Charting the course for a new Europe

 

What is the European Union 48 years after its foundation? What new visions and narratives should animate its leaders and peoples for a new generation? Where are the EU's boundaries and borders? What powers should it have and how should they be exercised? How should it relate to the member states, their parliaments and citizens? What role can it play in a world where the United States has military preponderance but diminishing political and moral appeal and in which China and India are strongly emerging competitors? Was it appropriate to call a consolidating treaty a constitution? How can national and European identities be united or combined so that sacrifices or commitments can be demanded from citizens - and should they be?

These are among the questions addressed by a series of articles beginning in this newspaper today from prominent political figures and opinion-makers involved with Europe. They are prompted by the rejection of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe in the French and Dutch referendums on May 29th and June 1st.

These questions deserve to be central in the current "period of reflection" called for by EU leaders at their rancorous summit in mid-June. It is intended to last for about one year to allow everyone concerned to decide where to go from here. While the treaty must be passed unanimously it should be remembered that while France and the Netherlands have rejected it, 13 member states with over half the EU's population have ratified it - two by referendum - leaving 10 still to decide. So whether the treaty is abandoned, filleted, renegotiated or voted on again by those who have rejected it remains an open question.

It deserves to be addressed in a non-dogmatic, reflective spirit rather than a narrowly partisan one at this stage of the process. Contributors raise many issues that were inadequately dealt with in the debates surrounding the constitution - or may not have been properly tackled at all. They are not confined to the campaigning arguments for and against the document, although the series has several contributions from each of these positions.

A consistent theme is whether it was appropriate to describe the document as a constitution, given its modest and compromised outcome. A decisive argument in the intense French debate on the subject was that it was a mistake to constitutionalise the detailed policies set out in part III of the document.

The high turnout and engagement there and in the Netherlands ensured that the No to the treaty was not necessarily a No to deeper integration. But is a deeper political union compatible with a continually widening one?

How Europe's boundaries relate to those of the EU is another consistent theme in this series. Should physical geography, shared history and identity or compliance with abstract values define them - or how could these be combined?