‘Future of Europe group’ bids for foreign policy, defence clout

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A self-appointed “Future of Europe Group” of 11 EU foreign ministers published yesterday (18 September) its “final’ report, calling for a stronger EU role in foreign and defence policy. Many of their ideas appear to mirror proposals put forward by Commission President José Manuel Barroso in his recent State of the Union speech.

The report finalising seven months of work was adopted during a meeting of the Future of Europe Group held in Warsaw on 17 September, a press release of the Polish foreign ministry says.

The final meeting of the group was attended by the foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

The informal group appears to emulate an unsuccessful attempt by EU leaders to task a group of “wise men” to make proposals on the future of Europe (see background).

Last November, Polish Foreign Minister Rados?aw Sikorski stunned EU circles by calling for a change in the functioning of EU institutions. “If we are not willing to risk a partial dismantling of the EU, then the choice becomes as stark as can be in the lives of federations: deeper integration, or collapse,” he said.

This time around, Sikorski and the other 10 ministers tabled an 8-page paper, “Final Report of the Future of Europe Group”. The information about the meetings of the group has been scarce, but Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders has shed some light of the views he has advocated in the group in an op-ed he contributed to EURACTIV in August.

Bad timing?

The most daring texts in the report are in brackets, meaning that not all ministers agreed to them. The ministers may have liked to be provocative, but instead of launching a debate, they appear to be walking in the footsteps of Barroso and of Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who made several important speeches recently.

Regarding the need of a treaty change, the group says that some amendment of the treaties may be needed, although they contend many things can be done within the existing treaty framework. “What is important is to get the sequencing and the balance right,” they write.

The ministers appear to agree that in an union of 28 members (Croatia is expected to join in mid-2013), decision-making will be even more difficult. But they add that according to most members of the group, future treaty changes should be implemented by a super-qualified majority of EU member states and their population. An exception is made for decisions on enlargement, where apparently because of Turkey, unanimity is required.

Several of their proposals to enhance economic governance are already underway, as for example the establishing of a single supervisory mechanism, involving the European Central Bank, for banks in the euro area and for those countries outside the eurozone who would wish to join such a mechanism.

On many other issues, no unanimity was registered. The text says that “some members of the group suggested steps towards mutualisation of sovereign risk”.

The 11 ministers appeal for involving the European Parliament in decision-making concerning the eurozone.

Some are in favour of setting up a separate parliamentary format for the eurozone, while others, such as non-eurozone member Poland, advocate for not changing the current framework. “Ways should be explored to involve MEPs from these countries,” the paper says, adding – in brackets – “while fully respecting the integrity of the European Union and the European Parliament as a whole”.

A stronger global role

Ministers appear united on the strengthening of the European External Action Service and the role of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

They consider that the foreign policy chief, a post now held by Catherine Ashton, should be given responsibility for concrete external action areas. They also advocate creating clusters of senior and junior commissioners. Several commissioners already serve as 'junior' colleagues to Ashton, assisting her in areas such as enlargement, neighbourhood policy, development and humanitarian aid.

“In the long term, we should seek more majority decisions in the CFSP sphere, joint representation in international organisations, where possible, and a European defence policy. For some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army,” the paper says.

Van Rompuy said in his speech at the annual conference of EU heads of delegations that as regards his mandate until late 2014, he would like “to devote more time to trade and defence”.

Just as Barroso proposed in his State if the Union speech, the ministers call for the nomination of  “a European top candidate” by each political group for the next European elections in 2014.

Some members, the paper says, call for a directly elected Commission president, who personally appoints members of the “European government”, a European Parliament with powers to initiate legislation and a second chamber for the member states. But the paper adds that such ideas are futuristic.

The European Council of 14 December 2007 decided to establish a 'Future of Europe reflection group' of no more than nine people to identify the key issues which the European Union 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. The group produced its report in May 2010. However, it appeared that EU leaders had put constraints on the group’s work, such as asking it not to discuss enlargement, in order to avoid a debate on Turkey.

As a consequence, the report got little attention and was basically forgotten by the Union’s decision-makers.

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