Lord Howe was UK chancellor of the exchequer 1979-83, foreign secretary 1983-89 and deputy prime minister 1989-90
Geoffrey Howe: A conservative view of
A middle way for Europe
This week, a number of pro-European British Conservatives, including Leon Brittan, Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd and myself, have published a contribution to the convention debate - The Future of the EU: a positive Conservative approach, available at Conservative Group for Europe
We hope it will embolden the UK government to take clearer, more active positions on issues and encourage pragmatists on the Continent to support institutional changes that can improve the way the EU functions without converting it into a federal state.
We support a Europe-wide equivalent of a states' rights clause - which exists in the US and Germany - as well as the creation of a council of national parliamentarians, to police subsidiarity and scrutinise pending EU legislation. The European Court of Justice could give opinions on the subsidiarity implications of draft law at the request of this new body.
We support the Blair-Aznar-Berlusconi proposal for a longer-term president of the Council, chosen by heads of government. A team presidency of this individual and two rotating representatives of member states would chair the various Council meetings. The Council has already reduced the number of formations in which it gathers from 16 to nine. The Commission now needs to match that, with a big reduction in its - nearly 30 - directorates-general.
It is already six months since Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, dramatically energised the debate about the depth and design of European integration by proposing that an inner core group of states should found a separate, new political structure at the heart of the existing European Union.
Mr Fischers starting point was simple and timely: could an EU of 20 or 25 states still realistically function in the same way as one of 15? His answer, quickly backed by Jacques Chirac, the French president, was emphatically No - and their prescription was radical.
To counter the risk of a more dilute and less effective EU, a new centre of gravity or pioneer group should prepare to advance further and faster on its own. In an enlarged and thus necessarily more heterogeneous union, said Mr Fischer, further differentiation will be inevitable.
Classic integrationists reject this two-speed vision. The European Commission, parliament and Benelux states, for example, argue that, even if countries should be freer to advance in ad hoc groups on occasional issues, the real action after enlargement can and must remain within an EU acting as one.
To make this classic model work, however, its advocates argue that the EU should now quickly develop along essentially federal lines. They propose qualified majority voting for virtually all decisions, with the intergovernmental pillars dismantled and the Council of Ministers sharing its legislative power with the parliament across the board. Attacks by Romano Prodi, Commission president, on the national veto as a manacle and on creeping intergovernmentalism underline the scale of their ambition.
Between these extremes lies mainstream opinion in Europe - with many governments worried about the diluting effects of enlargement and prepared to see limited extensions of majority voting but equally hesitant about federal solutions or inner cores.
Although hamstrung by his caution on the single currency, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has sensibly tried to position himself in the middle of this debate. In Warsaw last month, he articulated a European third way in all but name: favouring a deeper EU built on inter-governmental terms, avoiding either two speeds or greater supra-nationalism.
Unlike Mr Fischer or Mr Prodi, the prime ministers pragmatic vision sees no final destination to European integration and no need for a constitution to underpin it: better a flexible, evolving system modelled more on the British constitution than on the continental tradition. I agree: a putative superpower need not be a superstate.
Mr Blair sees that the EU will always have both federal and confederal components, with a creative tension between the two. Equally, he expresses a well founded fear that any two-speed system would be hugely divisive within the European family as well as potentially dangerous to Britain.
The Fischer-Prodi debate speaks to a Franco-German desire to regain political control of the EU - which enlargement threatens - and a Commission-Parliament aspiration to weaken the power of national governments. Mr Blair is right to reject both agendas and to defend the broad lines of the existing EU settlement.
It has become fashionable to claim that the institutional system is breaking down and cannot survive. Mr Chirac, for example, recently told Mr Blair that lEurope est en panne (Europe has broken down). But, in fact, it has not.
With sensible adjustments, the EUs institutions can continue to operate without crisis as the Union enlarges. Existing structures have adapted surprisingly well to previous enlargements: there is more decision-making taking place on more subjects in Europe today than ever before. With a modest increase in majority voting, perhaps, backed by a re-weighting of votes and fewer Commissioners, of course, an enlarged EU can rise to the challenge.
However, if Europe wants to co-operate more closely, as it should, in the most sensitive of policy areas - such as foreign policy, defence, taxation, frontiers and citizens rights - then it must equally acknowledge that here supranational institutions currently lack the necessary public trust and respect to do the job. Legitimacy is missing.
Specifically, there are clear limits to how far majority voting can be extended beyond the approximately two-thirds of EU decisions to which it already applies. Even on the structural funds and social policy, national and ideological interests are at stake.
To carry conviction with public opinion, the pace and degree of integration will often need to be determined and managed by national governments. The competing visions offered by Messrs Fischer and Prodi underestimate a simple but critical point: efficiency is not the only game in town. The political deal struck at the Nice summit next month must ensure that future EU action is legitimate too.