28 December 2006
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell considers the main items on the EU's agenda for 2007 - from marking the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome to salvaging the wreck of the constitution.
AIMS AND VALUES
One of the European Union's dilemmas this year, perhaps not the most serious, but maybe the most poignant, is how to celebrate that big birthday, the half century. Few individuals, however unsuccessful, however poor their reputation for wasting money, however little loved, would be so self-conscious as to have trouble spending a little money on a 50th birthday bash, but the EU is feeling rather self-conscious about any celebration.
In March it will be 50 years since six countries signed the Treaty of Rome establishing what was then called the European Economic Community, and declaring they were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
THE BIRTHDAY BASH
IDEAS FLOATED BUT DROPPED:
Eurovision-style song contest
Dancing in street
European film festival
Festive voyage by boat calling at ports from Finland to Greece
Next March, the prime ministers and presidents of the EU will be asked to sign up to the Declaration of Berlin, which is meant to be a statement of the Union's fundamental values and aims.
As far as I can discover, very little work has been done on this important statement. So let's give them something to chew on: what would you like Europe's leaders to sign up to? And no easy cop-out by saying "abolish the whole thing". If that's your view, what should they sign up to instead? (Send us your comments using the postform at the bottom of the diary.)
DESTINY AND INDIGESTION
In 2007 the European Union will become 27-strong, as Romania and Bulgaria join. It is, if not an undisputed triumph, at least one of the EU's slightly less controversial achievements to have attracted all the former members of the Warsaw Pact as members (except Albania, which hopes to join one day, and the Soviet Union itself).
They were, of course, forced into their alliance with the Soviet Union, but it wasn't fore-written that once it collapsed they would immediately turn westwards and abandon any alliance with Russia. This outcome is of real strategic importance. Russia's relationship with Ukraine and Georgia shows that it continues to smart.
The European Union club coach stops at Sofia on 1 January
Bulgaria and Romania are the tidying up of the 2004 expansion of the European Union's borders, which is still causing so much concern. There is no doubt that the EU felt that it was its moral duty and historic destiny to take in these countries, but it is now suffering from a bad case of indigestion, and has been for a couple of years.
Many of us may find over Christmas that turkey is a bit too much to swallow. Much of Europe feels the same way about Turkey itself, and this mood, and the punishment imposed on the country, is sure to have further repercussions in 2007. The elections in Serbia, and any reaction to a declaration about Kosovo's status, may leave others with similar feelings about the Western Balkans. At any rate, the EU of 27 is likely to stick at that number for a good while yet.
The Germans hold the Presidency for the first six months of the year, which means they get to chair and organise the meetings and to guide the agenda to a certain extent. They will have another worthy bash at making the EU relevant to the people who live within its borders. They say they will make it a priority to get rid of more red tape.
One of the big subjects in 2007 will be climate change and making sure energy supplies are secure.
At the December summit, the prime ministers and presidents also signed up to a Europe-wide migration policy. It's unlikely the member states will allow the commission to get its fingers too deep in that pie, but it is another thing to watch for in the Germany presidency.
SALVAGING THE WRECK
Sometimes the politics of the European Union is like "Waiting for Godot".
French voters are expected to elect either Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy) or Sego (Segolene Royal) in 2007
No, I don't mean absurd and obscure, just the endless kicking of heels and intense circular debate while the waiting drags on. At the moment the game is waiting for Sarko, or perhaps Sego.
At any rate, many think that some of the EU's most important projects are on hold while President Chirac continues grandly but powerlessly toward the end of his long reign. After all, France was one of the countries that kicked out the European constitution and caused the problem, or the opportunity, depending how you view it. But the Germans have volunteered to do some initial work on bringing the constitution back by 2009 at the latest.
Much of this will be gently probing what is possible. The prime ministers and presidents will continue to have what is called confessionals: individual talks with the presidency, secret from each other, so their sins, or at least their concerns, are in theory private.
These started with the Finns and will continue under the Germans. Already there's agreement that there do have to be new rules and a new treaty. And that whatever it's called, its basis will be the old constitution - they can't start from scratch.
Most countries are said to agree that as much as possible should be salvaged from the wreck of the constitution. Britain is most certainly not in this camp. The British aim will be for a new treaty so petty, so tiny, that no-one in their right minds could demand a referendum. This is likely to make up the bulk of the argument this year: how much, or how little, can they get away with?
THE NEXT GODOT
You might remember Mr Blair was sweating nervously, pushed into a referendum last time round, with Labour strategists recognising that it seemed nearly impossible to win. He was saved from making a monumental effort by the Dutch and French rejection. The British were the first to declare the game was off, just hours after the result.
The trouble is, most governments, including the British, think that a European Union of 27 countries can't function well without some rule changes. Unfortunately for them, these "sensible" changes, such as creating an EU minister for foreign affairs and changing the voting rules, are also the bits that do involve pooling more sovereignty. And so those who think the EU has got enough power already will continue to demand a referendum.
The trouble in Europe is not that Godot doesn't arrive but that there's always a new one to wait for
The thinking is that the election of a French president keen on the constitution will give the impetus needed to brush some of these concerns aside. Nicolas Sarkozy has set out in detail plans for a mini-treaty instead of a new constitution. But people also thought that would happen last year when Germany's Angela Merkel arrived on the scene.
The trouble in Europe is not that Godot doesn't arrive but that there's always a new one to wait for. After the French elections the game will become waiting for Gordo... and I suspect Mr Brown won't want his first big fight as prime minister to be selling the glories of a new European treaty to the British people.
In my view an economic union is all we need.
Our 'leaders' should sign a declaration to that effect because in the current setup political integration is not going to work. It's not the explanation of the current setup of the EU that's the problem, it's the setup itself.
Also, the declaration should contain a solemn pledge of politicians to never again try to go to extreme lengths in order to come up with some reason why the people do NOT have to be consulted (constitutional referendums that have been cancelled or not held at all).
Marcel, The Hague
No armed conflict within the union. No use of arms by any member state except in self defence.
Free trade within the union. No import / export taxes.
United environmental policy with agreed minimum standards and incentives to achieve higher standards than the minimum.
United human rights and responsibilities policy to apply to all individuals living within the union (eg the right to marry whoever you want, not who your parents want; the responsibility to take care of your body in return for free health care) United curriculum on citizenship, to be taught in all schools across the union. This is where common values must be agreed, set out and understood by all.
Liz Chiu, Ruislip, Middx
We need a powerful energy policy (in order to diminish our growing dependency from unstable providers) and we need measures to tackle the migration-drama at the southern EU-borders. We all know that public opinion, UK-citizens included, expect EU-action on those fields. Let's use the window of opportunity of the 50th anniversary as a tool to launch the measures that are needed and that will convince the public of the fact that a common approach is the most effective answer to people's concerns.
Ivo Belet, member of the European Parliament (Belgium), 3500 Hasselt, Belgium
Clearly, the EU needs to promote more understanding of the various local traditions and find ways to weave them together harmoniously. It also needs to strenghten the Federal parliament -to take away power from the secret conclaves between local polititians who support only their own interests at the cost of all else.
The EU also needs to create an alternative to American and British lead cultural genoicide.
Trevor Batten, Manila, ph
It is pretty well know that the devout Merkel and her fellow-countryman now running the Vatican have a very clear plan to reinsert the "Judeo-Christian heritage" issue -- dropped from the constitution under pressure from the majority of Europeans who do not wish to see their future tied up with any religion -- into the political dialogue by slipping it into the planned Declaration. No doubt Mr Blair will give them his strong support. This battle will clearly have to be fought again, and probably again and again many times before Europe leaves its fairytales behind and emerges as the strong federal and secular state that we so clearly need in this globalised world.
R J Evans, Echenevex, France
The EU should concentrate on reforming the CAP; re-assigning regional funds to poorer EU members and improving internal controls/eliminating corruption to the point where auditors can sign the books every year. Also the EU parliament should sit only in Brussels.
Making a serious effort at achieving these goals would restore much of the EU's credibility and enable further discussion on the constitution.
Mark Layton, De Meern, The Netherlands
What about celebrating with a pan-european plebiscite. Let us say asking our opinion on the twelve most important things (no leading questions, must be independently assessed) and finishing with, 'Do you want to be a part of this any longer?'. The impact of the results would be assessed nationally and then EU wide.
If the EU is serious about democracy (which we know it is not - at the Berlin conference of 1943 this was certainly not an issue) that would be the best birthday present they could give.
Jack Kilms, Turin, Italy
I just wish we'd all get it over and done with! We no longer live in a world of isolated nation states, and to my mind absolute sovereignty would leave European nations worse off. European integration has bought so many benefits, that, being on the inside we haven't seen. Let's just go the whole hog!
Vive la traité! Oh, and the Euro would be useful not just for going on holiday, but also for shopping!
Mark, Edinburgh, Scotland
May be it could start like this:-We the People of Europe, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Community of Europe. . it should then go on for no more than 10 pages outlining an individuals rights and freedoms and defending them from government interference.
If it is much longer then that it might begin to be like the late, unlamented, European Constitution.
Wouldn't it be nice if a clear, understandable document such as this could be produced?
David Powell, Salles d'Aude, France
I believe that Europe needs a constitution recognizing not only the rights of citizens of European countries but also allows for similar rights to be enjoyed by people elsewhere. The constitution for Europe should not suggest in any way that the rights of Europeans should be gained at the unfair expense of non Europeans. The constitution should not have anything in it which would be likely to lead to an arms race against other other nations or world regions, instead it should have something in it that will always compel its leaders to actively pursue the principle of worldwide disarmament. The European constitution should embrace the principles of subsidiarity in terms of its relations with the United Nations and of equitable arrangements with other world regions.
Paul Haseman, U.K.
The EU leaders should sign something along these lines.
"We recognise that the vison of a politically and economically united Europe bequeatehed by the wartime and postwar generation of politicians does not have the confidence and support of a substantial part of the C21st population. We therefore acknowledge that the idea of federal union is over and has joined Soviet-era Communismin the dustbin of history.
As a direct result of this, no member state not pareticipating in the monetary union (the Euro) is required to follow any EU fiscal directives and shall not be penalised thereby. If, as a result of this, member states wish to leave the Euro system they have an absolute right to do so following a specific referendum to be held no more than 18 months after this document.
The EU is not, and shall not seek to become, a sovereign state, or to exercise the powers of same. It shall act as a free trade area and customs union."
Andrew Fanner, Cowplain UK
Well, in my opinion our leaders should sign up to make the exit from the "European project" a bit more easy. As long as the european integration is seen as a one-way street leading to a cul-de-sac, many countries will find it hard to give up their sovereignty. That is fine, as long as others, more willing, are allowed to charge ahead with whatever integration scheme, such as the constitution or migration policy.
This might as well help to finish the "kicking of heels" in European politics.
Viktor, Brussels, Belgium
With the 50th Anniversary coming up, they [the leaders] should sign a declaration focusing on peace, unity and co-existence. For those countries that have been members, they have know all these, and the end result, the EEC-now-EU was aimed at bringing peace to Europe.
This they have achieved, even if it has been a rocky road in other matters.
James Bailey, Adelaide, Australia
Actually, I think we should 'abolish the whole thing', or at least alter it as to be unrecognisable in its present form. It should be a free trade zone with the EU losing all powers other than those required to keep countries from adopting anti-competitive practices. There once was a time when democracy and freedom was fashionable.
According to Mark Mardell, if we opted out we would have to sign up to something else. Why?
Mike Gore, London, UK
The approach to writing a constitution has been profoundly wrong and hence its demise. A constitution should be a brief document declaring a certain number of specific ideals/philosophies, which could be easily agreed in principle by all . All other reforms regarding the reorganisation of appointments or voting procedures should be brought together in what could be described as Standard Operating and/or Administrative Procedures.
Hugh McLean, Newton Mearns, Scotland
Berlin - they should integrate all European armies and use such a force as a check and balance to American imperialism. The time has gone when America was our friend.
Ian Docherty, Edinburgh, Scotland
We might not love it but we all need a strong and cohesive Europe very badly. The Russians are flexing their muscles, the US is slowly drifting into decline and possibly isolationism. China is starting to show it's strength and we Europeans need the power that being part of a block comprising 470 million people and the strongest currency can provide. We need Turkey as well, the Turks have a standing army of 2 million men and would provide a route for energy pipelines from Central Asia avoiding Russia. Europe might be an 'ugly duckling' but it's our duckling.
Tim Proctor, St Jean Pied de Port, France
I would like to see the EU produce a full set of Audited financial accounts each year which covers 100% of their expenditure - not the 90% or so at present.
If the EU Commissioners are unable to account for all their expenditure they should be replaced until we can find people who can manage our money more effectively.
Tony Morpeth, Monte-Carlo, Monaco
If the Germans are truly trying to cut red tape, why not start with the farce of moving the entire parliament, MEP, officers, accommodations etc back and forward to Strasbourg every few weeks. Apart from appeasing the French this does nothing for democracy and costs millions of Euros (our tax contributions) every year. Leave it in Brussels.
Michael McMahon, Maidenhead
After the introduction of the Euro, the most important thing to do now is to introduce the official use of one language, preferably English.
Millions and millions of Euros are wasted at the moment on translation activities, money which should be put to a much better use.
If we really want to become a United States of Europe, we should speak one language and one language only.
This way, any vagueness and risk of misinterpretation will be brought back to a minimum and we all can speak out in one clear voice.
Of course, every member country is fully in title to use it's own language at home, but if they feel they need to translate the official documents for their own nationals, they should do this at their own cost.
So, let's level the linguistic barriers first because this is the most logical thing to do.
This is, of course, just my own humble opinion.
Peregrine, Roosendaal, The Netherlands
For the Declaration of Berlin, I would like to see honesty as to the real values and aims of the EU. For example, "We, the political elite, vow to uphold democracy by continuing this steam roller regardless of the will of the people. We vow to uphold personal freedom by continuing petty interference with useless red tape. We vow to respect cultural diversity of all non-European cultures while suppressing our own culture. We vow to work towards openness by creating increased bureaucracy and complicated reports that no one understands. We vow to tax the last cent out of our workers while creating policies that discourage businesses. We acknowledge that the goal of the EU is the existence of the EU and protecting the interests of the political elite."
Happy New Year!
Mark Nelson, Tallinn, Estonia
Fifty years without war, 50 years of plenty to eat. Recovery from years of distriction, occupation and opression. This is enough without gimics. From Russia and Rumania in the East to Spain and Portugal in the West, most European people had little to thank their governments for during most of the 20th century.
The EU reminds me of the great Mediterranian family, always bickering and looking chaotic to the outsider, but somehow manageing to function very effectively. Perhaps it is no accident that at started with the Treaty of ROME. All most of us want from Brussels is some co-ordination and administrate functions, of which the introduction of the Euro has been the most obvious success, and someone to blame for regulations we dont like. National governments have become far less important particularly in countries like Spain where a great deal of powere on responsibilty is devolved to the Region an even down to the locally councils. And this is fine by us.
Looking at where Britain was in 1906 and where it is 2006 I dont think the British people have much to thank Westminster for either.
Mike Dixon, Barcelona, Spain
It seems to me there are two basic issues:
1) the powers and competencies of the EU; 2) how the EU goes about using these.
Obviously, these two are interrelated. If we give the EU the power to decide on a broad palette of issues and in a detailed way, clearly citizens and national politicians will want a large stake in the decision making process.
But if we simply restrict the EU's powers to those issues that matter most, and leave the rest to the member states, it should be possible to make decisions using the current system.
How to do this? Most federal countries like Germany or the USA simply formalise what the central government does and what the states do. Let's face it: the concept of subsidiarity in the EU doesn't work right now, because the reach of the EU increases year by year. And what for? Does Oklahoma restrict migrant workers from Arkansas? Do Vermont and Virginia have the same VAT rate for hair dressers?
So, I would say: let's restrict the actions of the EU to 1) free trade among the member states, including free traffic of people and services; 2) introduce a European FBI and army to guard our borders and arrest criminals who abuse the lack of internal border controls.
If we do that, there would be no need to change voting procedures.
Best regards Mark. Please continue your insightful comments in 2007!
Bastiaan, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
It still seems that one of the greatest problems (France aside) the EU has, is the UK. Being at the beck and call of Washington while keeping one toe on the continent cannot be a sustainable policy. Or can it?
Perhaps the remaining 24 (+Rumania and Bulgaria) should say: 'You are either with us or against us.'
Perhaps there is room in the 'other union' for a new state more populous, yet infinitely more interesting, than California?
Tom Miller, Espoo, Finland
I wonder if the big mistake was not the first enlargement when Britain was admitted to the EEC. Having a "non-participating member" does indeed make the "ever closer union" much more difficult to attain
john s, brussels belgium
Keep up the good work,really good reporting in the true BBC tradition. The EU has nothing to be ashamed of, it's what has allowed us and millions of others to make a new life elsewhere and still keep a British connection.
Gerald Lambourn, ABZAC FRANCE
I hope England soon will become a member of the US and leave us to sort out our visions for the future.
Birger, Aarnes, Norway
Sovereignty? The EU has never had any and the States have had too much of it. This is precisely the main reason why nothing in Europe works they way it was supposed to be working: Single Market, Single Skies, Schengen, foreign policy...
The States' sovereignty is like hydrogenated fat in our food. It poisons Europe's body, it makes it thick, inert, inflexible, and incapable of winning any important game in the new global order.
Europe needs to burn this "sovereign fat" in order to be able to face the present and future global challenges.
Nikolas Tilaveridis, Freiburg DE
The Berlin Declaration needs to be a clear statement limiting the powers of the EU and accepting that many existing powers have been used to their full extent. The EU should accept that 'enlargement' does not require more centralisation in order to 'work' (i.e. churn out more regulations), but simply that no new innovations are needed from these people. New countries can then sign-up on a take-it or leave-it basis, rather than being duped by the gradualism we were duped by.
Jonathan Purle, Maidstone, UK
Wouldn't it be nice to have greater cultural sharing across Europe? Currently American and English music and cinematic arts have an enormous influence within the EU. While not disparaging the talent within those societies, a major reason for their success is a huge, interconnected distribution system that exports their product overseas. I would like to see a distribution system within the EU which would allow greater access to artists, musicians and filmmakers from non-Angais nations; for example Spain, Holland, Poland, Italy and France, just to name a few.
The strength of the EU is the enormous diversity of cultures within its borders; it's time our airwaves and cable/satelite systems reflected this.
Thomas Mullin, Lyon, France