Larry Siedentop, page 2
The real tests for a more integrated Europe
The Blair government lays great emphasis on five economic tests that have to be met before it can recommend joining the euro. Should Britain not also look for a set of tests that could be applied to proposals for further political integration?
The Treaty of Nice next month, which aims to reform the European Union's institutions in preparation for enlargement, will certainly embody such proposals. If Britain is forearmed with a set of five tests to evaluate whatever comes out of Nice, at the very least clear thinking will be served.
First, the Nice proposals must begin to identify a clear and acceptable basis for deciding which rights should be assigned to the centre and which should remain with existing nation states. Until such a basis is identified, the nation states can be forgiven for jealously protecting their sovereign rights.
Ad hoc accumulations of authority and power at the centre should not be allowed to settle the matter of relations between the centre and periphery. Yet the current competition between three forms of the state - French statism, German federalism and the British common law - to provide the model for Europe as a whole could lead to just such an outcome. The principle of subsidiarity, allegedly common ground, would then be merely the plaything of the starkly contrasting attitudes of different political cultures competing for dominance in Europe.
It is important that a clear, acceptable basis of demarcation begins to emerge - not just to limit centralisation in Europe but also so that a European public opinion - Europe with a real moral identity - can form. It will only be plausible to invoke "European opinion" when the outlines of such a consensus become visible. Uncertainty about the EU's political identity is by no means confined to Britain.
Second, the Nice proposals should help to create a rights-based political culture necessary to sustain the liberal distinction between public and private spheres, between the proper operations of the state and the areas reserved for civil society. The UK has finally made an important advance in this area by allowing British courts to apply the European Convention on Human Rights. But Nice will see a new charter of rights on offer, a charter which is more ambitious and far more loosely worded. It will include, for example, a right to "good administration". This inflation of the language of rights may actually weaken the purchase of rights claims.
Instead of a new charter, which could lead to confusing conflicts of jurisdiction between the Strasbourg and Luxembourg Courts, it would be better to subject EU organs to the European Convention.
Third, the Nice proposals should contribute to the development of an open political class across the continent. Such a class is necessary - with lawyers playing an important part because of the conflicts of jurisdiction which will loom larger as Europe integrates - both to act as a watchdog on bureaucratic power and to serve as a symbol of social mobility in Europe. A European Senate, consisting of senior national politicians who retain their national political roles, could begin to fuse the political classes of Europe.
Such a European Senate might also help to meet the fourth test for political integration. The relationship between Brussels, the nation states and the regions of Europe is increasingly important but ill-defined. It must be defined more carefully. For there is a danger that the regions of Europe and Brussels may tacitly work together to weaken the nation states. After all, many regions had a political existence prior to that of existing states and still look on national capitals as "oppressors". This pattern of alliance could weaken national democratic cultures without replacing them.
For the Achilles heel of some regions is that they have no democratic civic traditions. A European Senate could be used to give limited regional representation in a way that reduces the likelihood of regionalism subverting the identity of nation states.
The fifth and final test concerns language and its role in fostering a shared democratic culture. Europe probably ought to acknowledge that English has become its lingua franca. This would have the advantage of helping to create a pan-European identity not tied merely to the economic incentives of a single market.
Proposals that do not meet these five tests but take "harmonisation" as self-evidently desirable should be treated with caution. The pursuit of false coherence is the real enemy of democratic politics in Europe. It is the last gasp of the Jacobin tradition - a tradition which, feeding on class conflict in France, nourished a bureaucratic form of the state.
Nothing could be further removed from what a political system sensitive to the range of interests on a continental scene requires. We now know that even a superb political instrument such as the US Constitution can throw up devastatingly awkward problems. But we should not fail to see the wood for the trees.
The truth is that the US federal system makes it possible for - perhaps even encourages - voters to consider different issues when voting at the state and local level or when voting in the national presidential election. In that sense, federalism encourages contradictory behaviour.
The result of a US election is usually a complex balance which, even if it does not take the form of gridlock between the executive and legislative branches, imposes moderation in the outcome. Radical departures or reforms become difficult. But in a complex society on a continental scale that may be no bad thing. Of course, it has often made reform-minded Americans impatient with their own system. But the appeal of coherence is a siren-song in a democratic society on a continental scale.
Today the danger is that those who are constructing Europe may be seduced by that siren-song - and that the accelerated harmonising of policy in areas such as foreign policy, defence and taxation may project a model of coherence derived from national politics onto the political life of the EU as a whole. Such a model is likely to underestimate the conflicts of interest within Europe and could in the long run undermine its stability.
A crisis of legitimacy
Democracy in Europe - the future of self-government in a democratic society on a continental scale - is the great issue of our time. It cannot safely be avoided.
Worrying about democracy in Europe is not a theological matter - despite what Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister, recently wrote (FT, September 7). It is true that Europe may be inventing a new political form, something that will not conform either to traditional confederations or to the model of American federalism. In that sense we cannot yet have a name for the outcome.
But unless the process of constructing Europe is constantly informed by a concern for the dispersal of power and democratic accountability, whether the goal is described as a Europe of nation states or a federalist Europe may not matter all that much. For both forms of words may just mask the extension of bureaucratic power.
Just where is Europe at the moment? The high waters of the Delors-Mitterrand project - a project which carried Helmut Kohl and Germany along with it - have apparently receded. The political cohabitation of Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin seems less focused, the Germans seem more assertive, the Spanish may be straying from the French social model and the Danes have voted against joining the euro. A more plural, less French-dominated Europe seems at hand.
Some close to the British government have concluded that inter-governmentalism is now the name of the game - and that the Council of Ministers can and should dominate the Commission in a way that it failed to do in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Echoing an argument from my book Democracy in Europe, they have begun to insist that the subordination of political argument to economic argument risks creating a crisis of legitimacy - and that reconnecting the European project with national political cultures and national political classes must be the priority.
A European Senate composed of members of national parliaments could contribute to this process, especially if one of its main duties were to resist unnecessary centralising proposals from Brussels. In his Warsaw speech Tony Blair endorsed such a development, recognising in effect that the principle of subsidiarity needs to be given some institutional teeth if it is to be effective. He called too for a charter of competences which would provide a formal basis for limiting centralisation.
Of course Mr Blair and Robin Cook, the UK foreign secretary, carefully avoid referring to constitutions or federalism. But it is hard to resist the conclusion that this charter, whatever its name, would serve a constitutional function. And the truth is that we must begin to think constitutionally, even if it would be grossly premature to try to draw up a constitution for Europe. That is where American federalism is useful - not because it can be imitated but because it focuses attention on the central issue facing Europe today: how can the degree of centralisation strictly required for economic and political integration be formally limited and subjected to democratic accountability?
The obstacles to such a democratic evolution in Europe have not disappeared, despite the apparent waning of the Delors-Mitterrand project. And it is here that I fear the British government may be in danger of deluding itself.
The crunch for the French project for Europe has undoubtedly arrived. The challenge of enlarging the EU poses a deep threat to the French preferred model - one in which, as Mr Chirac recently said, the pioneers of Europe press ahead with deeper integration. It is probably no accident that the EU timetable has been drawn up so that France occupies the presidential seat while the issue of enlargement is faced and a new treaty drawn up in Nice. Nor is it an accident that the French have begun to urge the importance of frontiers for Europe. French lack of enthusiasm about enlargement is ill-disguised.
Although circumstances now seem less favourable to the French project for Europe, it continues to benefit from institutional changes set in motion since the Maastricht Treaty, notably the common currency, which is creating powerful pressures for fiscal centralisation. After all, there was little attempt at the time of Maastricht to conceal an assumption that monetary union would lead automatically to political union.
That assumption may explain why the French became champions of piecemeal change. Recently Daniel Bernard, the French ambassador in London, suggested wryly that the French were adopting British methods. In Biarritz the other weekend the French were reported to have abandoned the two-speed model for Europe with a hard core of pioneer states in favour of a multi-speed Europe.
At first glance that may look like an example of their new pragmatism. But, apart from words, it is far from clear that it represents any real change. For an accumulation of spheres of co-operation by a particular set of member states will create centripetal forces which will make it difficult for other EU nations to join in one sphere without being pulled into others. Would not common defence policies have foreign policy and fiscal implications? Would not the harmonising of taxation policies help to decide the question of what economic and social rights are established? De jure openness of co-operation in different policy spheres might prove to be compatible with de facto closure. A two-speed Europe would be the result.
Without prejudging the issue of whether that would be itself desirable, the way in which such a Europe was created would still not deal with the urgent questions about democracy and accountability in Europe. The great failure of the EU so far has been its inability to mobilise and shape public opinion. What I fear is that the new French pragmatism, with its emphasis on ad hoc development, will further postpone any attempt seriously to address the most important issues.
Nor is it clear that the new British emphasis on inter-governmentalism and a predominant role for the Council of Ministers - which acts in both executive and legislative roles, but always in secret - will foster a greater transparency or reduce ad-hocery. Democracy remains the issue, if idealism about Europe is to be reborn.