Visions of unity clash in ‘future of EU’ debate

Elmar Brok [European Parliament]

Lawmakers clashed today (14 February) as they sought to brush out a vision for the 27-country bloc after Brexit, opening a breach between those wanting to maintain a united and integrated club and those who prefer moving towards a two or multi-speed Europe.

In the debate about the future of the EU held in Strasboug the visions of Italy’s Mercedes Bresso (S&D) and Germany’s Elmar Brok (EPP), who seek to preserve the unity of the 27 members, collided with that of Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE), who advocated a two-speed EU led by the eurozone.

Verhofstadt’s motion for a Resolution is based on the assumption that solutions to the EU’s problem should be reached through a future Treaty change. Conversely, the view of Brok and Bresso’s paper is that the EU needs first to make full use of the Lisbon Treaty and then possibly reform to enable itself to do even more.

The two visions can be seen as complementary and are part of a package that aims to clarify the legislature’s position on the future of the Union, in time for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March.

EU citizens invited to join March for Europe in Rome

As the anniversary of the signing of the EU’s founding treaties approaches, a group of over 300 European academics and personalities have endorsed an appeal to relaunch European integration, inviting members of civil society, scholars, youth and citizens to participate in a March for Europe in Rome on 25 March.

A third motion for a Resolution, by Germany’s Reimer Böge (EPP) and France’s Pervenche Berès (S&D) addresses the lack of convergence, political cooperation and policy “ownership” in the euro area. It proposes a convergence strategy to be focused on labour markets, investment, productivity and social cohesion, and a specific euro area budget capacity for this purpose financed by its member states.

Verhofstadt pleads for a stronger EU, based on a government of the eurozone, with a fiscal capacity, a Union financial minister, own resources and a convergence code with conditionality. It also proposes that the Commission be slimmed down, with only two vice-presidents: the finance minister and the foreign minister and that the European Parliament would have a single seat.

A well-known federalist, Verhofstadt also envisages that the Council, the powerful institution where member states sit, should become a “second chamber” of the EU legislature and that votes with unanimity would be further reduced in the Council, including for foreign and defence matters.

He also proposes that future Treaty ratification would not occur through the usual national procedures, but via an EU-wide referendum, after being ratified by a qualified majority of member states.

Following the creation of the role of an EU finance minister, the Eurogroup would be considered a formal specialised configuration of the Council, with legislative and control functions, Verhofstadt believes.

The Bresso/Brok motion for a Resolution points out that not all of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty have yet been exploited to their full potential, or could be used to cope with the current challenges without having to initiate a Treaty revision in the short term.

Bresso and Broke take the view that intergovernmental solutions should only be an instrument of last recourse, and that they should be replaced by Union procedures as soon as possible, even in areas where not all the member states fulfil the conditions for participation.

The authors express their regret that the Council of EU ministers, by not using qualified majority voting (QMV), has too often referred legislative matters to EU summits, which goes against the letter and the spirit of the Treaties.  They propose that the QMV be used whenever this is possible.

The motion for resolution also says that that the Council be transformed into a true legislative chamber by reducing the number of its configurations, thus creating a bicameral legislative system involving the Council and Parliament, with the Commission acting as the executive.

Speaking to the Parliament plenary, Brok said many problems could be solved if all member states worked together, and repeated that everything the resolution proposed could be achieved without changing the treaties.

“Some would suggest that we should fragment Europe and let everyone go alone. No, Europe is more than just the sum of all member states. It must be more if it wishes to exert influence in the world,” Brok said.

“We want the institutions to work for all. We don’t want a new institution for the eurogroup, and I’m not in favour of a split between eurozone countries and non-euro members, of those [EU members] that have not yet joined the euro,” said the German MEP from Merkel’s CDU party.

“I think we should preserve unity, despite all the differences and diversity,” he stressed.

Brok’s views may appear as surprising. At the 3 February Malta summit, Merkel and other heads of government offered endorsements of a so-called “multispeed Europe”, which some governments fear could damage EU unity in the wake of Brexit.

The last few years, Merkel told reporters in Malta, had shown “that there will be an EU with different speeds, that not everyone will take part in the same levels of integration”.

French President François Hollande said he thought that the Rome statement could mention “several speeds” as a possible way forward, though he stressed: “European unity is essential.”

In a paper offering proposals for the Rome declaration, the three Benelux neighbours said: “different paths of integration and enhanced cooperation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways”.


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