Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
The future of Europe: Justin Webb quizzed

What will the European Union look like in a decade? That debate has now been started by Germany, the richest and most powerful country in the EU.

A draft proposal for constitutional reform of the EU, drawn up by the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, talks of giving the European Parliament full control of the EU's budget.

And it calls for the creation of a second chamber of the European parliament, and of developing the European Commission into "a strong European Executive."

The plans have already been criticised by Euro-sceptics, who see them as yet more steps towards a European super-state. But, with major enlargement of the union imminent, further constitutional change is seen as inevitable.

So what will the big changes be? Which countries are pushing in what direction? Which vision is likely to prevail?

The BBC's Europe correspondent, Justin Webb, took your questions in a live forum from Brussels on Wednesday.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


Highlights of interview:

Mike McAleer, Dublin, Ireland:

Surely the essence of Chancellor Schroeder's plan is greater democratic accountability in EU decision-making? At present our MEPs seem to have plenty of accountability yet no power, while the Commission has all the power yet no accountability.

Justin Webb:

He is absolutely right - that is the essence of what the Germans say this is all about and what Chancellor Schroeder's party says this is all about.

Yes, you are quite right MEPs do have a lot of accountability in as much as they are elected. They don't at the moment have a huge amount of power - in the German plan - the Schroeder plan - it would be to give them much more power. You are right in saying, the Commission is not elected and has a lot of power.

However, what is not clear to me and I don't think it is quite clear in Chancellor Schroeder's party is whether the long term implication of what they are suggesting is that one day the Commission itself, which they want to become stronger, whether the implication is that that also becomes elected. Also at some stage in the future you have perhaps a president of the European Commission and perhaps other commissioners who are themselves elected people and that is something they have got to work out.

Yes, certainly you could suggest that all of this was about giving greater democracy and addressing this thing that they call the democratic deficit in Europe.

Maya Sanchez, Nottingham, UK:

I am a resident in the UK, but a Spanish National and a European at heart. From what I read so far, it seems like the proposal will lead to bodies that are actually elected being in control of the EU, can you comment on that? If this is the case, from my point of view, that would be a very positive change.

Justin Webb:

This thing I have mentioned before - the democratic deficit - is at the heart of all efforts now to reform the European Union. It is widely felt, right across all the power centres of the union - the parliament, the commission, the council - in other words the member governments and indeed in individual nations as well - that there is a problem and a genuine problem.

This is not just something enemies of the European Union think it is something that friends of the European Union think as well. Somehow there has got to be a way found whereby individuals can not only feel that they are part of the process but actually take part in the process themselves. In a way the European Union has got to grow up.

Your question specifically relating to does the Schroeder plan give people more of a role - does it mean that elected institutions are more in charge - then yes it certainly does because the parliament would be more powerful.

Tomas Mariscal, Washington, DC, United States:

Are there any plans to reduce the number of MPs in the present chamber of the European Parliament? Would there be any elected MPs in the new proposed chamber of the European Parliament? Besides full control over the budget, are there any plans to extend the powers of the European Parliament to other fields? Will this proposal be effective in making the EU more democratic and closer to the citizens?

Justin Webb:

Firstly, is there a proposal to reduce the number of MEPs - no. Under the German plans the European parliament, as currently constituted, would remain in place. That means that under the recent treaty of Nice it actually gains members - there would be more members of the European parliament in the future.

Secondly, would there be elected MPs in the new proposed chamber? This is a more complex business. Under, what appears to be, the Schroeder plan - no there wouldn't because the second chamber of the European parliament would actually be the prime ministers of all the member nations of the European Union. They would meet together - they already do meet together once every six months of so - and they would form, when they met, the second chamber. So it would just be those prime ministers.

There is another plan, not the Schroeder plan, the Blair plan if you like that the British Government have been working on and which is publicly known - in which he wants members of the national parliament and not just the prime ministers - not all of them but a group of them from each national parliament - for them to meet as a second chamber of the European parliament.

So you can see there are various ideas going around this business of having a second chamber but the common theme is that they want people from national governments, national parliaments, to be involved.

Andrew Levens, Cirencester, UK:

The main weakness of UK democracy is the way that power is controlled by party machines, which means that lobby groups are listened to more than local MP's who understand their constituents. Do current proposals for European democracy have safeguards to prevent this happening in Europe?

Justin Webb:

No they don't is the answer. The European Parliament makes Westminster look like a real tea-party when it comes to lobbying. The European parliament is absolutely riven with lobbying.

In the European parliament, lobbyists have a far easier access to things and therefore big wealthy corporations have a far easier access than do ordinary members of the parliament.

So how is it to be avoided? - not very easily under the Schroeder plan. I don't see that being addressed at the moment although it is certainly a subject that will have to be addressed if this overall issue of how you persuade people that Europe is working - not just for your good - but also to some extent in your control.

Andy Millward, Broxbourne, UK:

How are the current plans any different from the intentions stated in the original Treaty of Rome, to which all nations joining the EU have signed up? Why does the notion of political union always seem such a surprise to them?

Justin Webb:

Again and again British politicians seem surprised that there is a thing called "ever closer union" that they have signed up to. But the fact is a lot of it is there in the original treaty - that is the purpose of the union.

The fact is it is a journey - there is no fixed destination and it is very difficult for politicians, particularly in eurosceptic countries like Britain, to come out and say that plainly and openly to their electorate.

Joseph O'Neil, Wexford, Ireland:

Is it conceivable that Russia might one day join the EU? Would nationalistic states like Russia and Turkey really be prepared for the pooling of sovereignty that EU membership requires?


There is a similar question also from the United States:

Michael Goldstein, NY, USA

Will Europe's face substantially change if Turkey is admitted?

Justin Webb:

Firstly, will nationalistic states be able to get involved in the pooling of sovereignty - I think they will. You already see within the existing European Union some pretty nationalistic states - Greece for example has joined with a fair degree of enthusiasm. Britain is quite a nationalistic state in an understated way and yet have, despite difficulties, been reasonably enthusiastic members of the European Union at least at a government level.

The European Union changes people - it changes states and I think if nations find that there is a genuine advantage for them in being members then I don't think nationalism is a problem.

Turning to the question of whether Europe's face would change if Turkey is admitted? Yes the accession of Turkey is a possibility. It is now accepted as a possibility but not much more than that by all the European Union's existing member states.

As to whether it will change the face of the union - you bet it will. In religious ways - Turkey is a Muslim country - that would be a very big cultural change but also by the sheer size of Turkey. There will be this huge number of people joining the European Union to the East there - so yes it would be a massive change.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Europe united?
Does the EU need a government?

Your guide to the European Union: Features, backgrounders and reference guides
Making sense of the EU

See also:

30 Apr 01 | Europe
Schroeder EU vision causes stir

Links to more Forum stories