On a wet and windy autumn weekend we met to consider where Europe was likely to go following enlargement to 25 members and agreement on the Constitutional Treaty. Our analysis ranged over a broad area, but commonly agreed prescriptions were few, reflecting the subjectivism inherent in a discussion of this sort and in the EU itself. Glasses stood half-full and half-empty all around the Library, with greater optimism emerging from Brussels insiders and to some extent from representatives of new Member States. Pessimism was largely the provenance of the British. This maximised the importance of non-EU views, whose perspective – “impressive in some ways, but could do better” – was perhaps the closest to the real world.
The debate took us, with a stimulating mixture of disorder and discipline, through an analysis of the present situation and of current performance; a good look at the relationship between the EU centre and the Member States and their peoples; an estimate of what the focus of the EU should be over the next period; an assessment of the EU’s impact and image in the wider world; and some thoughts on what the EU might look like in 20 years time.
The conference did not become stuck for too long on the prospects for Constitutional Treaty ratification. It was generally accepted that 24 out of 25 EU Member States would ratify; but a UK ‘no’ was a real possibility. The options in that scenario were briefly discussed: some thought that the UK ought to be asked to try again, or possibly to attempt a second referendum on whether to stay in the EU at all. Others wondered what the EU might be able to implement from the CT without ratification. But the general assumption was that the rest of the EU would be able to recover. One participant commented that if the French failed to ratify the Treaty it would be a terminal shock to the EU, whereas if the UK failed to ratify it the dilemma would ‘only’ be how to go ahead without the UK.
There was considerable criticism of the performance of the current institutions. The need for a strong Commission over the next period was universally accepted, though Commission insiders denied a current crisis. The Council of Ministers came in for the greatest stick: table rounds of 25 stifled debate; and Ministers were failing to take the results home and explain them consistently and convincingly. Both areas needed to be addressed soon. We felt that communication with citizens of the EU was a fundamental deficiency, in an era when falling short on aspirations and promises created real disillusionment and distrust. Implementation and delivery of a higher standard by both the Commission and the Member States had to come about. The conference rallied to the mantra that the EU should be doing less, better.
There was nevertheless some resistance to overall gloom. It was pointed out, and not only by EU insiders, that the achievements of the European Union over the long term amounted to a remarkable accumulation. Europe had changed radically in the direction of freedom and stability. Prosperity had increased. The institutions were learning. The impact of the EU in its foreign policy and external relationships, and not just in the trade and economic spheres, was growing. But we came back again and again to the question of legitimacy: were enough people in the Member States accepting that the EU was central to their lives and their future?
Here the dilemma was noted that the EU could not make a greater impact on its citizens without a rise in budget levels; and Member States would not agree to devote greater sums to Brussels if national governments were presenting themselves as the main provider of services and good government. One of the problems in the enforcement of EC regulations was the reluctance of national governments and parliaments to interpret them as Brussels had intended. The temptation was always to modify them, or even ignore them, in favour of national preferences. This was particularly the case when it came to the implementation of the Lisbon agenda. One result of this was a failure to convince the business and industrial community that the EU was following the right model for wealth generation, compared with policy and practice in the US, for instance. There was a concern that the world was changing in ways which EU economic and industrial policy had not analysed correctly or drawn the right conclusions from.
In this context the case for further internal reform was considered. The general view was that this process was still incomplete, but that further reform should be attempted and could be accomplished without any need to change the Constitutional Treaty. The immediate future focus should be on institutional effectiveness, linked with specific policy areas, rather than on trying to create a new model altogether. That said, there was a need to be brutally honest on what was going well or not so well within the EU, whether or not the current situation was to be described as a crisis. Good management was essential. So was honesty and consistency in implementation and a focus on action rather than rhetoric. Hopes were expressed that the new Commission could find a strength in these areas which had recently been missing.
In terms of substance, the decisions that would be needed in a number of areas over the next eighteen months were bound to set a formidable test. The Lisbon agenda and the Stability and Growth Pact would be central. The latter needed to be put on a more cyclical basis in order to promote growth, avoiding the damage caused by differentiation of application of the rules across Member States. The budget negotiations would be an important instrument in this context. Decisions on the next state of enlargement would also set a challenge, not least in respect of Turkey, whose eventual accession was regarded as inevitable by the majority; though some pointed out that all 25 Member States would need to support a positive decision and the kind of EU which Turkish membership would imply was by no means yet universally accepted. Others suggested that Eastern Europe, not least Ukraine, was the most natural next group to be considered as candidates. The case for priority for Turkey still had to be made in that respect also.
A lively discussion was generated on the EU’s external relationships and the scope for an effective foreign and security policy over the next period. The general view was that CFSP and EDSP were areas of solid recent progress. We considered whether the EU should be representing the common interests or the common values of its members. Could 25 Member States agree in sufficient depth on either? Common interests were a more realistic agenda, but would they be dominated by the Big Three? As for scope, non-EU participants suggested that the EU was too preoccupied with its own periphery. But what a periphery, commented EU insiders. We were therefore unable to decide whether the EU should have a stronger geopolitical vision. But it was noted that the greater the distance of an event or country from the immediate European periphery, the lower the impact of EU action. The difference in EU involvement between Iran and North Korea was mentioned as an example, when the implications of either going wrong might be just as strong for Europe. The North Americans amongst us were quite clear that the EU should raise its game.
Questions were also raised about EU defence capability. There was agreement that the ability to use force would sometimes come in useful: otherwise soft power would not get itself projected. At the same time, there was a reluctance within EU Member States to raise their defence budgets to produce highly capable military instruments. This might be one of the reasons why not just the US, but also other major players such as Russia and China, were unlikely to wait breathlessly for EU decisions on global issues. A considerable weight was placed on the establishment of an EU Foreign Minister, perhaps whether or not the Constitutional Treaty was ratified, to give the EU a more powerful and distinctive voice – something which Javier Solana had already shown was possible.
Against this external background, the subject of EU-US relations was not addressed in as much depth as might have been expected. This was mainly put down to the imminence of the US Presidential election. But most participants wondered whether one choice of the American people would make so much difference than the other. The United States wanted a powerful partner in Europe; and Europe had many of the necessary attributes. But better chemistry and communication, and a lot of hard work, were going to be necessary if more powerful collaboration and improved understanding were to be achieved over the next four years. The conference was clear that the EU should not compete with the US, but neither should it leave the rest of the world to the US alone. There needed to be a multilateral system that established a balance. Upcoming tests for the EU were Iran and Afghanistan: Iran for diplomacy and Afghanistan for post-conflict peacebuilding. Iraq, thankfully, was left to one side as being in neither category at the current stage. Nor did we reach any conclusions on what the EU should be doing next in the Middle East peace process.
Finally, we had a go, with all due modesty, at what the view might look like in twenty years time. The majority thought that it would include the following:
An enlarged membership of up to 40 States, comprising virtually all the Continent of Europe and including, or on the point of including, Turkey. Some thought that a moratorium was a possibility, not least if the UK drifted away. But most believed that momentum of enlargement was unstoppable;
- The EU would as a consequence look different in its internal make-up. All EU countries would show a higher degree of multi-ethnicity. Sound principles for managing this and the attendant challenges to national identities would be needed;
- The balance between the Member States and the Centre would not have changed that significantly (though the aspiration for a stronger federal centre would continue); variable geometry was inevitable;
- The issue of legitimacy and the democratic deficit would remain serious, but by 2024 there would be at least one directly elected leader in Brussels;
- Changes in demography would cause policy headaches across a range of policy areas: immigration, pensions, welfare and family policies, to name a few. Would this restrain economic growth?
- There would be no big increase in defence spending, but EDSP and NATO would have worked out constructive ways of cooperating;
- Relations with the Islamic world would be a significant problem.
Participants representing new Members were entertained by this attempt at long-term prediction. Their countries were struggling to apply the present rules and hoping that the EU would solve their more significant current problems. Some elements of re-negotiation of their accession terms were going on even now. They assumed that the EU would be more centralised and collective in twenty years’ time, with evolved institutions and new instruments of government at the centre and, they hoped, more effective methods of decision-making and bureaucratic handling. They also felt that multi-speed variety and different coalition groups were inevitable.
The spread of perceptions at the conference – and we lacked any participant from the UK Independence Party or from the harder edge of Washington thinking – meant that we could not draw any universally agreed conclusions. Some felt that good, sensible work at improving the institutions and resolving the deficiencies would not necessarily be the principal lines of change. External shocks were more likely to trump them, or might even be the necessary stimulus for reaching coherence and effectiveness in the future. Ditchley would be watching this space.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Chair: Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG
Director: Rio Tinto, Shell. Formerly: Secretary-General, EU Convention (2002-03); Permanent Under Secretary of State, FCO (1997-02); Ambassador to the USA (1995-97); UK Permanent Representative to the EU (1990-95); a Governor, the Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Jeremy KinsmanCanadian Ambassador to the European Union, Brussels. Formerly: High Commissioner, London; Ambassador, Rome; Ambassador, Moscow.
Dr David Long
The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa.
Professor David Wright
Kenneth and Patricia Taylor Distinguished Visiting Professor in Foreign Affairs at Victoria College, University of Toronto. Formerly: Canadian Ambassador to NATO (1997-2003).
Mr Michael Leigh
Deputy Director General, DG External Relations, European Commission. Ambassador John Richardson
Head of delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations.
HE Dr Kaja Tael
Ambassador of Estonia to the United Kingdom.
Mrs Pascale Andreani
Adviser on European Affairs to President Chirac.
Mr Philippe Moreau Defarges
Senior Adviser, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (1982-); Professor, Institute of Political Studies, Paris.
Dr Ulrike Guerot
German Marshall Fund
Dr Constanze Stelzenmüller
Editor and political correspondent, Die Zeit.
Ms Cathryn Costello
Fellow, Worcester College, Oxford. Formerly: Director, Irish Centre for European Law (2000‑2003).
Mr Jim Cloos
Director DG E IV (Transatlantic Relations, Latin America, United Nations Human Rights, Counter-Terrorism), Council of the European Union.
Mr Armando Tellez-Velasco
Senior Adviser European Regulation, Central and Eastern European Countries, British Telecommunications plc.
Professor Lena Kolarska-Bobinska
Director, Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw.
HE Frantisek Dlhopolcek
Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the United Kingdom.
Mr Frantisek Ruzicka
Director General European Affairs, MFA.
Professor Yakup Atila Eralp
International Relations Department, Middle East Technical University, Ankara.
Ms Sarah Beaver
Director for Europe, Ministry of Defence.
Mr Kim Darroch
Head of the European Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister’s EU Adviser. Formerly: Director-General for EU Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Ms Heather Grabbe
Deputy Director, Centre for European Reform (2000-); Associate Fellow, European Institute, LSE (2004-); Member of Council, Royal Institute of International Affairs; Member, British Königswinter Committee.
Mr John Grant CMG
UK Permanent Representative to the EU, Brussels (2003-). Formerly: Ambassador to Sweden (1999-2003).
Mr Charles Grant
Co-founder and Director, Centre for European Reform (1996-); Board member and trustee, British Council (2002-).
Mr Mark Gray
Member of the Cabinet of Pavel Telicka, European Commission.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG
British Government Special Representative for Cyprus (1996-). Formerly: Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1990-95); Permanent Representative to the EC (1985‑1990).
The Rt Hon David Heathcoat-Amory MP
Shadow Chief Secretary, Treasury (1997-2000); HM Paymaster General (1994-96).
Mr Matthew Kirk
Ambassador to Finland.
Professor Alan Mayhew
Jean Monnet Professor and Pofessorial Fellow, Sussex European Institute.
Mr John Palmer
Political Director, the European Policy Centre, Brussels
Ms Susan Pointer
Director of European Public Policy, Amazon.com.
Mr Jonathan Sweet
Counsellor Justice and Home Affairs, UK Permanent Representative to the European Union.
Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO
Chancellor, University of Kent; Director, Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding; author; a Governor and Member of Council, The Ditchley Foundation.
Lord Tugendhat of Widdington
Life Peer (Conservative) (1993); Chairman – Europe, Lehman Brothers (2002-); Chancellor, University of Bath (1998-). Formerly: Vice-President Commission of the European Communities: (1977-81); Member of Parliament (Conservative), City of London and Westminster South (1970-76); a Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Professor, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science. Liberal Democrat spokesman on Foreign Affairs, House of Lords.
Mr John Weston CBE
Chairman, Spirent plc (2002-). Formerly: Chief Executive, BAe (1999-2002); Governor, Member of Council and Chairman of the Development Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr Michael Calingaert
Executive Vice President of the Council for the United States and Italy (1997-); Visiting Scholar at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution (1997-).
Ambassador Charlie Ries
Ambassador-designate to Greece. Formerly: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European Affairs, US Department of State (2000-2004).
Mr Sanford Ungar
President, Goucher College, Baltimore. Formerly: Director, Voice of American (1999-2001).