5-Point Plan for the Future of the EU
European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding has put forward a five point plan to ignite a debate on the future of the European Union, but this intervention is aimed at policy experts and the 500 million European citizens.
Writing 20 years after the Maastricht Treaty, she points out that "regretted that Maastricht did not include a full-fledged Political Union, but were confident that there would be automatic spillover effects into other policy areas after banknotes were circulated," and notes that, "20 years later, we are all wiser."
She makes plain, "the global financial crisis led to the European sovereign debt crisis and brought the cracks out in the open: the Maastricht construction is not a strong enough foundation for our European House."
Building on the recent 'Report of the 4 Presidents' that concentrated on the economic sphere, Reading out lines steps towards a political union. "We still need to win the hearts and minds of European citizens for the new architecture," she cautions, noting that "It had to be set up during stormy days and thus will probably not win a beauty contest. It is now time to consolidate what has been built."
Reding proposes using 2013, the “European Year of Citizens” to ask member states to initiate a debate in parliaments and outside with the citizens on the EU of 2020. The Vice-President of the commission also sees the European elections of 1014 being an opportunity. "European political parties should develop different visions for this and propose a candidate who could become the next president of the Commission," she writes. As the commission has just reached agreement on funding of pan-European political parties and their associated foundations, it does seem that providing a vision to be put before the electorate should be the very least that the citizen gets in return.
One constant complaint during the crisis years is that there has been a leadership vaccuum at the heart of Europe. Reding suggests, "Prior to the European Parliament elections, European leaders should solemnly agree that the next Commission president, once elected by the European Parliament, would become also be the president of the European Council, to ensure a stronger European political leadership," and she helpfully points out that "current Treaties have been deliberately worded in a way that allows for this."
These roles could be combined, and there is a potential saving of expenditure. The argument in favour is that Herman Van Rompuy sees the Council Presidency as that of a functionary, albeit a very highly paid one.
Once a 'unified presidency' is in place, Reding wants the first action to be convening "a convention to elaborate a Treaty on European Political Union (EPU)." Perhaps most significantly, she wants an increased role for the European Parliament, including giving the deputies the right to initiate legislation and "the exclusive right of electing the Commission."
However, some may be concerned at her wish that "the Commission president receives the right to dissolve the European Parliament if needed." A representative of the Commissioner, asked by New Europe on the matter, said that this was a technicality and was not to be seen as a bid to limit a parliament and that the "if needed" would be a right applicable under very narrow circumstances.
There is a feeling among those in, or around the 'Brussels bubble' that the institutions are in fear of referendums, but not Reding. Hoping to see a new treaty being proposed, she offers the suggestion that any new treaty be subject to ratification by referenda in all Member States, but would come into force after 2/3 have ratified it.
Could this be achieved? Reding would be the first to admit that her proposals are intended to initiate debate, rather than looking for acceptance, but there will need to be an open debate. although Lisbon squeezed through, there were many who objected to its deliberately obtuse text, designed to make it look different to the rejected constitution. Indeed, Reding's own nation, Luxembourg only narrowly passed it.
Redings ideas would also need to be put in place to the timetable she suggests, but can the Union move quickly enough, whilst consulting the public? After all, it took ten years to get Lisbon, a 'wasted decade'.
However, the ideas are radical and interesting, which is what many feel we need.