The conference, organised by Notre Europe – Institut Jacques Delors, was held in the absence of Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president widely seen as one of the 'fathers of Europe’, who cancelled his trip from Paris to Brussels at the last minute complaining of sore legs.
The event also marked the renaming of the think-tank Notre Europe, founded by Delors in 1996, to Notre Europe – Institut Jacques Delors.
In an interview widely noticed in Brussels circles published on Sunday in the French daily La Croix, Delors argued in favour of enhanced cooperation and even a separate budget of the eurozone. He also said that what Europeans expected from their leaders was not only to be able to manage the crisis, but to come up with a vision for the future.
A new Delors-type package
The need for such vision was taken up by several speakers. Antonio Vitorino, former European Commissioner and President of Notre Europe – Institut Jacques Delors, said Europe needed a new “package” for growth and convergence, seeing the end of 2012 as the target date for adopting such an initiative.
Vitorino used the term “package” reminiscent of the famous “Delors packages” of 1988 and of 1992 on the establishment of a European single market. The new package would need to create an “own resources” budget for the Union, and improve the budgetary procedure by setting up inter-institutional rules for the adoption of the community budget.
Étienne Davignon, former Vice President of the European Commission and President of the think-tank Friends of Europe, said that there were “very dangerous elements of uncertainty in the European project”. He argued that the EU was advancing “in reverse gear”, by not being proactive, but rather seeking remedy to external disturbances, with no one among the leaders apparently knowing what the objectives are.
He argued that it was very difficult to justify the reform and the austerity and hardships of a project which is not defined.
“The European Council must have the courage to say before the end of the year which way are we going”, Davignon insisted. The last EU summit for the year will take place on 13 December.
Advocating the community method
As other speakers, Davignon argued in favour of the community method, another legacy of Jacques Delors, and warned against the temptation to return to intergovernmental wheeling-dealing.
“There is a moment from which Europe will not function at several speeds,” he said. He argued that the EU could function on the basis of enhanced cooperation if the achieving of the common goals was only a matter of time. But he appeared to indicate that he saw the UK disagreements as a matter of substance. In any case, the eurozone should “take its responsibility” and bring the common project further, he insisted.
MEP Jo Leinen (S&D, Germany), who is also President of the European Movement, said that when he read the news from London, he saw that it was “not possible to do the next steps at 27”. But he added that the Lisbon Treaty gives the instruments to do the next steps with the community method, without coming back to the intergovernmental type of relations.
“Europe at different speeds seems to be unavoidable,” Leinen said. Referring to the ideas about a separate budget of the eurozone, he said that since there should be “no taxation without representation”, a specific type of democratic legitimacy was needed.
Leinen strongly argued against the idea of a separate parliament of the eurozone, or changes in the current set-up.
“The Parliament in Europe is the European Parliament. The democratic accountancy will be done by the EP. We will find mechanisms, in the day when it will be really necessary to decide. With MEPs from those countries for which the budget is foreseen,” Leinen said.
Regarding the need of a treaty change, also advocated by Commission President José Manuel Barroso in his State of the Union speech, he said that the next steps should be to call a convention in the spring of 2013, to deal with definitions of all the issues that might lead the Union “to a real economic and fiscal union, with elements of a political union”.
Then, after the European elections in 2014, a second stage of the convention should in his terms start writing the treaty articles. Then, an Inter-governmental conference (IGC) would be held to adopt the new treaty for the economic and fiscal union.