Italian PM and former Commission president Romano Prodi talks to EURACTIV Slovakia about the new EU Treaty and his desire for a stronger European Union. He believes that a two-speed integration is sometimes needed to go forward.
You strongly supported the draft Constitutional Treaty and you have warned that you would not be ready to support any compromise at the June Summit. Are you satisfied with the outcome, and do you think that the Reform Treaty contains the reforms that the EU needs?
Such a decision is always a compromise. My view of Europe was certainly stronger, but it is a good compromise. It brings stronger institutions, for example through a permanent presidency, and strengthens the common foreign policy. It introduces a common diplomatic service, establishes a legal personality of the Union and, even more important, it diminishes the veto right, which is the enemy of a stronger European Union.
Of course, I believe more progress is needed, especially concerning the functioning of the EU institutions, but I honestly think that this is the best compromise we could get and I’m thankful to the German Presidency that we got it.
Do you expect further integration in new policy areas?
In some fields like energy, I think yes, because the interest and the fears are evident. In other fields, I don’t see that the common feeling is mature enough for the common policy yet.
Recent years have shown that it is increasingly difficult to reach a compromise within the EU on reforms. Do you think that a “multi-speed Europe” is a solution? Would you support it?
I do prefer a one-speed Europe. But I was one of those who proposed, and started to analyse the possibility of a multi-speed Europe, because it is good if you can go forward together, but you cannot go at the speed of the last wagon.
We already have a two-speed Europe. Euro and Schengen are examples of this and they are very important projects. Moreover, a two-speed Europe does not mean that countries that are in the second group cannot move to the first. Two-speed Europe sometimes means more choices.
EU leaders often talk about the “social dimension” of European integration. Do you think that it is a shift in policy paradigm, or is it a mere shift of political rhetoric?
It is not yet a clear paradigm shift, but I can see signs of this slowly happening. In the first stage of shaping the common market you need to put the emphasis on liberalisation. It is obvious, it is necessary, and it is positive. Then you have to correct the excesses, the mistakes, and that is the moment when social policy is needed. And I think that we are at the beginning of the second phase.
Of course, there are some countries that do not even want to hear talk of social policy. But I think that it is a necessity. Wise politicians understand that some corrections of liberalism are needed, and I think that we are entering this phase.
Polls show that EU citizens see European integration as an elite project. Could this be changed by reforming the EU institutions, or by changing the internal policies of member states, which still often see European policy as foreign policy?
Definitely both. But clearly, the real problem is that there are only national media, but no European media, national ways of linking people and not European ones. Until there is a sort of European milieu, you will not have a European public opinion.
And, one last observation: Do you know why I was so much against the decision to delete European symbols – such as the anthem, the flag – from the draft of the new EU Treaty? Because there is a contradiction – on the one hand, you say that we need to link public opinion to European integration, and on the other you don’t want the links, the popular links that go to the hearts of people, such as Beethoven’s symphony, or the twelve-star flag. This is an absolute contradiction.