Constitutional reform for a sovereign Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.


In next year’s European election, many politicians will preach about the need to “reform” the European Union but few will know what they are talking about. Two who do know are Viktor Orban and Emmanuel Macron, writes Andrew Duff.

Andrew Duff is the president of the Spinelli Group, a pro-European grouping of MEPs and politicians pushing for a federalist EU. He is a former member of the European Parliament for the Liberal Democrat party in the UK.

Orban wants to halt the advance of imperial Brussels by rallying illiberal forces in Central Europe. Macron wants a federal Europe. The debate in 2019 should polarise around this clash of ideologies, bringing a welcome edge to elections that in the past have been bland and opaque.

Such polarisation will shake up mainstream party politics at the EU level which have clung until now to the classic left-right spectrum of the nation-state. The European parties will shortly be presenting their own programmes crafted to minimise disagreement among their national party membership.

The EU parties will also try to promote their Spitzenkandidaten for the job of Commission President (although the European Council has other ideas). But it’s the clash on the federal fault-line that will really determine where the EU is headed next.

Federalist manifesto

As the parliamentary intergroup for constitutional affairs, the Spinelli Group is not fazed by this confrontation. Its Manifesto for the Future of Europe: A Shared Destiny proposes a series of reforms that would transform the European Union into a new level of democratic government.

Taking a ten-year perspective, the Spinellists want an EU endowed with its own sovereignty, run by a government with a capacity to act proportionately wherever nation-states are failing. The Manifesto finds the current EU ill-equipped to face up to its challenges, including that of eurozone instability. We are disappointed at the EU’s lack of constitutional progress since Lisbon.

The Manifesto is a manual for those who will serve in the next Convention to revise the EU treaties.

The Spinelli Group argues that the Union must become more integrated if its long-term future is to be assured. Deeper integration requires an effective and discernible government accountable to a stronger legislature.

We would shift the balance of executive power from the Council to the Commission. A Commission vice-president would become Treasury Secretary, with the power to raise taxes.

Heads of government would keep their strategic role at the summit but would become more answerable collectively to the European Parliament. The European Council would be obliged to run the Council of ministers, allowing the abolition of the rotating presidency.

We discuss the idea of merging the posts of presidents of the Commission and European Council, but come down against it on the grounds that it could weaken both institutions.

The European Court of Justice should be allowed to develop as a federal supreme court. Law-making would be more open and simplified into two types, organic and ordinary: voting by QMV would be the norm.

The Manifesto wants cities and regions to play a larger part in European affairs, and EU citizenship to be strengthened. The European Parliament should have another go at introducing transnational lists in time for the 2024 elections. Enhanced cooperation should be encouraged, including in foreign, security and defence policies.

Treaty change

The Spinelli Group argues that future treaty revisions proposed by a Convention should only be blocked by the European Council acting unanimously. Constitutional amendments would come into force before they had been ratified by all member states.

A new category of associate membership, introduced for existing members who choose not to advance to federal union, might also provide an attractive parking place for Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the UK.

The Manifesto is careful to devise a new constitutional framework for the Union inside which conventional party politics can play out in terms of competing social and economic policies. But we insist that the Union deserves a clearer definition of ‘ever closer union’ than it has managed in the past.

Voters, of course, tend to keep their distance from constitution mongering. Europe’s politicians, too, have been intimidated by treaty change since the defeat of the constitutional treaty in 2005. But the debate between nationalism and federalism as articulated by Orban and Macron should not now be ducked.

It will be good for citizens if democratic institutions take the place of technocratic regulation. The public will respond to a more modern Union that can stem corruption, take quick and effective action to remedy problems, and provide better internal and external security.

An economic and monetary union that is complete in all important aspects will be better placed to address regional imbalances and financial instability.

The Spinelli Group shows the way forward to a federal union of Europe based on the values of liberal democracy, solidarity and the rule of law. Its proposals are coherent, detailed and practicable.

The electorate next year has a choice to make between politicians who continue the effort to unify Europe and those who risk a return to the nationalist past.

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