Unlike Moscow’s Victory Day, firmly wedded to the past, the European Union was yesterday marking its Europe Day, but with a bold and ambitious vision of its future with the publication of the final report of the Conference on the Future of Europe and a rousing speech from French president Emmanuel Macron. “Big dreams,” he promised delegates at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, “that we will pursue together.”
The challenges of making the EU work more effectively and together, of streamlining at the same time as opening up its cumbersome decision-making, are not the same as tackling the perceptions of a democratic deficit so vividly exposed by Brexit. The latter was the task set for the Macron-inspired citizen conference, however, and its report, largely a broad sweep through the full range of EU policies, was based on the hope that citizens’ alienation would wane when they see the union championing their daily concerns.
The report does suggest a number of changes to internal decison-making mechanisms, like more majority voting in areas such as foreign policy, extra powers for MEPs over the budget or the right to initiate legislation. These are all traditional institutional demands from the parliament that do not find favour among many member states. Those states, Ireland among them, dread the cumbersome and politically disruptive process of the treaty changes that such reforms would necessitate.
Ten member states were yesterday in the process of drafting a denunciation of the report: “While we do not exclude any options at this stage, we do not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty change,” they say. “We already have a Europe that works. We do not need to rush into institutional reforms in order to deliver results.”
Macron, revelling in his renewed mandate, promised that France – meaning, he – would lead the process of ambitious change and spoke of the urgency of a task which would only be achievable in a multi-speed union in which the more ambitious member states were allowed to become a dynamic avant garde. He also urged the convening of a convention on treaty change within months.
And he spoke of the need to imagine a new, broader European meeting-place or council for EU members and neighbours who may or may not share a vocation for joining the union, and for those who may have left.
Macron recalled that Francois Mitterrand in 1989 suggested such a democracy-based forum that might also even include Russia, clearly not a candidate today. Macron’s idea will probably be seen in eastern Europe as a halfway-house cover to make more palatable what he admitted would be the prolonged, albeit desirable, process of Ukraine’s accession to the EU.