The European Union half a century later: assessment and scenarios for renewal

1 November 2006
Since the draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was rejected by France and the Netherlands the European Union has unceasingly sought to find the means to launch the initiative again. The diversity of questions and solutions put forward by the Member States is complicating the debate with regard to the nature and aims of the European project. Apart from the official positions, questions raised by French and Dutch opinion are in fact shared by others including the States which have already ratified the draft Treaty; the latter attach as much importance to economic (policy co-ordination), social (need for security), and identity (control of the EU enlargement policy) issues, as the institutional decision making mechanisms. Much is expected of France with regard to finding a solution to the stalemate and to redraft the European project in a clarified way.

Most Member States are aware of the need to redraft the Treaty. Few want to continue with the measures established in Nice Treaty. MEPs are active and imaginative. Two contrasted views are now emerging.

The first leads to an underestimation of the institutional issue, to a preference for ad hoc initiatives in a limited number of areas on the basis of free choice on the parts of the governments involved and to a view of the European Union as a mere intermediary stage in the move towards globalisation – which in turn leads a priori to working towards an unlimited enlargement.

The second view considers that the Union is a future political community. That community has to have stable and effective institutions, organise solidarity between its members, define its borders with the aim of internal cohesion and adopt a foreign policy, notably with regard to its immediate neighbours along with the clarification of mutual geopolitical interests.

Thoughts about future enlargements – without anymore "big bang" events on the horizon for the time being – are ongoing. It appears wiser to estimate the Union's integration capacity, in an operational manner, on an individual basis and via specific topics (access to markets, labour markets, impact on the budget and the institutions). The question of the Union's final borders continues to divide States, parties and opinion. Although the majority of the Member States support the Union's policy of extension the idea of a break and adapting the European offer is gaining ground. The more delicate case is obviously the Western Balkans one where the Union's commitments must be maintained to foster stability but also where the continuing existence of protectorates is somewhat a problem. In the face of geopolitical challenges in the areas affected by the neighbourhood policy in eastern Europe headway is being made on defining new action plans that aim towards more definite targets and which emphasise the support of reform rather than accession mid-term. Strategies to make the continent "European" have entered a "redefinition" phase.

The conclusion lays out several suggestions in order to launch the European project once again over the period 2007-2009. It will be the responsibility of the upcoming presidencies to define the terms of debate and to rank priorities, identify objectives and describe precisely the mandate given to the Commission to come up with some real proposals. Political European Union will therefore clarify the nature of its relations with three main players: its own citizens, its Member States and the world.

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