González warns against cheating Turkey

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Felipe González, chairman of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe, warned yesterday (4 October) that the EU should honour commitments made to Turkey, which ten years ago was given the prospect of European Union membership.

Speaking in the European Parliament, González, a long-serving Spanish prime minister, 'broke the rules' and expressed himself on many topics that went much further than his group's mandate.

Despite the fact that the Reflection Group reportedly had no mandate to touch upon the future borders of the European Union, González lamented the EU's present attitude vis-à-vis Turkey, which he said lacked "coherence".

"Shall we continue to frustrate our relations with Turkey, or shall we honour the commitments we made ten years ago? […] Once we decided that Tukey is a candidate country, we cannot cheat on this commitment. We need to be coherent," González said.

Speaking in Spanish, he argued that Turkey is an emerging power, whose positioning in the world will have "very serious consequences". Meanwhile, the Union was "dragging its feet," "pretending it doesn't see" and pursuing "a wait-and-see" strategy.

González warned against new "dividing lines" in future enlargements, also mentioning the Western Balkan countries, which are home to substantial numbers of Muslims, saying he was "worried" about ethnic-cultural or ethnic-religious divisions.

Even though the Reflection Group had no mandate to discuss institutional issues, González was critical of the way the European External Action Service (EEAS) was set up and the way in which member states were trying to mould the position of permanent Council president.

"The External Action Service has to be under someone's command. There is no 'independent' foreign ministry in the world," González argued.

He further implied that the EEAS had to be closer institutionally to the Commission, because if it were built as an "autonomous" entity, as he said many member states would prefer, it would remain weak and hamper the Union's ambitions to develop a coherent common foreign policy.

As for Herman Van Rompuy's position as Council president, González called for him to be put in charge of economic governance and the euro zone. He also strongly warned against attempts to mould the role of Council president into that of a high-level official who answers to the member states.

If this were to be the direction followed, the EU would only reinforce nationalism and weaken the European institutions, he argued.

González also showed bitterness with regard to the little attention given by EU leaders to his group's report.

"Is the report known? No, it is not […] Which drawer will they put the report in at the Council secretariat? I don't dare to say. Will it be the top drawer, or the sixth? I don't know," he said.

González hinted that he saw the Parliament as an ally in following up on the report, to prevent Europe from slipping into irrelevance.

"This is why I'm trying to beat the drum, to see if I can get assistance from somewhere," he said.

González also spoke out against populism, which in his view is weakening Europe.

"Power is won or lost in a national context. And sometimes you win power by making an anti-immigration speech, or anti-Doha negotiations. And this gives you the number of votes you need to have a majority. It doesn't solve the problem, but you win. And when you win, you proceed without solving the problem," he said.

The European Council of 14 December 2007 decided to establish a 'reflection group' of no more than nine people, selected from across the European Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues which the EU is likely to face in the future and how these might be addressed.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González was named chair of the group, while Vaira V??e-Freiberga, a former president of Latvia, and Jorma Ollila, former CEO of Nokia, were named vice-chairs. 

At the 15-16 October 2008 EU summit, it was decided that the group would consist of 12 people instead of nine (EURACTIV 14/10/08). The other members of the group include: 

  • Lech Wa??sa, the historic leader of the Polish anti-communist movement 'Solidarno??' and a former Polish president; 
  • Mario Monti, a former Italian competition commissioner; 
  • Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry and former editor of the Financial Times; 
  • Lykke Friis of the University of Copenhagen, who recently resigned, having been elected as Minister for Climate and Energy of Denmark; 
  • Nicole Notat, French former leader of the CFDT trade union; 
  • Wolfgang Schuster, German conservative and mayor of Stuttgart; 
  • Rainer Muenz, an Austrian economist; 
  • Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect, and; 
  • Kalypso Nicolaidis, a Franco-Greek professor at Oxford. 

The group's secretary-general is Dr. Žiga Turk of Slovenia, former minister for competitiveness, who keeps an online diary on Blogactiv.

González presented his team's report, named 'Project Europe 2030', to Council President Herman Van Rompuy on 8 May. It is still unclear what follow-up will be given to the report.

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