Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning’ said Winston Churchill during the European war against Nazism. Today, several decades later, the same line could be used to describe the integration process in Europe after the rejection of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. For yesterday, European leaders finally agreed on a draft document, to be called a ‘Reform Treaty’, with which they hope will put in place the foundations for a more credible, effective and capable European Union, not only domestically, but also, internationally. Now that this chapter of the political wrangling is complete, European leaders can get on with the task of governing our continent. As Tony Blair said: ‘This deal gives us a chance to move on. It gives us a chance to concentrate on the issues to do with the economy, organised crime, terrorism, immigration, defence, climate change, the environment, energy—the problems that really concern citizens in Europe.’
The ‘Reform Treaty’ departs from the Constitution in many ways, by dropping statements about the European Union’s motto, flag, and anthem. It also puts an end to all mentions of a ‘Constitution’. But many of the important and innovative articles contained within the Constitution have been moved to the new ‘Reform Treaty’. These include a permanent president, a legal personality, a diplomatic service, increased qualified majority voting in some areas, and a mutual defence clause. Other important articles contained within the Constitution, like the Charter of Fundamental Rights, have been axed, much to the elation of the British. What is significant, however, is that the new ‘Reform Treaty’ will solidify and develop the European Union’s position within the international system.
We live in a world that is changing fast. The rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia means that European countries are losing the vestiges of their power and influence. One hundred years ago, Britain, France and Germany were completely dominant, reaching out to all regions of the world. In 2007 they are beginning to look small and insignificant in comparison with the United States, China and India. By 2030, they will be reduced even further, to become but little minnows, perhaps with economies up to twenty times smaller. There will obviously be considerable diplomatic, strategic and political ramifications for European countries in a world of continental giants—which may even have significant and detrimental impact on European domestic affairs. The whole debate on the ‘Reform Treaty’, particularly in Britain, has failed to look at these challenges, and has instead become bogged down in asinine debates on what powers London will have to surrender to Brussels. This is profoundly narrow-minded and short-sighted.
While Brussels will undoubted gain some more powers through the pooling of sovereignty at the European level, the ‘Reform Treaty’ will empower our role in the world, putting in place the foundations to defend and extend our interests, values, power and authority beyond Europe. With almost half a billion people, stable political institutions and an economy generating nearly a third of the world’s wealth, the European Union has sufficient capabilities, capacities and aggregated might to interact as at least an equal with the greatest powers of today and tomorrow. It has the potential to deal with an aggressive Russia, a growing China and a difficult United States. It has the capacity to mount legitimate military and civilian operations in surrounding countries within our Neighbourhood, building better security on our continent. It also has the political will and credibility to deal with issues like global warming and climate change, terrorism, and energy security, above and beyond any of its constituent Member States. As such, it is clear that we will all need the European Union progressively more in the years ahead.
How, then, does the ‘Reform Treaty’ improve Europe? In short, by implementing the following:
The ‘Reform Treaty’ will put in place a permanent president of the European Council, appointed by the leaders of the twenty-seven Member States, and renewable up to one time. This will end the ‘musical chairs’ of the rotating presidency, which swaps from Member State to Member State every six months, often leading to confusion and loss of political direction. Improving the European Union’s institutional structures, the president will liaise and remain answerable to the Member States, while maintaining political coherence and strategic direction at the European level. Perhaps in some ways a ‘trial run’, European citizens may eventually elect their president directly, thereby giving him or her greater democratic legitimacy.
High Representative of the Union
Initially called the ‘Foreign Minister’, this post, to be called the ‘High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy’, will expand the powers, budget and influence of the current ‘High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy’. The former Spanish foreign minister and NATO secretary-general, Javier Solana, has held this post since it was formed in 1999. The new Union high representative will have a larger budget, and will also be vice-president of the European Commission. This will build greater links between the European Council and European Commission, and provide better provision for the giving of European aid to foreign countries. Instead of being given out willy-nilly, it will allow European financial assistance to be used in support of our foreign and security policy, giving Brussels more leverage over countries subjugated to our aid programmes. Further, an ‘External Action Service’—that is, a quasi-foreign ministry—will be created to aid the high representative in his or her work, with staff seconded from the twenty-seven Member States. This may eventually pave the way for greater European cooperation in diplomatic representation abroad, giving European citizens a better level of service when in foreign countries, while also entrenching our power and authority in the wider world.
The European Union will gain a legal personality under the ‘Reform Treaty’, which will enable us to negotiate with other countries as an equal actor. It will also allow the European Union to join international organisations, and sign international treaties on behalf of its Member States, without jeopardising their own sovereignty.
Mutual defence clause
As a political community, it makes sense for us in the European Union to show solidarity with one another, especially given the heavy dependency and integration between us. Approximately sixty percent of Britain’s trade in goods and services, for example, is with the rest of the European Union. So if one Member State comes under attack, either from terrorists, foreign agents or overseas energy suppliers, we will all feel the consequences. The constitution of a mutual defence clause helps to remedy and alleviate this problem in two ways. First, it creates a deterrent against attack in the first place: foreigners may feel less willing to harm us if they know that their actions will lead to the full might of the European Union bearing down upon them. Second, the mutual defence clause will build greater security and expectations of solidarity between all Europeans, leading to a more tightly integrated political community, and perhaps a greater willingness to act as one in the world of tomorrow.
While all of these new plans will undoubtedly improve the European Union’s security, influence and clout, they can only be the start. The challenges we face may seem distant and abstract for the moment, but will likely grow to become serious and immediate threats with the passage of time. It is critical that we get ready to meet them, and with confidence and political determination. But we can only do this credibly and efficiently through the European Union. Churchill once warned Western Europe during the start of the Cold War of the troubles ahead, but his words could apply as much today—albeit in a different context—as they did back then:
We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.
As long as we succeed in building good defences around our harbour, all Europeans will all be safe and secure. Operationalising the ‘Reform Treaty’ as soon as possible will allow us to do just that.
• The foundations of the ‘Reform Treaty’ can be found in the Presidency Conclusions (in PDF format).