The Future of Europe: Uniting Vision, Values and Citizens? This book explores many of the key issues now facing the EU: Is there a European identity? What does it mean to be a European citizen? What role can Christian values play in furthering European integration? Faced with massive global inequalities, how is the EU responding to the challenges of development, migration and asylum? Can Europes leaders provide an adequate response to the widespread sense that `Brussels is distant from and indifferent to the needs and concerns of ordinary people?
The contributors to The Future of Europe: Uniting Vision, Values and Citizens?, who include Bertie Ahern TD, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Peter Sutherland, David Begg and John Gormley TD, address these and related questions in seventeen papers which provide a range of perspectives - political, economic, historical, cultural and theological - on the EU and its future.
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
- WHERE DOES THE EUROPEAN UNION GO NOW? (1)
Bertie Ahern TD
The phrase, The Future of Europe - Uniting Visions, Values and Citizens?, succinctly summarises the nature of the challenge facing the European Union and its Member States.
Of course, uniting vision, values and citizens very accurately describes the development of Europe over the last half-century. Amidst all the current commentary about disillusionment with the European project, it is easy to forget the visionary nature of the European Union itself. Unlike practically every other political unit on the planet, the European Union was not forged through battle or conflict. It is not based around a single group regarding itself as a nation. It does not correlate with or correspond to any other form of federal or national government. And yet, it is not a purely multilateral organisation. The European Union is a unique political structure, which has been uniquely successful in the last half century.
The Union has been built around a core vision. That vision is of a political cooperation between independent Member States involving the pooling of sovereignty. That vision is based on respect. The European Union has never been based, and could never be based, on coercion. All of its members freely gave their consent to join.
If we are to identify the recipe for future success, I feel that we must carefully identify the elements that have led to the current success of the European Union. To my mind these elements can be summarised under four headings.
Firstly, the European Union has been based on democracy and the rule of law and is open only to states where these are a given. It is worth recalling that, were one to one seventy-year old citizen from each of the Member States, only two - the Irish person and the Swede - would have lived in a country which has not known dictatorship, foreign aggression or invasion during his or her lifetime. The European Union has been an essential contributor to the spreading of democracy in Europe. In doing so, it has also played a key role in eliminating the scope for warfare and conflict between the states of Europe. One only needs to look at the recent history of the western Balkans to see how fragile peace can be.
Secondly, the European Union has been based on economic cooperation amongst Member States, supplemented by assistance and solidarity between them. This economic cooperation has been a major engine of economic growth and prosperity. I am convinced it will continue to be so. Europe is more than a free trade area. We have built fair and transparent arrangements for the management of trade, for the regulation of industry, for the setting of minimum environmental and social standards and for the support of economic cohesion and agriculture. All of these have helped create the public confidence within Member States which makes European cooperation possible.
Thirdly, the Union has crafted a common approach to the rest of the world. This approach has been built very much on what one could call soft power - development aid, strong support for multilateral engagement and an increasing commitment to peace-keeping and support for humanitarian tasks. This presence of Europe in the world has acted as a stabilising force in many regions and created an awareness in other parts of the world of the usefulness of the European model.
In other continents, such as Latin America, Africa and Asia, groups of countries struggle with great difficulty to follow in the footsteps of the EU. In these regions, governments are working to establish common customs unions and free trade areas. They are taking the first tentative steps along a road that the EU travelled many years ago.
Fourthly, and most importantly, Europe has proceeded not solely on the basis of a grand plan or vision but by a careful step-by-step approach built around strong and representative institutions. The European institutions - in particular, the Commission, the Parliament and the European Court of Justice - have served the Union well. The existence of powerful, fair and neutral institutions has ensured that Europe has developed on the basis of equality amongst the Member States. The failure to develop these detailed treaties and strong institutions would have seen Europe inevitably develop into a political entity where one or other group of Member States held dominance over others. Such an approach would have been fatal, either in the short or medium term, to the entire project.
The very essence of the European Union has been built on consent and consensus. Such an approach is of course time-consuming. Such an approach is inherently difficult. Such an approach will inevitably meet setbacks along the way. However, as time-consuming as this approach to building Europe is, it is the only one that will work.
It is in all of our interests, both as citizens and as Member States, that this step-by-step approach to building Europe continues. For it is a fact that the challenges facing the individual Member States today are of such magnitude that even the largest state on its own will not be able to meet these challenges effectively. Climate change, globalisation, international crime and the development of the poorest countries are issues that can be tackled only by states working together. The European Union is the most effective example of this cooperative approach.
Following the rejection of the European Constitution in the referenda held in France and The Netherlands many of the comments in the media have been extremely pessimistic as to the future of Europe. However, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. The reality is that since the fall of the Iron Curtain the European Union has experienced unprecedented growth. It has more than doubled its membership. It has created a single currency. It has greatly enhanced its single market. The key challenge for Europe following the referenda results is to maintain the momentum of that success. Europe in this context faces a number of real challenges.
Firstly, the European Union needs to upgrade its institutional framework. The structures of the European Union were designed for six Member States. It is difficult to see how they could effectively function, in the medium to long-term, in a Union of twenty-eight or thirty Member States. This is why the members agreed the new European Constitution. The Constitution is a good document, a document Ireland would like to see enacted as soon as possible.
Obviously, the rejection of the Treaty by the voters of France and The Netherlands, two of the founding members of the Union, is a setback in the ratification process. The Treaty will not now come into force by the target date of November 2006.
In June 2005, the European Council discussed the situation and decided that it was necessary to have a pause for reflection. The European Council did not rush to hasty conclusions about the reasons for the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitution. It agreed that the process of ratification of the European Constitution remained valid. In fact, since June 2005, three further countries have ratified the Constitution.
The European Council agreed that, during the pause in the ratification process, each country should have a broad debate about Europe involving all relevant sections of society. The European Council will assess these national debates during the Austrian Presidency in the first half of 2006 and decide how to proceed.
I want our national debate to be open, constructive and inclusive. The National Forum for Europe will take the lead in facilitating the contributions from all sections of society. To inform the discussion, the Government has published a comprehensive information booklet setting out our national goals and objectives in the European Union in the coming year (Department of the Taoiseach, 2005).
Since the French and Dutch referenda, there has been much talk in the EU of bringing the EU closer to the people. There have been calls for a stronger role for national parliaments in the EU legislative process, for less intrusiveness and less regulation from the EU Commission, for a more efficient, effective and accountable Union.
The EU Member States who have not had a great deal of experience in managing national referenda have been taken aback to find that many voters do not have a positive view of the Union. Many voters are poorly informed about developments in the Union over the past decade. Many see the Union as remote from their daily concerns. They are increasingly exasperated by over-regulation. They have questions about the accountability of the institutions of the Union.
Because of our difficult national debate during the two referenda on the Nice Treaty, we in Ireland were one of the first to identify this sense of disconnection between the people and the EU as a serious European problem that needed to be addressed. We have worked to address it through the National Forum on Europe, through revitalised Oireachtas scrutiny of EU legislation and through the Governments Communicating Europe Initiative. (2)
In the debates taking place in the Member States, we in Europe must reject soundly the voices of those who want us to return to the past. Nowhere is this more the case than in Ireland. There are many who want to stand on the beach and tell the tide of globalisation to turn back on itself, go away and leave them in peace. We have heard their voices before. In 1972, they said that joining the EU would be the economic ruin of Ireland. In the five referenda we have had since 1972 they said that acceptance of the Single European Act, of the Treaty of Maastricht, of the Treaty of Amsterdam and of the Treaty of Nice would see the end of Irelands sovereignty and our absorption into a European superstate where we would have no voice. They were wrong then. They are wrong now:
As a country, Ireland is now more successful, more confident and more optimistic than at any time since the foundation of the State. We are a country transformed. And our EU membership has played a vital role in this transformation. We must not forget this. We must not take it for granted. We need to continue to work hard as a country not only to promote and protect our national interests in the EU but also, and equally importantly, to work for the success of the Union as whole. A weak and divided Europe is not in Irelands national interest. A Europe beset by doubt and losing faith in its vision is not in Irelands interest.
Secondly, Europe faces the challenge of making enlargement work and of continuing the enlargement process. We have made a good start with the enlargement of May 2004 when ten new Member States joined; these countries are adapting rapidly and effectively to the Union. It is essential that we reach an early agreement on the future financing of the Union to ensure that these Member States receive adequate funding with a view to narrowing the income gaps between new and old Member States.
The years of work that resulted in the agreement on the European Constitution were not inspired by an excess of zeal to promote European integration. This work was not promoted by an out-of touch elite. It was inspired by recognition of the simple fact that the unification of Europe after the Cold War has changed forever the continent and the Union. And this is an enormously positive change.
It is also a change which underlines the immensely important role of the Union as an anchor of peace, stability and democracy on a continent that is still adjusting to the ending of the Cold War.
This stabilising role of the Union remains central to the future political and economic development of the continent. The European Constitution sets out the Unions values - respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. The Constitution also provides that membership of the Union is open to all European states which respect these values.
It was on this basis that the ten new Member States joined the EU. Similarly, we look forward to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, expected in 2007.
I have always believed that the expansion of the Union should be accompanied by measures to ensure that a wider Union does not mean a looser Union. In my view, enlargement is not a cover for turning the Union into a looser entity more akin to a trade bloc. That is why the European Constitution is so important. It will ensure that the enlargement of the Union to twenty-five and beyond will take place in a legal framework which guarantees the Unions political character and enables the Member States to continue to take decisions effectively and in the interests of all. And that is why rigorous standards must be met before accession can take place. The ten new Member States, like earlier acceding states, including Ireland, have had to make enormous efforts and real sacrifices to obtain membership.
This is one of the reasons the European Union has succeeded. While compromise is an essential lubricant of its day-to-day operation, there has never been room for compromise on the essential prerequisites of respect for democracy, the rule of law and the ground rules of the European Union itself.
Thirdly, we need to make Europe work economically for all its citizens. It is a source of great concern to all that the core economies of Europe have not performed as well as they could over recent years. While the launch of the single currency has been a tremendous success, the ongoing sluggish growth and high unemployment in the core euro economies has played a major part in dampening public ardour for the European project. The solution to these economic problems lies largely in the hands of national governments rather than at EU level. It is essential, however, that Europe continues to build a common understanding and approach, to the economic challenges facing it in the coming years.
We need to have both a national and an EU-wide discussion about the European Union and globalisation. To the world outside the Union, the EU is a powerful and integrated economic bloc. This enables the Union to promote and defend the interests of all the Member States in crucial global trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation.
While the EU is dealing effectively with the process of globalisation on the international stage, the Union has not yet fully come to terms with globalisation internally. Among the twenty-five, we too often behave as if competition between the Member States is a challenge on a level with the competition we face externally from China, from India and from Brazil. We have not yet fully grasped the fact that the full realisation of the EUs internal market will be a source of immense strength for the Union. We do not always understand that the success of anyone Member State in attracting major mobile internal investment is a success for all of us. We underestimate the Unions potential. We have failed to fully harness the economic and social benefits that should flow from the internal market, from our common currency and from collective action in research and development.
Clearly, one of the key factors influencing voters in France and The Netherlands was economic uncertainty and fears for the future. There is however a danger that the debate about how best the EU can face up to the competitive challenge of globalisation will be sidetracked into a fruitless discussion about the relative merits of different social models. The simple fact is that the principal levers of economic change and economic reform remain in the hands of the Member States. While at the level of the Union we can encourage, we can coordinate, we can advise, we can apply peer pressure, the key decisions remain with the Member States.
There is, quite rightly, no uniform social model that is applicable to all of the Member States. Throughout the EU, however, there is, in contrast to much of the rest of the developed world, a high degree of social solidarity and a strong commitment to balancing the forces of the market with the protection of workers rights. While there may be differences of emphasis, I believe that there is no deep division between the different social systems of the Member States.
What the EU needs is to focus on those areas where, acting together, we can ensure that the enlarged Union of 460 million people remains a global trade and economic power and a strong partner to the developing world. This means that we should focus our energies on completing the internal market, including the market in services. It means that we should have a well-developed and coherent strategy for managing our overall relationship with China and the other rising economies. It means that we should have a clear and proactive approach to dealing with the economic and social dislocations that globalisation brings in its wake. This requires a strong dialogue with the social partners. It requires EU investments in research and development, in retraining and the development of new skills, in active labour market policies.
What the EU needs, therefore, is an agreed collective approach to the challenge of globalisation. Acting together, using all of the resources, the institutions, the powers and the policies we have agreed at EO level, we can support one another in facing up to the challenges of globalisation.
Finally, I strongly believe our national debate should focus also on Irelands relationship with the EU. Much has been written about the influence of our EU membership on the political, economic, social and cultural development of Ireland. However, over the past decade both Ireland and the Union have changed dramatically. For much of our membership, Ireland was one of the less well off Member States of the EU, with per capita income in the majority of Member States significantly in excess of ours. During that period, Ireland benefited greatly from Structural and Cohesion Funds.
In the years to come, however, Ireland will gradually become a net contributor to the EU budget. We will pay into the EU more than we receive back. This progression should be seen as a mark of our success as an economy and of our commitment to ensuring that the less well off Member States, particularly the new Member States, receive the same support from the EU that was of such benefit to us.
As our status in the EU changes, we will adapt accordingly our national policy approach to issues on the day-to-day EU agenda to reflect our changing interests. We will, for example, take a much closer interest in areas of the EU budget, such as research and development expenditure, which correspond to our national priorities.
We will also have to adapt the way in which we communicate with the public about our EU membership. Up to now, much of the message to our people about the benefits of EU membership has understandably focused on the direct financial benefit to Ireland. In the years to come, we will have to focus more on the indirect benefits of membership, such as the importance of direct access to the EUs internal market for the hundreds of thousands of people employed in industry and services. We will also have to do more to inform people about the political significance of the Union, about its role in promoting peace and stability in Europe and about how; through our EU membership, we have a voice in major global issues.
During this period of reflection, I would like to encourage greater public understanding and awareness of the reasons why our EU membership is, and will remain, of fundamental importance to our national prosperity even when we no longer benefit greatly from direct EU financial transfers.
When we consider this issue, it is critically important to look at the values for which the EU stands and how they reflect our national values. The EU is a profound force for good both in the continent of Europe and in the wider world. In a world which is grappling with globalisation, confronting terrorism, facing the challenge of climate change, struggling to resolve difficult regional conflicts and where over one billion people still live in extreme poverty, it is in our interests to be in a Union which shares our fundamental values.
I think that if we focus on issues such as the EU and globalisation, on the EU and enlargement and on Irelands changing status in a changing Union, the discussion will rightly and inevitably return again and again to the European Constitution. The challenges facing the Union in the new Europe, and in a rapidly changing world, compel us to give a definitive answer to the question that has been on the EUs agenda for many years, namely, what is the end point of EU integration?
The European Constitution is the answer to this question. It provides the legal and institutional framework for the enlarged Union to act effectively in the interests of all its citizens. It resolves the debate about the relationship between the Union and the Member States for at least a generation. It will allow us to get on with the work of providing jobs, fighting crime, protecting the environment, resolving conflict and helping poor and underdeveloped countries.
1. This paper was presented at the conference, The Future of Europe: Uniting Vision, Values and Citizens?, held in Dublin on 27 September 2005.
2. The Communicating Europe Initiative was established by the Irish Government in 1995 to provide Irish people with information on developments and events in the European Union. It is managed by the European Union Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Department of the Taoiseach (2005) Ireland and the European Union: Identifying Priorities and Pursuing Goals, third edition, Dublin.