Europe seemed a good subject to begin Ditchley’s 1995/96 year. The shape, direction, pace and significance of its evolution looked likely to dominate domestic politics in several of its countries, and to engage major concerns among its principal external partners. And the prospect of the European Union’s (EU) 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) was certain to sharpen the focus of attention on many aspects of the evolution.
We were however warned not to look for too much from the IGC; over-expectation would set up perceived failure. The 1991 surge at Maastricht still had numerous strands not fully implemented or tested, and there was no general appetite among EU members for sweeping extension in EU functions or for new strides toward super-statehood. The useful agenda for the IGC, even if undramatic, was nevertheless substantial. There remained development tasks ahead in the operation of the single market and the lowering of barriers; in the collective tackling of the narcotics trade and other crime; in environmental concerns; and perhaps in immigration. Whatever it might attempt in these, moreover, the IGC would have to face difficult and contentious issues in making the EU system work better - the strengthening of majority voting, with fewer exceptions; the slimming of the Commission; the sharpening and simplification of European Parliament processes; and the possible re-balancing of voting weight as between larger and smaller members. Real operational improvement in such respects - which would pose hard choices in the tensions between transparency, formal equity and pragmatic efficiency - was needed not only for the discharge of the major tasks set by Maastricht in moving to a common currency and shaping common security and foreign policy (CFSP) but still more if the Union was to remain at all manageable after the further enlargement to which it was politically committed.
On enlargement itself, we heard warning voices about implications, especially cost, and we knew that underneath a common rhetoric there lay real differences in enthusiasm. But we mostly recognised that enlargement to ex-Communist countries was not merely a commitment but a mission - a moral imperative, some suggested. How far it should go, at what pace and in what tranches we were not sure. We heard speculation that as many as fifteen eastward countries ought to be considered as candidates, though we were minded to think it unwise to define too closely now what were the outer limits, let alone the timetable. Line-drawing at least as to pace and phasing was however both essential - a “big bang” collective admission would be beyond system capacity - and defensible by reasonable objective criteria. The Visegrad group (perhaps with question marks about Slovakia inside it and Slovenia outside) had clear and powerful claims, urged with an enthusiasm rooted in a deep European consciousness. The Union would not find it easy to justify postponing the start of entry negotiations beyond the end of the IGC, though their secure conclusion would need unhasty care and thoroughness (which must not become a cover for protectionist delay).
The other competitor for the role of being the EU’s prime animating theme beyond the IGC was the move to a common currency. Unsurprisingly, we heard a good deal more scepticism about this, mostly though not solely in British accents. Several found it hard to believe that the programme for European monetary union (EMU) could really happen as now postulated, or that its participants would find their experience - for example in relation to trade-competitive neighbours still free to devalue, or in the difficulty of an attempted separation between responsibility for monetary and for fiscal policy - other than deeply stressful; at worst, said one sombre speculation, it could blow up the Union. But we found no cracks, or none admitted, in French and German intent to drive ahead. Virtually the whole spectrum of political-party opinion in Germany was so agreed; and in France - without which, we thought, EMS could scarcely proceed, whatever the technical possibilities - the franc fort had not yet generated such discomfort as to undermine political resolve. The sceptics murmured on about the likely impact of 1998 elections, the potential incompatibility between strict entry criteria and the current time-table, and the temptation to exploit the treaty’s remaining window, before the end of 1997, to set a fresh and slower pace. Consensus eluded us.
Debate and disagreement over enlargement and EMU, and the relationship between them, re-illustrated the familiar “widening versus deepening” divergence despite endeavours to deny their alternativeness. How sharp that alternativeness would prove depended in large measure on whether EU member countries found it possible or tolerable to operate a two-speed variable-geometry Europe. Plainly some countries - on strict criteria, perhaps even Italy or Belgium - could not be founder-members of EMU. There was assorted past experience of variation, and the pace of the slowest had never been an automatic rule; but we were reminded that a difference of pace in moving towards shared goals was not the same as a difference about the goals themselves. How far the United Kingdom’s future approach would continue to reflect the latter as well as the former no doubt turned in part on the outcome of its next general election, but the prospect of closer EU convergence in key attitudes might rest not just on speeding up the sceptical rear-guard but also on slowing the integrationist vanguard. The stance lately taken by Germany’s Constitutional Court seemed to some participants to betoken a new wariness about trading good national arrangements for more uncertain EU ones.
However its internal character and its composition might evolve, what should be the EU’s general role and stance in the wider world - mostly a mega-Switzerland (in undiplomatic shorthand), or a regional actor, or a global one? Participants from outside the Union robustly favoured the widest role - already evident and inevitable in trade matters, but deeply desirable also across the board alongside the United States and Japan. The United States, it was powerfully urged, remained enthusiastic for a united, outward-looking Europe, and still regarded the transatlantic partnership as the prime component or underpinning of world-wide policy; it might well welcome a systematic new expression of this (though the idea of a special US/EU free-trade area attracted misgiving as a possible threat to or diversion from the development of the World Trade Organisation).
The EU’s capability for coherent external actions would hinge in large measure upon the development of the Maastricht commitment to a CFSP. We recognised that this had to rest on an inter-governmental base; EU peoples were as yet nowhere near the stage of one-polity consciousness at which authority over issues of security and armed-force commitment could be exercised supra-nationally, and historic attitudes among member nations moreover differed too widely, as the wreck of Yugoslavia showed, for unanimity to be a tolerable precondition of action. Further development of the ability to act efficiently together, for example under the aegis of Western European Union (WEU) should certainly be sought; but tensions might lie ahead on whether, for example, the inevitable right to stand aside militarily should extend also to opting out of political responsibility-sharing and financial contribution.
We found more agreement than might have been assured a few years ago that CFSP, and WEU as the EU’s nearest reflection in the security field, must fit within the wider context of NATO and the Atlantic Alliance. Beyond this, however, complexities remained. Full membership of WEU but not of NATO was an unreal notion, but it was not acceptable that full entry into WEU, as an automatic right accompanying EU admission, should impose extended alliance obligations upon an unconsulted United States. The accompaniment was indeed not strictly automatic, as we were reminded, but the increasing political depth of the EU concept made it uncomfortable, at best, to envisage that a country accepted into the EU and keen to join NATO might be denied. It was earnestly argued to be not only logically necessary but also practically helpful (in relation for example to Russian concerns) that EU entry and the NATO/WEU option be coherently related.
We acknowledged reluctantly, as our time ran out, that many key aspects of our subject had largely or wholly escaped us - for diverse example, the Union’s concerns southward around the Mediterranean; the prospect for Turkey, and Europe’s interest in the durability there of the Ataturk inheritance; the future of the concept of subsidiarity within the EU (and the unwisdom of trying to handle this as a legal rather than a political matter). We did only sporadic justice to the reality that Europe was much more than the EU.
We did however manage to recall constantly the challenge of putting the EU and its arcane-seeming issues across to EU peoples as truly relevant and important. As the issues penetrated more deeply and unsettlingly into the historic acquis of distinctive nations, it was neither reasonable nor prudent - as the post-Maastricht travail had shown - to conduct the Union’s evolution as an enterprise simply among informed political elites. Engagement of general public understanding and support became more necessary precisely as it became more difficult - and as its effects became harder for commentators to predict and for leaders to shape.
No non-trivial proposition could have commanded the agreement of all participants as envoi to a conference which, albeit doubtless smoother in tone than the main march of political debate that must lie ahead for EU countries, prefigured some of its complexity and its wide spread of differing opinion. But it was salutary to be reminded that external observers often found the scope and pace of EU development remarkable, even headlong; and there lurked among many of us a suspicion that the issues would prove tougher, the surprises sharper and the political road more winding and boulder-strewn than would be-expert debate had yet generally discerned. That was true of Ditchley’s pre-Maastricht look at Europe; we cannot be confident of having done better pre-IGC 96.
This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
Chairman: Lord Tugendhat
Chairman, Abbey National pic; formerly Vice-President, European Commission
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Mr George Brock
European Editor, The Times
Mr Nicholas Colchester OBE
Director, The Economist Intelligence Unit
Sir Roy Denman KCB CMG
Formerly Director-General for External Affairs, European Commission
Mr Timothy Garton Ash
Senior Research Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford
Mr Graham Leicester
Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit
Mr Christopher Long CMG
British Ambassador to Hungary
Mr William Mader
Lately London Bureau Chief, Time Magazine
Mr Peter Mandelson MP
Labour Whip for Europe
Mr Graham Mather MEP
President, European Policy Forum
Dr Geoffrey Mulgan
Director, DEMOS (Public Policy Institute)
Lately Member of European Parliament (Conservative)
Formerly Editor, The Times
Mr John Roper
Director, Western European Institute for Security Studies
Professor Helen Wallace
Director, European Institute, University of Sussex; Conference Rapporteur
Mr Stephen Wright
Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (European Union affairs)
Mr Robert Hage
Minister, Canadian Mission to the European Union
Mr James Wright
Minister, Canadian High Commission, London
Mr Graham Avery
Chief Adviser, Directorate-General for External Political Relations
Madame Pascale Andéani
Lately Cabinet Director, Minister for European Affairs
Monsieur André Bénard KBE
Monsieur Philippe Coste
Director for European Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Professor Per Fischer
Lecturer in Political Science, University of Mainz
Professor Loukas Tsoukalis
Professor of European Organisation, University of Athens
Dr Guido Lenzi
Director-designate, Western European Union Institute for Security Studies
HE Mr Yukio Satoh
Ambassador of Japan to The Netherlands
Mr Hideaki Tanaka
International Economic Affairs Department, Keidanren
Dr Miguel Herrero de Miñón
Formerly Member of Parliament; constitutional lawyer
HE Monsieur François Nordmann
Ambassador of Switzerland, London
Mr Joshua B Bolten
Formerly General Counsel to US Trade Representative
Mr Michael Calingaert
Formerly US Minister, London and Rome
Professor David P Calleo
Director of European Studies, John Hopkins University
Mr R Geoffrey Colvin
Executive Editor, Fortune
Mr Robert M Conway
Partner, Goldman Sachs International
Mr John Darnton
London Bureau Chief, New York Times
HE Mr Richard N Gardner
US Ambassador to Spain
Mr Anthony Gardner
Director for European Affairs, National Security Council