welcomed by many participants.
There was also a strong argument made in support of all reform steps being made on the basis of the Community method and not by intergovernmental agreements. This will not be an easy task. Take the economic crisis. Citizens from the so-called ‘programme’ countries blame the EU for their hardship. Citizens from supporting countries feel that they are paying the bill. But if we increasingly use the intergouvenmental method to make these sort of major decisions, then these national interests will inevitably come more to the forefront and Member States will be more reactive to the public mood of the moment. The result would be an acceleration of the centrifugal tendencies pulling the EU apart rather than binding us closer together.
We also agreed that whatever plans we make for the future, our main priority is to reconnect with our citizens. There are many ways we can achieve this: by relaunching economic growth, creating new jobs and ensuring social security. The democratic legitimacy and accountability of our actions must be stepped up to ensure that we can continue to build on the European integration process that has brought us unprecedented peace and prosperity over the past six decades. This would, I believe, give our citizens the assurance that they have not been forgotten in our efforts to build a place for Europe in the future of this globalised world.
What I particularly welcomed was the clear call to put an end to the blame game, where European successes are “nationalised” and failures attributed to “Brussels”. There cannot be only sunshine in some European capitals and rain in Brussels. We are in this European construction together and have to communicate honestly with our citizens.
There was also strong support for calls to avoid 28 national campaigns for the EP elections and to have instead one unified campaign where pro-Europeans could campaign on a clear common platform. The Commission wants to play its part in achieving this goal by presenting its own views on the EU’s future. We hope that the first ever elections of the Commission President through the EP elections, a clear vision of how to move the EU forward, will for the first time put Europe and its future at the centre of the European political campaign. Let’s hope that many EU citizens will take part in the EP elections and give the future EP and Commission a clear mandate to strengthen the EU in this truly globalised century.