People's Europe: The Future of the European Union

By Santer, Jacques | Harvard International Review, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

People's Europe: The Future of the European Union


Santer, Jacques, Harvard International Review


SINCE ITS INCEPTION, the European Union (EU) has provided the world with an unprecedented model of successful international and intra-regional cooperation. European political and economic integration has culminated in the establishment of an area characterized by transnational peace and prosperity. The structures of the European Union have shown that institutions based on the rule of law can prove both viable and valuable on the international scene. All in all, the Union constitutes a living monument to the ideal of interstate cooperation.

While that incomparable precedent is a rightful source of pride for European leaders and citizens, it also presents Europeans with a great deal of responsibility. The leaders of the Union remain committed to the institution's original, primary goals. These goals include enhancing the positive effects of economic integration through the adoption of a single currency and endowing the Union with a genuine political dimension so that it may formulate more effective collective responses to the challenges posed by both internal and international problems. At the same time, however, the fall of the Iron Curtain has presented the European Union with a new set of challenges and has forced European policymakers to reformulate their visions of the Union's future mission and institutions. The past successes of the European Union only make its future success seem even more vital to the maintenance of the ideal of and prospects for global integration. In order to ensure the endurance of the Union's most positive elements, European leaders must be willing to approach the task of European reform with innovation and intelligence.

Perhaps the most glaring challenge confronting Europe is the question of the enlargement of the Union. The eventual inclusion of formerly communist European nations is inevitable. Enlargement is no longer a prospect for the distant future only. The enlargement that ought to proceed within the next few years will be different from all previous ones; this time, the multiplicity and diversity of the prospective members will pose challenges of unprecedented size and variety.

If the coming enlargement is to proceed without reversing any of the successes of European integration, the structures of the Union must be adapted and reinforced. The addition of new members creates a distinct risk of the dilution of the Union. As one leader put it, European leaders must do everything in their power to avoid creating a situation in which the last applicant country enters the Union only to find that it is joining something which no longer exists.

Therefore, enlargement should proceed in conjunction with the institution of measures that safeguard the achievements of the past 40 years. These achievements are, after all, the basis of the Union's solidarity with the new Member States. The widening of the Union and its reinforcement are mutually necessary and mutually supportive goals. If the European Union is to handle the most prominent challenges of the coming decades successfully, then its leaders must undertake meaningful reforms of its existing structures.

Calls for Reform

In the first half of 1995, a Reflection Group, composed of representatives of the 15 Member States, the European Commission, and the European Parliament, drew up a diagnosis of the Union's past performance in meeting the goals set forth in the Treaty on European Union. That diagnosis can be summed up in a single sentence: the Union does not have the means necessary to achieve its ambitions. The European Commission, the Union's executive body, sees this diagnosis as a sufficient argument in favor of a substantial overhaul of the Union's institutions and direction. Accordingly, the Commission has formulated a set of recommendations for reform. These recommendations ought to allow the Union to commit itself to the upcoming round of enlargement in good faith and to make sure that its original commitment to the ideals of economic and political union remain fully respected.

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