A joint conference with the Bertelsmann Foundation
From 11 to 13 July we met in Budapest with the Bertelsmann Foundation as our partners and generous hosts and with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as our local patrons, to discuss what institutional developments the EU might need to enable it to function effectively and democratically up to 2004 and beyond. We acknowledged at the outset that we had set ourselves an ambitious goal but one nevertheless which lay at the heart of the next phase of the EU’s progress.
We began with a general discussion in which we compared assessments of the Nice Treaty. Some thought not much had been achieved. The differing views and interests of the participants had shown the limits of this way of negotiating major European Treaties where important questions were dealt with by civil servants and politicians behind closed doors and the results presented in a form which was unintelligible to Europe’s citizens on whose behalf all this was allegedly being done. It was claimed that in one major EU country an opinion poll had shown that less that 14% of the electorate knew that the Nice Treaty existed. Another participant stated that if the single currency or enlargement were today put to a referendum in all 15 Member States they would both be definitely rejected. So were we not pursuing objectives against the will of the people? Others thought that the Nice Treaty, although much criticised, contained some solid advances. It had for example opened the way for enlargement, improved reinforced cooperation, extended Qualified Majority Voting to 27 new areas, set out some fundamental rights etc. Overall, however, there seemed to be a general feeling that the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 would be the real watershed.
Some of us argued that to that end we needed a widespread public debate in all our countries so that the views of Europe’s citizens, including those from the candidate countries, could be heard. To which others added the voices of parliamentarians. We needed a more open and more democratic process of negotiation and decision. The EU should be a community of values based on the 54 provisions set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights agreed at Nice. It was not enough to have a single currency we needed a common vision. The view was expressed that in future we should strive for the general European good rather than individual national interests. One participant thought that it should be possible to convince Europe’s citizens that their interests would indeed be better served by coordination and decisions taken at the collective European level on issues like trade, environment and combating transnational crime.
Against the background of this opening general discussion we looked in more detail at the developments in the three classical pillars of EU activity – although we were warned by one participant that the three pillars had evolved in the Maastricht negotiations to meet a particular set of circumstances. There were disadvantages in allowing our thinking to be compartmentalised in this way. We needed a broader and more inclusive approach.
In discussing the future of the European Economic and Social Model we were inclined to reject the idea of a single model – indeed there were few attempts throughout the conference to try to define a “finalité politique” for the EU. We thought it more helpful to talk of a European “method”. In this sense the Lisbon Summit had added helpfully to our vocabulary. It had introduced “open coordination” where targets were set but individual countries decided how best to achieve them. Benchmaking and peer pressure were also useful approaches. But some reservations were expressed that such methods might not stand the pressures of serious disagreement, when “hard” rather than “soft” law might be called for. They also tended to bypass the Commission/Community methods of making progress. Some participants also referred to the danger that the method of “open coordination” might add further to the lack of transparency in EU decision making. Moreover, one participant thought that the substance of what had been agreed at Lisbon was under threat. There were signs that some Member States were pulling back from the targets that had been agreed and were not showing the political will necessary to turn aspirations into reality – always more difficult commented another participant at a time when economic activity was declining as it now was.
We looked at the speed of change within the EU and the rather rigid attitude towards the “acquis” from the point of view of the candidate countries. We thought that both posed significant difficulties. The EU which the candidates would join might be very different from the one with which they were now negotiating. It was also pointed out that the “acquis” which we insisted on the candidates accepting was not in some respects a coherent body of law. Many provisions resulted from historical compromises and were hardly relevant to the present situation. The hope was expressed that we might be able to categorise the “acquis” into its core elements and those of less importance, but the time and effort involved would be considerable.
We found it difficult to agree on the scope of EU social policy. Some saw an active EU social policy as a necessary support for the problems that would be thrown up by macroeconomic integration. Others thought that the current social model was too work-centred and did not recognise the contribution of work in the home and of family life. Concerns were also expressed that a too active EU social policy might usurp the role of regional and local government.
We looked at the difficulty of decision taking in the EU. Could a better balance be found between efficiency and legitimacy? Was the feeling of cohesion among the member states strong enough to accept unpopular decisions? If, as some wished, the EU acquired deeper powers in the monetary and social fields would, for example, Hungarians accept inappropriate interest rates because France or another country needed them. Would cohesion funds continue? We thought there would be problems but were advised not to pre-empt the next round of budget discussions which were due in 2005/6. Changes to agriculture policy could change the equation. We were also urged not to confuse the recent Belgian proposal for an “EU tax” to fund EU programmes with wider proposals for more general EU tax raising powers.
We examined recent developments in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CESDP) and concluded that the EU had a wider range of instruments of influence available to it than NATO. But these were, at the moment, inadequately coordinated and their deployment was often slow and clumsy, notwithstanding recent improvements over the disbursement of EU aid in Kosovo by Commissioner Patten. It was alleged that apart from the failure to coordinate the intra-institutional aspects of the EU’s activities, not least within the Commission itself, there was a wider failure to link these activities with a strategic concept of what we were trying to achieve. There was, for example, no unified view on the future of Kosovo. We also noted the failure to attempt conflict prevention by conditionally linking the EU’s aid and trade policies to an agreed set of targets and performance criteria. It was pointed out that after enlargement a new range of potential problems such as Ukraine, Kaliningrad or Moldova might need to be dealt with by the EU. Overall a number of participants urged the progressive merging of Pillars I and II to achieve greater coordination between the EU’s policies and instruments and stronger coordination between Patten and Solana and their staffs.
As far as ESDP was concerned we acknowledged that the Helsinki European Council had issued a declaration of intent. Member states had set themselves the task of creating a rapid reaction force. This would be a more robust capability than anything they currently possessed. But it could not be excluded that they might fail in their aim. It required a serious commitment of resources and whether this would be forthcoming in some countries, including importantly Germany, was still undecided. And even when we had created the capability, EU leaders would have to demonstrate the will to use it. On the other hand, if the capability existed, it would, we thought, be harder for the EU to stand aside in future crises on the grounds that they were unable to act. During our discussions we heard a forthright expression of US impatience with the EU’s institutional debate. What the US hoped for were less pillars and more effective partners.
The final area we looked at was the desire to develop the EU into an area of Freedom, Security and Justice. We thought this lay close to the interests of individual EU citizens, who, one participant claimed, intuitively understood the need for EU-wide cooperation to tackle international criminals and secure freedom of travel etc. Although this might appear to be technical and legal it was, above all, argued a participant, a political issue. In acknowledging the differing traditions and independence of police forces in our various countries we thought that the EU provided the framework for wider cooperation and, because of shared interests in other areas, gave the participants the confidence for operational cooperation in smaller groups. But for such cooperation to widen, we needed to make progress on questions of civil and penal law such as recognition of warrants, extradition, divorce, etc. The EU candidate countries were thought to have a potential advantage in that they had an opportunity to develop a single system for their domestic and EU laws in a number of areas such as asylum. Some thought that the clear vision set out at the Tampere EU summit had not been fulfilled. There needed to be a reinforcement of our aims at the Laeken summit at the end of the current Belgian Presidency.
We thought about the effects of enlargement on Justice and Home Affairs and considered that the present prescriptive method of decision making would probably be impractical. It would be more sensible to try to identify those areas where it would be essential to have common standards and then, where practical, cooperation in small groups might be appropriate. We also recognised that by extending the EU’s external borders we would have a direct interest in developments in neighbouring countries, some of whom would not be seeking membership of the EU and who would therefore not have the same interest in applying the same standards as we would be setting within the EU. What incentives might we create to facilitate cooperation? We thought that a study of US efforts, particularly in NAFTA, might be instructive. A comment from the US point of view, based on an investment of US resources in a central European country to facilitate action against illegal immigration, indicated that the influence the EU was able to exert over the candidate countries on its borders was indeed much greater than that exercised by non-EU actors, including the USA.
At the end of these detailed reviews we returned to the broader picture and in our final discussions, mirrored, to some extent, the three constants in most EU debates about its future direction and development – vision, law and money. Our calls for a clearer vision were answered by one participant who, modelling himself on Lincoln’s Gettysberg address, gave us a statement, in clear and comprehensible language, of the relevance of EU to its citizens in areas of importance to them. For example, in a globalised world only the EU would have the capacity to preserve essential values and influence global issues such as trade and the environment. While agreeing with this, we were asked by a participant to bear in mind that the EU was not responsible for everything. The EU should be engaged where policies or issues had effects outside a single member state, where the economies of scale were decisive, and where redistribution of resources as an expression of solidarity, were necessary.
A plea was made for a constitution – a question discussed elsewhere in the conference. Some control over the growing power of the EU was necessary. The citizen had to feel secure in his or her rights. To this was added the thought that the EU probably did not require significant additional powers. What it should aim for should be a system which was comprehensible, accountable and affordable.
This raised the inevitable question of finance. It was suggested that reform of the CAP should be the top priority. If that was achieved then the transitional period of enlargement could probably be managed. But what might happen thereafter would probably be more expensive. In addition to any internal transfers of resources in an enlarged EU we had identified a number of other areas where we envisaged the EU being active. These ranged from trade concessions to Russia, assistance in South Eastern Europe and to our neighbours in the Middle East, the creation of a rapid reaction force and a civilian crisis capability, etc. Were we really prepared to foot the bill? The question was left hanging, possibly for a further Ditchley conference.
I would like to end by thanking once again the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and also those participants from the candidate countries whose contributions ensured that our discussions were enriched and enlivened by the perspectives of those whose strong wish it is to become members of the EU, but who can nonetheless view it with fresh eyes. I look forward to Bertelsmann’s visit to Ditchley next May for our follow-up conference on EU Enlargement.
This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Professor Ferenc Glatz
President, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Director, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science
Miss Susan Cartwright
Director General for the European Union, North and West Europe Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Professor Charles Pentland
Professor of Political Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
Professor Dr Jaroslav Jaks
Team Europe Czech Republic Member, Prague
Mr Claus Grube
Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Representation of Denmark to the European Union, Brussels
Professor Dr Klaus Gretschmann
Director-General, Council of the European Union
M Jacques Faure
Deputy Director for European Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
M Daniel Vernet
Director of International Relations, Le Monde
Dr Eckart Cuntz
Deputy Director General for European Affairs, Federal Foreign Office
Herr Thomas Fischer
Director, Politics Division, The Bertelsmann Foundation
Professor Dr Jürgen Meyer MP
Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee, German Bundestag
Herr Wilfried Gruber
Ambassador, German Embassy, Budapest
Herr Josef Janning
Vice President, Bertelsmann Foundation
Dr Péter Györkös
General Director for Coordination, Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
Dr András Hajdu
Head of Section, Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
Mr János Zsigmond Kendernay
Head of Department, Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Professor Norbert Kroó
General Secretary of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Professor Hajna Lörinczné-Istvánffy
University of Economics
Professor Dr Attila Meskó
Deputy General Secretary, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Professor Tibor Palánkai
Professor, University of Economics
Dr Attila Pók
Deputy Director, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Dr Tibor Szanyi
Vice-Chairman of the Committee of European Integration Affairs, Parliament of the Republic of Hungary
Professor Dr András Ubitau
Director of the Institute for World Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Dr Bogdan Góralczyk
Centre for Europe, University of Warsaw
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Hon John Bruton TD
Vice-President, The European People’s Party; Member, Dail Eireann; Member, Council of State
Professor Vernon Bogdanor CBE FBA
Professor of Government, Oxford University
Sir Nigel Broomfield KCMG
Director, The Ditchley Foundation
Mr Nick Clegg
Member of the European Parliament, (Liberal Democrat)
Mr Kim Darroch
Director, European Union, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Mr Robert Dear
First Secretary Political/Economic, British Embassy, Budapest
Dr Hywel Ceri Jones
Chairman of Executive Board, European Policy Centre, Brussels
Dr Jonathan Lipkin
Western Europe Editor and Analyst, Oxford Analytica
Miss Lesley Pallett
Head, European and International Unit, Home Office
Sir Michael Quinlan GCB
Former Permanent Under Secretary of State, UK Ministry of Defence
Miss Carol Robson
Deputy Director, The Ditchley Foundation
Professor Dr Helen Wallace
Director, ESRC One Europe Programme; Co-Director, Sussex European Institute
Lady Wills JP
Honorary Life President, The Ditchley Foundation