Discours de Lydie Polfer au Royal Institute for International Affaires (Londres) sur le thème "De la convention à la CIG"

Ladies and gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure for me to address such a distinguished audience in this delightful setting of Chatham House and to share with you some thoughts on the future of Europe and the IGC. I do not think however that what I shall say this afternoon, needs to fall under what is known as the Chatham House Rule, i.e. that it won’t go beyond the doors of this House. Indeed, the issues I will be taking up are issues, on which I have voiced my position time and again.

On the issue of European integration, Luxembourg has the longstanding experience as a founding member of all existing European and Euro-atlantic institutions that peace and prosperity can be best achieved through cooperation. Indeed, our national history has taught us in our flesh that military alliances or even solemn pacts of neutrality were unable to ensure our security and peace in Europe. Having often been the direct victims and having suffered from our neighbours' wars, (like most of the medium and small sized countries in Europe), Luxembourgers became fervent adherents of the concept of European integration and early members of the various international organisations founded in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Our joining the European Steel and Coal Community in 1952 can therefore be understood as having been in our best national interest. In the end,  pooling the coal and steel industries of Europe was designed to create a stable and secure environment on the continent and to initiate cooperation among our direct neighbours. This decision was however not an easy one for my country. After all, steel accounted for the major part of Luxembourg's industrial production at that time and it was the back-bone of our economy.

We joined enthusiastically because the final purpose of the founding fathers of the new Europe was a highly political one. The aim behind the ECSC was to devise a new way in which the Nations and States could live together.

It was not designed as  a system based on power structures. On the contrary, the community method intends to resolve problems and conflicts through discussions and common institutions, designed to bring about compromises and giving each and every country a say. This approach represented a revolution in the power politics on our continent, a promise for a better future and the perspective of a true political and economic union. This Union should be realized step by step, based on Robert Schuman's concept who declared at the launch of the European project in 1950 that "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create  a de facto solidarity."

The old power game was to be overcome by a pluralistic entity. For the first time in the history of our continent, the community method initiated a model of cooperation  based on an  equal status for  all its members. This approach paved the ground  for the  undeniable success and the attractiveness of the new Europe, which could grow from initially 6 members to 9 , then 10, 12, nowadays 15 and soon 25 countries.

This Union with nearly 500 million consumers will be the largest market in the world, twice as important as the US, 4 times the size of Japan. Already today Europe is the largest exporter of industrial goods and services, accounting for 20% of world exports.

In fact, Europe has achieved a great deal. With the completing of the Common Market, the creation of a new common currency, the euro, and the establishment of a European Central Bank, our level of economic and monetary integration has reached a decisive new threshold. As we prepare to face the challenges of globalisation, we become increasingly aware that foreign policy and security and defence matters have to follow on this great leap forward.

Will we succeed? Will we be credible actors on the international stage?

The next months and the outcome of  the IGC will give us at last some elements of an answer.

Three days ago, the process of deepening the European integration has been taken into a new phase with the official opening of the Inter-governmental Conference. The purpose of the IGC is to endow the European Union with a Constitution or, if some of you prefer, a Constitutional Treaty. The name matters little in reality, substance counts, even if symbols cannot be underestimated.

In substance we are setting ourselves explicitly political objectives in presenting Europe as the obvious answer to the need to act, not only in economic matters, but also in foreign and security policy, in immigration policy, in addressing globalisation, public health……., all sectors where common action proves to be more effective than initiatives taken by individual States.

If we want our Union to live up to the expectations of all our citizens and all our Member States, if we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, of centuries of struggle for power and influence, we can only agree on a Union that is based on cooperation between equal partners, on rules and the rule of law. As a consequence the representation of our countries in our common institutions is to reflect the dual nature of the EU, a union of citizens and a union of nations.

You might tell me that this sounds very theoretical and that reality looks different.

Of course, we have to be realistic, and we are. The weight of larger countries is different from that of smaller ones on most issues. This fact was recognized by the Nice Treaty in proposing a double weighting of votes, both in terms of countries and population. The Convention proposals, though different from what was decided in Nice, stick to this principle for decisions to be taken by qualified majority. I will come back to  this issue later.

One thing is however extremely clear to me. We must not  allow power and strength to hijack the agenda. The original and innovative process of integration in which we engaged can only result from the sharing of our experiences for the greater common good.

Having been directly involved in the making of the European Union right from its start, we are very much aware that the challenge we have to face now is huge. The consequences of failure should not be underestimated. Despite the complexities of building a Union able to function at 25 or even more members, we are convinced that the same spirit, which has been the driving force of the whole European construction must remain at the heart of all our efforts.

Pooling our sovereignties helps us to strengthen our significance as nations. The world has become too large for any individual European nation to be a key player. It is at the supranational level  that we still can achieve our goals. In this respect, joining forces is not a limitation of our sovereignty but a widening of our opportunities

The European idea, right from the start was about political ambitions: Peace, Freedom and Solidarity are the words that best describe our endeavours. This explains why our ambitions cannot limit themselves to preserving the acquis.

When discussing the future orientation of our constitution, we should be aware that the  initial  starting point of this IGC is the new era of European history inaugurated by  the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prospect of the accession of the new European democracies and the breaking-up of former Yugoslavia.

At the expense of stating the obvious, these events have changed the face of Europe as we had known it for about 40 years. As a consequence of all the tremendous changes on the continent, the Copenhagen summit offered in 1993 the countries formerly separated from us by the iron curtain, the prospect of membership in the European Union. Of course, this would have to be preceded by major political and economic reforms in these countries. But the European Union itself could not expect to receive a large number of new members without proceeding with an in-depth overhaul of its ways and means of functioning. Institutions which had been set up originally for six countries could not be expected to function as well with four times this number of members, if not even more.

Despite great progress in many policy fields, the Heads of State and Government were not able in Amsterdam to conclude the necessary institutional reforms  to prepare the Union for the forthcoming enlargement. The internal reform of the European institutions being however a pre-condition for enlargement, a new attempt was made in Nice in December 2000. I do not think that the details of the arrangements we agreed on, need to be dwelled upon. Let me underline that, at the time, all the candidate countries welcomed with great sighs of relief the mere existence of an agreement opening the way for their accession. My Bulgarian colleague even went so far as to say the Nice had officially buried Yalta.

The Nice European Council also agreed  on a declaration calling for the launching of a large public debate about the future of Europe.  The emphasis was laid on democratic accountability and legitimacy as well as on the transparency of the system.

As a consequence we agreed in Laeken, in December 2001  on a new way of preparing the institutional reforms: the Convention, composed of representatives of national parliaments and of the European Parliament, as well as representatives of the governments and of the European Commission. It has to be pointed out that the representatives of the candidate countries were taking an active part in the deliberations of the Convention - on the same footing as their colleagues from the present Member States.

Most important however, the Laeken declaration recalled some fundamental historical and political facts:

First: The Union is based on the express rejection of any intention to dominate the continent by force.

Second: From The Coal and Steel Community to the introduction of the euro, Europe was build step by step, by a new process; the Community method.

Third: The main challenges ahead are mainly of a political nature, in other words we ought to complete the Common Foreign and Security Policy.


Under the chairmanship of the former President of the French Republic, Mr. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the Convention concluded its work last July with a result that has been described by himself as “imperfect but unhoped for”.

On the positive side, I should first of all point to the simplification of the treaty architecture and of its legal instruments. Whereas the present treaties are constructed on three different pillars invented in Maastricht to bridge uneven levels of integration, the Convention now proposes a single framework integrating the European Communities and the European Union into one single entity endowed with a single legal personality. It furthermore reduces the number of legal instruments from currently 15 to a mere 6.

The Convention also managed to propose an understandable system of delimitation of competences between Member States and the Union, while maintaining the necessary flexibility.

Further on the list of positive elements are the advances made in the field of Justice and Home Affairs, most notably the recognition of judicial control over this area by the European Court of Justice and the integration of the Charter on fundamental rights.

In the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, I am very pleased with the proposal, advocated by the BENELUX countries, of merging the positions currently held by, on the one side, Mr Solana, and on the other, Mr Patten. The creation of this double-hatted Foreign Minister of the European Union will greatly enhance the credibility and efficiency of the external policy of the Union.

There is however one chapter – the one on institutional arrangements - where the result of the Convention has received fewer cheers from governments who have mandated it to find solutions to the various questions listed in the Laeken Declaration. Even if the European Council largely welcomed the overall result of the Convention at its meeting in Thessaloniki in June, it wasn’t long before one after the other started to list the “few” items which they would like to see amended, mostly in this one chapter.

The questions that are up for discussion concern above all the creation of a Presidency for the European Council, a new formula for the rotating presidency in the Union, the composition of the Commission and voting arrangements for decisions to be taken by qualified majority.

Many observers have been stressing that the face of Europe is changing with the successive enlargements and mainly the one ahead. While at the moment of its foundation, three of the Member states of the European Communities were large and three were small countries, this balance has shifted and will even more. A majority of Member States will be small and medium sized countries in the future. The six largest countries however will represent 74 percent of the population of the Union, the following 8 middle-sized countries will represent 19 percent whereas the 11 smallest members account for the remaining 7 percent. At face-value this statement contains pure facts but when used as an introductory remark to a debate on the future of the institutional system of the European Union it loses all of its innocence.

The larger countries, fearing a loss of their influence on the decision-making process, rely on their demographic weight in order to justify their plea for a larger share of power. The smaller member states, on the other side, remind them time and again of the dual nature of the European Union.

In my view this debate does not reflect the reality of policy making in the Union. When governments make decisions, they are guided by their national interests and not by the size of their country. I can not imagine a practical problem where you would find the smaller countries on one side and the larger countries on the other.

I don't believe, the fears of both groups being consistent. They seem to emerge from somebody active in the accounting business, or remind one of 19th century power-play politics. On the one hand, you cannot simply argue the demographic principle  –  if you do then you will have to go all the way and carry the argument to its logical conclusion : federalism. In the American federal system, next to a Parliament composed by representatives of the citizens elected in a proportional way, there is a second Chamber composed of representatives of the States where each one of them is represented equally (Rhode Island has 2 Senators, just like California). On the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense either to simply discard the weight punched by certain countries; we cannot ignore the fact that on some questions, certain animals are more equal than others.

The problem being thus exposed, it is the task of the IGC to devise a system by which the decision-making power in the European Union can be shared while respecting the interests and the sovereignty of all countries at the same time as it recognizes certain political realities.

That precisely was the political ambition of the Founding fathers. They created a balanced set of institutions, where all the Member States are represented, while acknowledging that the task of identifying and defending the common interest does not necessarily correspond to the sum of the interests of the individual States.

The cornerstones of the proposed institutional reform are without doubt, the creation of the position of a permanent President of the European Council and the election of the Commission President by the European Parliament. Between these two key-players you will find the double-hatted Foreign Minister. None of us is naïve enough not to understand that the President of the European Council will henceforth play the role of the Father, and the President of the Commission will, at best of times, endeavour to keep the holy spirit alive, while the Foreign Minister will have to find a place of its own in this new trinity.

The European Convention agreed on institutionalising the European Council with an elected president. We could see this as the answer to the need expressed by some of a better visibility and continuity of the Union’s action. The creation of the position of a permanent President of the European Council will produce a clear shift in the balance of powers by concentrating them in the European Council, especially if the rotating Presidency we know now, and which served us well, was to be altered. While we do not at this point contest anymore the creation of this position, we would like to clarify more precisely the powers attached to it, as far as should be done in a text of constitutional nature. We all want to avoid future misunderstandings.

If it is about getting more continuity into the action of the European Council and thus strengthening it as an institutional player, it is of the utmost importance to reinforce in parallel the other institutions in order to keep the equilibrium. As a reaction, the Benelux countries felt the need to adopt in December last year a Memorandum on a balanced institutional framework that foresaw strengthening the Commission as the guardian of the Treaties and the common interest.

We need to maintain the balance between these three fundamental institutions. Any shift in favour of one or the other inevitably entails  a shift in the finality of the process. The way in which these three institutions – Commission, Council and Parliament - interact is a centrepiece of the  Community method, meaning that the Commission identifies the common interest and submits a proposal on which the Council and the Parliament decide as the expressions of the wills of the states, respectively the peoples.

The system of Presidencies for  the sectoral Councils is an issue which continues to create heated debates. Presently every country gets to chair all the Council formations for a period of six months. The advantage of this system, beside the fact that it is easy to understand and to explain to our citizens is the complete  equality between Member States and the internal coherence. On the other hand a longer period, for instance a term of a year  could provide for greater stability.

The Convention in fact did not really come up with an alternative system but left the decision to be taken by the European Council some time after the IGC and before 2006 when the present schedule comes to an end. Nevertheless, the Convention set a frame that could be understood as indicating that this future system should be one where several countries chair the Council formations for a period of at least one year by equal rotation. However, the Convention did not specify how many countries nor for how long or according to what particular system of equal rotation. With a bit of imagination you can even read into it the possibility of electing the chairs of each Council formation for a period of at least one year.

If the creation of the Chairman of the European Council and the European Foreign Minister will alter the work of the Presidency, we still expect the Presidency to show coherence, predictability, continuity and of course full equality between Member States.

Considering all this, I can't help thinking that the present system of  semi annual rotation respects all these requests.

Indeed, the stronger coordination between successive Presidencies decided in Sevilla adapted the present system to the demands of stronger coherence in action. Team Presidencies, and to an even larger extent elected Presidencies call for considerable coordination problems and will need many efforts to achieve the same result.

Yet, if the present system might deserve some criticism (for instance the short term of 6 months), we should be cautious enough to analyse the proposals under consideration not to create another one, which might be far more problematic for the functioning of the Union. At the end of the day, a Team Presidency for a year, with a small number of countries involved, (2 or 3), would probably be the appropriate answer.

The model for the composition of the Commission as it is proposed by the Convention has also drawn fire from certain quarters and will certainly give rise to heated debate among Ministers during the coming weeks. This model, based on a BENELUX suggestion provides for a Commission where every Member State will get to appoint one of its nationals. Based on the Nice Treaty, where we accepted the principle of a reduced Commission, all of the 25 Commissioners should have the right to take part in the discussion on any given topic, thus respecting the principle of collegiality. The designation of the Commissioners as either voting or non-voting members will be operated on the basis of equal rotation, guaranteeing equal treatment of all the Member States.

However, some countries would like to revert to a model where every country has one national in the Commission carrying full voting rights, with the inevitable consequence that you would have to grant the President of the Commission the necessary powers to structure his Commission, with the risk of destroying the collegiality, which so far has been the guarantee for an adequate definition of the general interest.

Collegiality is for us one of the core principles of the functioning of the Commission. If we are unable to strike the right balance on this, we are bound for a head-on collision and institutional deadlocks. Worse, we would fail the expectations of our citizens who deserve functioning and efficient institutions which are able to deliver on the problems Europe’s citizens have to face.

The extension of qualified majority voting replacing unanimity is often considered a benchmark for progress in European cooperation. The equation is a difficult one : we have to ensure that a larger Union is still able to take decisions and we have to recognize the demographic realities in Europe.

The double majority voting system should bring an end to the rather sterile debate about larger versus smaller Member States and their respective influence in the decision making process, even though the proposals put forward by the Convention are criticized by some Member States as a setback in comparison to the Nice formula. Having to gain a double majority for a decision to be taken (50%of Member States and 60% of population) respects in my eyes the dual nature of the Union, a union of citizens and a union of nations. But we should be aware that for some of the Member States, this will be the problem. (i.e. Spain and Poland, where the slogan has been launched "Nice or death")

Likewise, strengthening the role of the European Parliament remains important. In enhancing its budgetary role and granting it a greater role in the election process of the Commission President, we make sure that the Parliament remains a full player, just as we should pay attention that it remains the mirror of the diversity and richness of our countries. For this reason the minimum level of national representation should remain unchanged, allowing the European Parliament to reflect faithfully the political will of all our citizens in all our countries. In the case of Luxembourg this means 6 members.

In most opinion polls, there is one field constantly mentioned as the number one wish of our citizens for further integration: the Common Foreign and Security Policy. But this is not only wished for by our citizens, it is wished for by the citizens of many countries around the world. In order to convince oneself it is enough to go to Gaza where the people are wishing for the European Union to play a greater role in the Middle East Peace Process.  The absence of Europe during the 90’s when Yugoslavia was in the process of disintegrating profoundly shocked public opinion in Europe. Our inability to intervene in the war in Bosnia and later in Kosovo also left doubts in the minds of the people about Europe’s ability to act.

Independently of our recently diverging views on certain major issues, or maybe because of those divergences, we need to strengthen the instruments of our foreign policy in order to be able to punch our weight on the world stage. When and where the European Union managed to come to a common stand, we were able to make a difference in the life of the people. The best proof is he success we have had in Macedonia.

The Convention, as I have already indicated, is proposing to merge the positions of the High Representative for foreign affairs and of the Commissioner in charge of external relations into a position of Foreign Minister of the European Union. This is an evolution which has to be acclaimed loudly as it will enhance our efficiency on the field. Javier Solana, our present High Representative, has already given our foreign policy a face and a voice that is heard. Now, in the IGC, we intend to give the new Minister also the means and instruments of  the European Union to implement the policies decided upon by the Council. We will now be able to give Henry Kissinger the phone number, of the person in the European Union voicing our common policies and  having on our behalf the means to implement these policies.

However the lack of this single phone-number, though a deficiency, was never the cause of our weakness in foreign policy. Rather it was the absence of a truly common message. The EU has in this respect already achieved progress, for example by adopting at the recent summit in Thessaloniki a common position and an action plan on weapons of mass destruction. The European security strategy, presently under preparation, will be a further decisive step in foreign and security policy. It will give us an overall political framework for common action in the future and for common operations. The IGC will have to give us the tools to act within this framework and with the civilian and military capabilities of the EU and its member states.

In this respect, I sincerely regret that there seems to have been no viable consensus in the Convention for the proposal to adopt decisions in certain cases by a qualified majority instead of unanimity. The idea floated initially was to limit this possibility to proposals made by the newly created Foreign Minister of the Union in conjunction with the Commission. But, the opposition, most strongly expressed by the representative of the British government, has brought us back to a situation where everybody can block a foreign policy decision in order to get full satisfaction on his demands concerning some unrelated EU regulation. Regrettable though it is, I do understand the sensitivity of this issue.

((In the proposals of the Convention, the creation of the new Foreign Minister’s position goes hand in hand with the setting-up of an European diplomatic service. Such a service shall be built around the present Commission Directorate-general for External relations, the Policy Unit of the High Representative and the delegations of the Commission in third countries. It will also substantially benefit from Member States sending their finest diplomats “on loan”.

Another positive signal in this direction is the Convention’s proposal for a European Armament Agency as well as the new solidarity clause and the up-dating of the so-called Petersberg tasks in the framework of the European Security and defence policy. ))

But one of the major achievements of the Convention is the introduction of a certain degree of flexibility by recognising the possibility for Member States to engage in structured cooperations. In the enlarged European Union, the cultural heterogeneity between the 25 Member States and the requirement of unanimity would condemn us to a stand-still in this field above any other.

At Nice, the resistance of the British Prime Minister did not allow for the introduction of this possibility. We hope that the new Rome treaty will give us this new possibility. I understand that the recent summit between France, Germany and the UK has helped to bring positions on this question closer to a possible compromise. Of course, we should always strive for an inclusive approach in the EU and our aim should be to have as many countries as possible participating in the future development of the European security and defence policy. Such inclusiveness is essential for our credibility and for our internal coherence.

But this search for inclusiveness should not prevent us from taking action. EU operations in Bunia and in Skopje, the former without NATO assets and the latter with NATO assets, have shown that the EU has a role to play and is ready to take its responsibilities. Inclusiveness has to be balanced with effectiveness.

During the next weeks and months, all of us who are engaged in finalizing this Constitution will have to show a certain degree of openness towards ideas we are not so familiar with and thus not particularly attracted to, remembering what John Maynard Keynes once wrote: “the difficulty lies not with the new ideas but with the old ones which ramify into every corner of our minds”.

Thank you for your attention.

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