Convention on the Future of Europe – End of Term Report

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Convention on the Future of Europe – End of Term Report

Introduction

As the European Convention enters its second term, this report provides a succinct and up-to-date overview of the Convention’s activities since its inauguration in March, appraising what has been achieved so far and offering a prognosis for its development and outcome.

Background

1. The Nice European Council of December 2000 decided that an intergovernmental conference (IGC) should be held in 2004 and that the preparatory work be carried out by a Convention, inspired by the one which prepared for the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

2. The Laeken Declaration of December 2001 identified many questions to which it called upon the Convention to provide answers, such as: What are the missions of the European Union? How can more democracy, transparency, efficiency and a better division and definition of competences be achieved? How can the Union’s instruments and Treaties be simplified? Should the Union have a Constitution? The Laeken Declaration also set out the composition and basic working methods of the Convention.

3. Giscard d’Estaing was appointed President, Jean-Luc Dehaene and Giuliano Amato Vice Presidents and John Kerr Secretary-General. The first Plenary session of the Convention was held in March 2002. No firm date has been fixed for its conclusion but this is expected to be in mid-2003. The Convention consists of 105 members and 105 alternates (who may also attend but not speak if the member is present). The 105 are made up of:

  • The President and two Vice-Presidents
  • 15 representatives of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States (one from each Member State)
  • 13 representatives of the Heads of State or Government of the candidate countries (one each)
  • 30 representatives of the national parliaments of the Member States (two each)
  • 26 representatives of the national parliaments of the candidate countries (two each)
  • 16 members of the European Parliament
  • 2 representatives of the European Commission

4. The Praesidium of the Convention consists of the President, two Vice-Presidents, two MEPs and representatives of the Commission (two), national parliaments (two) and the Presidency (one each from the Spanish, Danish and Greek governments, which hold the Presidency of during the Convention). The Praesidium invites one member of the Convention designated by the representatives of the candidate countries to all its meetings.

March-July 2002

5. Six Plenary sessions and an equal number of meetings of the Praesidium were held:

Dates Themes
21-22 March “What do you expect from the European Union?”
15-16 April The missions of the European Union
23-24 May The European Union carrying out its missions: efficiency and legitimacy
6-7 June Area of freedom, security and justice: the role of the Union and of Member States
The role of national parliaments in the European architecture
24-25 June Hearing the views of civil society
11-12 July EU External action

6. 10 working groups have been set up as follows:

Subject Chair
Subsidiarity I Mendez de Vigo (EP)
Charter/ECHR A Vitorino (Commission)
Legal Personality G Amato (Vice-President)
National Parliaments G Stuart (UK parliament)
Complementary Competences H Christophersen (Danish government)
Economic Governance K Hänsch (EP)
External Action J-L Dehaene (Vice-President)
Defence M Barnier (Commission)
Simplification of Legislative Procedures G Amato (Vice-President)
Security and Justice J Bruton (Irish parliament)

Assessment of work

7. Great care needs to be taken in drawing conclusions from the first term of the Convention which was devoted to “listening”. Two further terms need to be completed before the Convention’s recommendations are agreed.

8. This is the first time that an IGC has been prepared in this way. The Fundamental Rights Convention worked on a single subject whereas the Convention’s agenda is virtually unlimited. Giscard d’Estaing called the first term the “listening” phase, although some critics prefer “talking” phase.

Working groups

9. Most of the working groups have only just started meeting. They are supposed to report in September/October. Each group is composed of +/- 30 but the level of attendance varies considerably between different groups, as do the working methods, both of which reflect the effectiveness of the chairs. One concern is the potentially poor attendance and the other failure to hold working sessions in public – hardly a good example for the declared aim of transparency and openness.

Public debate

10. There has been, at least since Laeken, a realisation of the need for a public debate on the future of Europe. Hitherto, that debate both inside and outside the Convention has been more a debate in public among the political elite than a true public debate. Civil society leaders at European level are not necessarily the sum total of the national debates and indeed these have so far been very slow to get off the ground, which is recognised by the Convention leaders. There is a need to know and take into account what citizens think and want. The role of the media will be critically important. The initial reporting has been both qualitatively and quantitively better than anticipated but the test will come when the Convention moves from listening to debating.

Issues

11. Although the Convention is not yet in a decision-making mode, the key issues are being identified and some feeling as to the way they will ultimately be resolved is emerging. However, many of these issues are interrelated and form on the hypothesis that another issue will be decided in a certain way. Accordingly, these comments can at best give a broad idea of what is still a moving and flexible exercise.

Thus:

Competences and subsidiarity

  • There seems to be no enthusiasm for a strict catalogue of competences but a consensus on strengthening the application of subsidiarity. The question is still open whether to achieve this by enhancing judicial control or by creating a new body with specific responsibility. The latter option would most probably entail the participation of members of national parliaments (MPs).
  • There has not been a strong call for giving the EU new powers except in relation to internal security and, to some extent, foreign policy.

Constitutionalisation and simplification of treaties

  • It now seems very likely that there will be a “constitution”. This is likely to be a constitutional treaty rather than a short, US-style constitution.

Elected Commission President

  • There is a growing consensus that the democratic legitimacy of the Commission President needs to be strengthened. Some believe that he or she should be elected by Parliament following European elections and confirmed by the European Council, rather than nominated by the European Council and confirme d by Parliament. Others envisage the creation of a Congress, including MEPs and MPs, charged with the specific task of electing the Commission President. There are also suggestions that he or she might be directly elected by the people but this is unimaginable in the foreseeable future. While there seems to be a growing consensus that the Commission President’s powers should be strengthened, his or her right to choose his own Commissioners has not been conceded nor his right to determine the size of the Commission.

Commission

  • There is no discernible agreement on the size of the Commission. The views range from as low as 10 to one Commissioner per Member State. If there is to be less than one per Member State, further discussion will be required as to whether a mechanism of automatic rotation should be enshrined in the Treaty.

Unanimity

  • The question of voting has not yet been seriously addressed. There is probably broad agreement that there should be some extension of QMV and that co-decision should be co-determinous with QMV. The extent to which unanimous voting might be reduced has not yet been tested. There is discussion, however, on how far the need to ratify every Treaty amendment by the Member State can be avoided.

Simplification of the Treaties

  • There appears to be a general consensus but not as to the means and what this process entails.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

  • There appears to be near consensus that the Charter should be integrated into the Treaty but not on the textual changes that may be required for legal reasons.

European Convention on Human Rights

  • There appears to be near consensus that the Union should accede to the Convention on Human Rights but little work has yet been done on what this entails in terms of the procedures of the Luxembourg and Strasbourg jurisdictions.

Court of Justice

  • There has been no discussion so far.

Economic and Social Committee

  • There has been no discussion so far.

Committee of the Regions

  • Some concerns have been expressed that the regional voice is not heard sufficiently but there has been no material discussion.

Presidency

  • There is broad agreement that there must be serious changes to the organisation of the Presidency. Many think it should be abolished. As yet, there is no indication of consensus as to any package or proposals.
  • Were the Presidency to be abolished, it could well be that each Council would appoint its own chair for a period longer than six months.

European Council

  • Some of the bigger countries have proposed that the President of the European Council be appointed for 2½ or 5 years but this idea is proving highly divisive.

Council

  • There is widespread agreement to reduce the number of Council formations. This has recently been done (as it does not require a Treaty amendment) and this item is not, therefore, likely to figure strongly on the agenda.

General Affairs Council

  • It is widely agreed that this is not functioning effectively and many believe that it is necessary to separate the General Affairs Council from a CFSP Council. The former would consist of senior ministers appointed by the Prime Minister; the latter would comprise the foreign ministers. This is not, however, the direction taken at the recent Seville Summit, and the debate is likely to develop further.

CFSP Council

  • A suggestion is that Mr CFSP chair this Council.

High Representative for CFSP

  • There is widespread agreement that the present system, workable only due to the qualities of the two incumbents (Javier Solana and Chris Patten), cannot continue. Ther e is no agreement, however, as to whether the posts of Mr CFSP and the CFSP Commissioner should be combined; whether he should be the Commission President or at least attend Commission meetings as a non-Member; or whether he should chair the Foreign Affairs Council. There appears to be agreement that he should no longer be Secretary-General of the Council

European Parliament

  • MEPs naturally wish to see Parliament strengthened. Ideas being developed include applying co-decision to all legislation subject to QMV and giving Parliament wider budgetary powers.

National parliaments

  • There is little support for a second parliamentary chamber composed of national parliamentarians. There is a clear desire that national parliaments, without being a formal part of the decision-making process, be more closely informed and consulted. The reform of COSAC (Conference of European Affairs Committees) has not yet been discussed as such but there is a proposal for a Congress composed of European and national parliamentarians which would carry out certain tasks eg overseeing subsidiarity or electing the President of the Commission.

 

Economic and fiscal governance

  • While a minority view holds that the Stability Pact and rigid provisions of the Maastricht Treaty on EMU need modification and that the national governments need to have greater freedom to run their own budget, most Convention members are reluctant to propose major changes in these sensitive areas. More broadly shared suggestions include the strengthening of the open method of coordination and a greater role for the European and national parliaments in the procedure leading to the adoption of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines. There is still no real move towards making tax harmonisation subject to QMV or super QMV.

CFSP

  • There is widespread belief in the need to strengthen CFSP with the EU increasingly speaking with a single voice. The strongest viewpoint remains that CFSP should remain intergovernmentalist. Some further limited QMV is not to be excluded as well as some progress towards more flexible cooperation in military matters.

Justice and Home Affairs cooperation

  • There is a recognition of the need to strengthen internal security, including the fight against terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration

Flexibility

  • The need for progress in CFSP coupled with the growth in size of the Union suggests that more effective flexibility/closer cooperation provisions will be agreed. The most obvious policy area would appear to be CFSP. There is further discussion about the Euro 12 forming a hard core but it is not easy to see what policy areas might be included, apart from economic governance and possibly tax.

Prognosis

12. For reasons already stated, it is still too early to assess the outcome of the Convention. However, despite ongoing criticisms of the President’s haughty style of leadership and that he is talking too much to governments and that he is likely to impose his own “pro-Council” views on the outcome, the Convention has settled down well, has sensibly spent its first term on listening and is far more organised and efficient than at first expected. The “chemistry” of the Convention is developing. Notwithstanding the inevitable high number of speeches, the proceedings have a certain dynamism which is helped by strict control over the length of oral contributions. There is an increasing feeling that the Convention is genuinely relevant to the future of Europe. Not only has no IGC previously been prepared this way, but this is the first time that there has been a sustained attempt to promote a public debate. Dehaene is right in saying that, at this stage, he is interested in the views of the Convention members and not the positions of governments. On the other hand, Giscard d’Estain g is also right to have an ongoing dialogue with Member State governments, as the bulk of the success of the Convention depends upon the governments.

13. The key question is whether the Convention will succeed in agreeing a sufficient number of substantive recommendations by consensus. Underlying the debate are two broad and opposing positions: the integrationists, who champion the role of the Commission and the intergovernmentalists who are partisans of Council leadership. An analysis of Convention membership suggests domination by the integrationists but the need to achieve consensus is the critical factor. It is here that the choice of President may be decisive. Giscard’s known views indeed favour intergovernmentalism and the role of the Council, but his overwhelming objective is to achieve a successful Convention and secure his place in history. This is far more important to him than the content of the recommendations.

14. The caucusing between political families and special interest groups within the Convention are likely to play an influential part in the Convention reaching consensus on different issues.

15. If – and it is a big if – the Convention is able to come up with a satisfactory set of consensual recommendations, the combination of Giscard’s standing and advocacy (even though hardly a “man of the people)”, combined with media support, could well be decisive in forcing the Member States at the subsequent IGC to accept recommendations consensually decided by a democratic process set up by themselves.

For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s

website.  

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