Quelle Europe pour demain?

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European parliament with flags

RAYMOND BARRE, the former Premier of France from 1976 to 1981, now Professor of Economics at Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, very much an atypical politician in terms of his career and opinions, gave a Europaeum Lecture on June 29th at the Sorbonne in Paris. Here George Saunier and Jean-Michel Guieu review Barre's analysis of the future of the European project

After recounting the history of his personal engagement as Premier in supporting the construction of Europe, Raymond Barre in his Europaeum Lecture detailed his impressions on the present state of the European Union - particularly focussing on the Treaty of Nice and its aftermath. Significant new developments had occurred during the summer months affecting the debate on the future of Europe, most notably with the successive interventions of President Jacques Chirac' and then of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. A new program of study, which should last until 2004, the Inter-Governmental Conference was initiated. It will centre on three fundamental themes: the possible drafting of a European Constitution, the problem of the final architecture of the Union (federal, confederal, or, simply, intergovernmental), and lastly the question of the opening of the Union to Eastern European countries, with all the likely repercussions on the functioning of the institutions based in Brussels.

Professor Barre's opinions on these questions, of course, are those of a particularly well qualified judge, as his political and European curricula clearly demonstrate (see end).

The former Premier first evoked the three main principles which he believes form the historical basis for European integration. First, the indispensable political will of a small number of heads of State and Government, without whose help the system today could not have evolved from it situation in the 1950s to its present condition. He recalled with sadness the dark years in Europe when such political will was lacking, as in 1967 when he himself entered the ranks of the European Commission, severely shaken by the crisis of the ""empty chair"" two years earlier.

The second principle that lies at the heart of the European construction he said was patience, since the construction of the Union will take time. Professor Barre cited the example of the common currency which took 30 years to become a reality, even though he himself had called for the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union as far back as at the European Summit of the Hague in December 1969. That was the first stepwhich lead to the Werner plan, but it took many more vicissitudes before the Euro was to come to existence. Still, Raymond Barre outlined his belief in the ""short steps"" ~ method, dear to Jean Monnet - whose memory Raymond Barre often honoured in his speech - as this approach is rooted in the ""realities of the European Union."" ""That is to say that when the time comes for actually applying the great generous ideas,"" hew explained ""with all the constraints that this implies for member countries, concerns for national interests come back in next to no time."" This is the case with European defence, the development of which could be one of the next great steps in the construction of the Union. Encouraging measures had already been taken in this direction since the Maastricht summit, and even more recently with the creation of a possible European defence corps. But more time was needed, perhaps even 30 years, before we really arrive at a genuine European system of defence.

The last principle underpinning European integration is the varying attitudes of countries, which are at times quite determined, and at other times rather reticent, towards Europe, often according to particular national stakes (such as upcoming elections, public opinion, and so forth.) Thus, he said, phases of optimism alternate with phases of pessimism in the construction of Europe. However, Europe continues to go forward since, beyond the disagreements, European states have the will to maintain, at all costs, the solidarity which binds them together. But all this takes time, in particular in preparing public opinion, which must, the Prime Minister reminded us, be taken scrupulously into account.

Professor Barre concluded the first part of his lecture with an evocation of a discussion he had once with Jean Monnet, the founding father of Europe, regarding Great Britain. He said that Monnet advised him not to be impressed by the constantly reluctant positions adopted by the British, since once Europe would have demonstrated its ability to reach its goals, the United Kingdom would not hesitate to come and join it.

Next Professor Barre went on to analyse the European perspectives in the wake of the Treaty of Nice. Contrary to many commentators, particularly French commentators, Professor Barre draws a rather positive impression from the Nice Summit Treaty especially given the incredibly ambitious objectives, set by the representatives of the various members countries, including the passing to a system of qualified majority vote, and a reduction in the number of European Commissioners.

In short, Europe was asked to debate, at Nice, all the most delicate points of the negotiation on European Integration since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1956. In many ways, he argued, the purpose at Nice was to re-examine all the founding principles governing the relations between member countries. This was absolutely impossible objective to reach, not least because it was hoped that the Union would be `broadened', the need to ""deepen"" it had to be left aside. The consequence was that the smaller countries did not see why they should have followed the greater countries in this general reform.

Professor Barre went on to make some harsh criticismsof the decisions made in Nice. He considered that the number of 28 commissioners, finally agreed upon after the discussions on the Enlargement of the Commission, was excessive. He also criticised the adoption of the rule of Qualified Majority voting, which actually means that each country has managed to obtain its own right of veto concerning those issues that were especially important for them (for example culture in the case of France). He noted however, with some satisfaction, not only that the scope of authority of the Parliament had been broadened, but also that some programs of `reinforced co-operation', and also the progress made on a European defence system. Finally, he argued that was what lacking in Nice was a substantial political objective: ""What was missing was a great project between Germany and France,"" he said. As a matter of fact, he said it was not the fault of the Germans alone. Paris also had to bear its share in this failure. French diplomacy, said the former Premier, should consider that Germany is now reunified and that it behaves as a great power. ""It is time to take this into account,"" he said.

Finally, Professor Barre commented on the future of Europe, attacking the phrase `a federation of nation-states', recently used by Lionel Jospin and borrowed from Jacques Delors, because, he said, it would be no easy task to translate this notion into juridical terms through a proper treaty.

Professor Barre also expressed his pessimism on the much discussed question of creating a European Constitution, as, it would have to define, once and for all, the rules of subsidiarity, that is to say the scope of action of each institution (the Council, the Commission, member states, the regions, etc), if it is to be more than an empty text. This is likely to arouse the traditional manifestations of European reticence and reluctance.

Once more, he concluded, it is `the slow method' of the Founders of Europe that should be followed, the ""small steps"" method, or, in this case, the ad hoc creation of institutions which, like the European Central Bank, would enjoy the prerogatives which the member countries will have decided to pool together. Professor Barre ended by putting strong emphasis on the notion of `partial delegation of sovereignty', which he considered as ultimately, the only efficient method for building Europe.

Raymond Barre was an agrege in Economics who became the ""Chef du Cabinet"" of the Minister of Industry under Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s. He was the Vice-Chairman for the EC on Economic Affairs from 1967-72, at a time when negotiations were in progress for both the integration of the UK into the European EC and for developing a federal Europe. Then as Prime Minister (under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing), he found himself on the front line when the European Parliament was elected by universal suffrage and the European Monetary System created. Until recently, Raymond Barre, now retired from public life, served as the spokesman of the right-wing Republican political party, firmly opposed to any alliance with the Far Right. He remains committed to a federal Europe based on the free market.