BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 17.02.02

Film: FILM ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE. Paola Buonadonna looks at whether Europe is on the brink of moving towards further integration.

PAOLA BUONADONNA: France's Europe Minister, Pierre Moscovici is on a delicate mission. The people of his country, like elsewhere, are falling out of love with Europe and a crisis of confidence is engulfing the EU institutions. Even the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which are seeking admission have doubts. Moscovici travels to them constantly. Today's destination is Poland. Whilst Britain is still soul searching on the Euro, a different debate has taken off in the rest of Europe. The main issue is how the EU should reform to function in the Twenty-First Century and now could be the last chance to achieve fundamental changes before the Union becomes too big to agree on anything. Everybody accepts that the European Union must become more effective and more accountable to its citizens. But will this also mean another step in the development of an ever closer Union, with the European Union getting more powers at the expense of national governments? Finding their way through the maze of options for reform is a group of representatives from all EU countries, including Mr Moscovici and from the applicant countries too. They're known as the Convention. They will set the agenda for the next round of negotiations in 2004, just before Poland and the other new members join in. Mr Moscovici has come to meet the Polish representatives. PIERRE MOSCOVICI: Theoretically everything is possible. We could decide to go further in European integration which means to give more power to Europe. We need to have a political control. We need more legitimacy, we need transparency and this is why our institutions cannot be something felt as abstract, as outside of our decision, of the people's decision. PROFESSOR PETER GLOTZ: I'm not interested in a European Union and the Germans aren't be interested in a European Union which is nothing but an internal market. DAVID HEATHCOAT-AMORY: The worst case is if the solution to the acknowledged problems is perceived to be simply more Europe, more centralisation, more expenditure, more majority voting, more civil servants and more politicians. That is the danger, that is the whole thrust of the European Union over the past forty- five years. If they don't change direction, then I think the whole exercise will be a waste of time. BUONADONNA: It's not just the British who feel that Europe has swallowed up too many powers. People here in Poland as well as in other aspiring new member states, are also concerned about the loss of national sovereignty. But there are still significant pressures to have more decisions taken centrally, by the European Union through its institutions. Pierre Moscovici is here to reassure the Poles that they won't lose their identity. But once they and the others join in there are calls for the veto power of each country to be reduced, to avoid paralysis. And there's already a long list of suggestions on the Convention's table for areas in which European integration could be reinforced. They range from foreign and defence policy, to police and justice, economic and social policy and even taxation. GLOTZ: I personally believe that a Euro tax would make sense. That means money for which the European Parliament in the future would have a budget right. JEAN-LUC DEHAENE: If you want to come out of the present discussion on financial needs and move discussions from 'I want my money back' and so on, I think the best way to solve that is to have a European, and a real European source of income, like for instance the custom taxes are. You can have some internal taxes too, which should be real European income tax. MOSCOVICI: Prime Minister Jospin, is in favour of a social treaty in Europe in order to strengthen the cohesion of Europe on this field. I also think that Justice and home affairs have to be taken very seriously by Europe because we're just fighting terrorism right now and we see that nation states are very important but they are not sufficient for that. These are the two main areas - I also think about defence, about security, about foreign affairs policy - well, we've got to discuss that. BUONADONNA: A tete-a-tete with the Polish Prime Minister was one of the highlights of Mr Moscovici's trip. Britain has no problem with Europe co-operating more in foreign policy but it finds itself in a very uncomfortable position when there are calls for an economic government and when France and others put forward ideas for tax co-ordination. HEATHER GRABBE: Britain has long resisted the idea of tax co-ordination and certainly of tax harmonisation and Britain can do that because you have to have a unanimous vote in the EU in order to get that kind of agreement. The problem is that the Euro zone members are discussing these issues among themselves and Britain is not part of the debate. So they could come to a decision about perhaps coming towards more economic policy co-ordination in a way that Britain doesn't like and Britain cannot stop them from doing it, because we're not actually part of that debate. BUONADONNA: Once the applicant countries join the European Union club, decision-making could come to a standstill, weakening Europe's effectiveness and prestige. The French, the Germans and many other governments believe that in the future more decisions should be taken if the majority of the member states are in favour rather than all having to agree to everything. GLOTZ: I hope that we will find in a lot of fields to co-decision procedure with qualified majority and then indeed, Europe will be stronger than it is today. And I think after the 11th September in the attacks in New York, this is the only possibility that European states like the UK and Germany can play a sensitive role in this dangerous and complicated world. BUONADONNA: After the decision-makers, it's time to meet the Polish opinion-formers, at the offices of the influential national newspaper Gazeta Viborcha. Many countries believe that people would understand the EU better if it had a constitution, a basic text which sets out its role. Critics in Britain argue that a European constitution would undermine the national states. HEATHCOTE AMORY; It tends to be federations that have constitutions between countries so it would in a sense be sanctifying a federal structure for Europe, which is of course very much not what either I or indeed the British government or certainly the British people want. MOSCOVICI: I know that it's not in the British tradition to have a constitution but we must think about it together and I notice very positively that the target of constitutional treaty was written in the Laeken Declaration which was of course accepted by all the governments in Europe including the British Government. BUONADONNA; Tony Blair came to Warsaw two years ago to speak about the Europe he wanted. Now it's France's turn to set out its vision. With most other EU countries France is keen for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was drafted in 2000, to be made legally binding so that the EU could set new standards in areas like trade union rights. MOSCOVICI: The Charter is very important because it tells us what are the values that we share, what are the rights that have to be respected, dignity, solidarity, justice and freedom. And it's very important that it has to be legally binding in order that we can translate those values into acts that we can sanction people or countries who don't respect those values. GRABBE: Britain is having a debate within the government about this question. The Foreign Office has traditionally been much more wary of incorporating it into the EU's treaties whereas I probably think Number Ten, Downing Street is becoming much more relaxed about that issue. HEATHCOTE-AMORY: During the treaty of Nice negotiations the British Government gave an explicit assurance that the Charter of Fundamental Rights was not legally binding and would not be - it was only a political declaration or aspiration and I think it would be a betrayal of all the assurances we were given if they give in and allow that document now to become legally binding at the first opportunity. Those assurances were always suspect, they will be shown to be worthless if they give in on that one. BUONADONNA: The French ambassador's parties are of course always excellent. But the institutions of the EU are less popular. Another issue the Convention will look at is what to do to make the European Commission more accountable. Britain is against turning the Commission into a political entity. But many politicians in Europe believe the Commission President should be elected, rather than appointed by the heads of state. MOSCOVICI: What I propose is that the President of the convention - of the commission is appointed through the European election. Such as any election you need to have a fight between the Conservatives and the Social Democrats. And I think that the leader of the coalition who wins the election must also be the President of the Commission. DEHAENE: The Europe of tomorrow will be a much more political Europe who wants to play a role on world level to have a voice, to be one of the powers that is taken to account, at world level. Well, if you want that you need an executive level that is democratically elected and that level is the President of the Commission for instance. BUONADONNA: It would be easy to dismiss the Convention as just another European talking shop. In reality governments around Europe are taking it very seriously - it hasn't even been launched yet and already the national representatives travel around to meet each other to forge alliances and deals, eager for their own particular vision of Europe to prevail in the end. The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has good allies in Europe. Denmark, Italy and Spain are all keen to rein in the EU. But the traditional Franco-German alliance, the push for more integration has not run out of steam yet . MOSCOVICI: If we put our strength all together then we're stronger - then we have the real weight, then we can have also a shared leadership with the US and not be always following them. So this is why we need to make more Europe . HEATHCOTE-AMORY: There is a huge federalist momentum in Europe. A great many continental politicians and the technocratic class in Europe believes that the solution is always more powers at the centre and unless they can reverse that, then I think we're going to get ourselves deeper in the mud. BUONADONNA: The Warsaw visit draws to a close but the debate on the future of Europe is just beginning. The convention has a huge task on its hands if it is to increase people's respect for Europe. But if it goes down the route of more and stronger integration it will be very hard for the British Government to sell it back home.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.