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The future of Europe

Rome, 17/12/2009, Lecture
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During this lecture, it was highlighted that 2009 marks two important events for Europe: the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and, with the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on December 1, the end of the third stage in the construction of Europe, which during the period 1990-2009 saw a major enlargement of the Union to include new members together with a first attempt at establishing a European Constitution.

The first stage of this process (1950-1970) witnessed the creation of the common market and the European Community, whilst during the second stage (1970-1990), the foundations were laid for political and monetary union.

The Treaty of Lisbon thus ushers in a new phase by introducing tools that will enable institutional actors to play a more central role in shaping the future of the Union. In addition to establishing the offices of the President of the European Council and the High Representative (commonly viewed as Europe’s Minister for Foreign Affairs), the Treaty delineates the powers of the new posts, introduces qualified majority voting in respect of many matters and broader powers for the European Parliament, and provides a greater role for national parliaments in monitoring compliance with the subsidiarity principle. It was observed that these reforms are indispensable – indeed crucial – in order to give a new lease of life to European action and restore public confidence in Europe. Reference was made to the major setbacks suffered by the unification process due to a growing loss of enthusiasm over the years, which culminated in the well-known outcomes of referendums held in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

It was also noted, with regret, that there has been a failure to fully exploit the opportunity presented by the Lisbon Treaty – whose entry into force met with the indifference of both the general public and institutions – to revive the process. Calls for a simplification of its terms with a view to making it more accessible to citizens were not acceded to, nor was there a desire to enshrine within the Treaty certain symbols of the Union (such as the flag or the euro) that are so much a part of the everyday life of European citizens. The President of the European Council and the High Representative were also appointed by agreement, without taking into account the need for transparency and democratic process advocated by many. It was stressed, however, that it was not so much the caliber of these appointees – acknowledged as being worthy and of great potential – that is called into question, but rather the procedures by which they were appointed.

The current transitional phase was envisaged as probably lasting 15-20 years, during which there would be two competing conceptions of the European Union: one that is federal – and hence, more in keeping with the ideals of the founding fathers – and one that would like to see a large free trade area equipped with confederal political institutions.

The hope was expressed that, during this stage (and the crises likely to characterize it), younger generations – who are already accustomed to mobility and to living beyond the confines of their own country – will push existing and new leaders in the direction of a concerted vision that is crucial if a “treaty which lays the foundations for a new beginning” is to be given substance.

By way of conclusion, it was observed that the world is moving towards organization into large blocs, and it is thus no longer conceivable for Europeans to continue living under a “protective national wing”. Europe must be able to adapt its institutions in line with the economic power that it already exerts today, failing which it will be incapable of playing a major role on the international stage.