LUXEMBOURG — At the European Union’s summit this week, debate will center on whether to go forward with a “mini” EU Constitutional Treaty. That debate is the result of the rejection of the draft treaty by French and Dutch voters in 2005. But those “no” votes have obscured the fact that 18 of the EU’s 27 member states have ratified the treaty.
Luxembourg’s voters, for example, approved it by a 56.5 percent majority immediately after the Dutch and French no votes. Indeed, with two-thirds of member states and a majority of European citizens supporting the treaty, it cannot simply be abandoned.
At the same time, French and Dutch citizens’ voices cannot be ignored all the more so because it is unimaginable that an identical text could be submitted to a second referendum in either country. Because all 27 states must ratify the treaty, it therefore seems obvious that it cannot enter into force in its current form, and that the “yes” countries cannot push ahead with it unchanged.
But it is equally impossible to start from scratch. So we must try to reconcile the “yes” and “no” countries if we are to overcome the crisis into which Europe has been plunged. And we need to do so quickly if the EU is to deliver on its citizens’ expectations.
This is because Europe faces many complex challenges in a globalized world. In areas as diverse as employment and social inclusion, environmental protection and climate change, health, external and internal security, and the fight against illegal migration and poverty in the Third World, European citizens are demanding effective policies.
It is also obvious that member states cannot solve these problems alone, but only through coordinated EU action and common policies. But to achieve these results, and thereby convince our citizens of the EU’s value, Europe’s decision-making capacity must be strengthened and democratized.
This does not mean that enlarging the EU’s competencies should be the aim at any cost. In fact, the Constitutional Treaty defines more clearly which competencies should be shared between the EU and its member states, and how. It also reinforces the principle of subsidiarity by giving a stronger say to national parliaments. So the objective is not automatically “more Europe,” but rather a “better Europe” capable of acting effectively and more transparently in areas where collective action is clearly necessary.
For all these reasons, the institutional reforms that are contained in the Constitutional Treaty are still urgently needed. If Europe is to fulfill its role as a major global actor, its scope cannot be limited to that of a large common market. It must be an integrated economic, political and social force.
To realize the full potential of the common market, the EU must adapt its economic governance to the challenges of globalization research, technological development and knowledge must be at the heart of the European economy, particularly given Europe’s efforts to be at the forefront of combating climate change. It also needs to speak with one voice on matters of foreign policy in order to play a more important international role in solving major conflicts and shaping a more peaceful and balanced world order.
Finally, the EU needs to promote social cohesion while adapting Europe’s social model to globalization’s challenges.
It is no exaggeration to say that a large majority of member states and their citizens have already expressed their wish for this vision of the EU by voting for the Constitutional Treaty. At a meeting convened by Spain and Luxembourg in Madrid in January to which all the “yes” countries were invited this view was also supported by four other member states that are committed to the Constitutional Treaty.
It may well be impossible to press ahead with the treaty without any changes to the text. However, the Madrid meeting made clear that there is a consensus among these member states in favor of a Europe that can play a key role in our globalized world, and whose actions are based on the principles effectiveness, transparency and democracy that inspire the European integration process.
The solution to the impasse over Europe’s Constitutional Treaty certainly does not lie in the direction of diminishing its scope, and thus perhaps making it just an “ordinary” treaty. Minimalist solutions respond to neither the expectations of the citizens nor the requirements of a rapidly changing world. The answer is more likely to be found in the treaty’s simplification, taking out those elements that are not absolutely necessary, and also enriching it in such areas as climate change.
The EU’s German presidency, which I know shares the “ambitious” view of the treaty, is working hard on finding a way out of the deadlock at this month’s European Council. Those countries that have stepped forward as “friends of the Constitution” have also been making clear that the initiative they launched in Madrid will support the German presidency’s efforts.
If not all the EU’s members are ready to take this path, flexible solutions of the sort that have been a feature of European compromise in the past may be needed. By all means, let us try to preserve the solidarity of all 27 EU states. But those member states that are willing to move forward should not be prevented from doing so. Differentiation should not mean division, but rather progress at variable speeds.
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