A More Perfect Union

By Kanz, Martin | Harvard International Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

A More Perfect Union


Kanz, Martin, Harvard International Review


Europe in Search of its Future

Visions about the "finality" of the European Union, as articulated by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at Berlin's Humboldt University in May 2000, could mark a turning point in the path toward a common European political identity.

After the modest December 2000 modifications of voting procedures by the Council of Europe, many questions about the final shape of the European Union remain open. But on the eve of an unprecedented experiment in EU membership expansion, plans for the future of the EU project, though divisive, are necessary.

In his Berlin address, Fischer outlined his idea of the future European Union as a politically integrated federation of states; he was the first member of a European government to address openly the need for a coherent ultimate aim of European integration. According to Fischer, "the transition from a political union to a parliamentary federation" would constitute a practical answer to the immense challenges that lie ahead. Such reforms could also alleviate the lack of transparency and democratic accountability in EU policy-making, two of the greatest shortfalls of the present system.

Fischer's proposals for the future shape of the European Union included a call for a European constitution. He went so far as to suggest the possibility of a directly elected government with limited but clearly defined legislative and executive powers over all EU member states. Fischer suggested that closer cooperation among a smaller core group of EU member states--a subset of EU members that would become more closely integrated in the short term than the union as a whole--could provide the foundation for the long-term EU project of full political integration. At the same time, Fischer emphasized that the core-group idea should be seen as a step in the integration process rather than a functional end in itself, asserting that "a gravitational core must have an active interest in expansion, and it has to offer an attractive prospect to the other members."

These "thoughts on the finality of the European Union," carefully labeled as the foreign minister's personal views rather than a government position, sparked a lively debate about an issue vital to European citizens and governments alike. The debate has long been avoided by Europe's policy-makers, partly because ambiguity about the ultimate character of the European project has made partial commitment to a European agenda easier for member states. Not surprisingly, then, the definition of a tangible objective for the integration process, has caused worries in some European capitals.

Although he generally welcomed Fischer's ideas, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine considered Fischer's remarks regarding the role of national governments in the envisioned future European polity to be vague. France's Interior Minister Pierre Chevenement expressed concern about the "federal" character of Fischer's proposals, claiming that "the nation-state and democracy are inseparable in Europe."

But much more than a mere expression of European idealism is needed; preserving the momentum of policy cooperation among a core group of nations may turn out to be a basic necessity. With the creation of the European Monetary Union, the countries of the euro zone have already committed themselves to a degree of cooperation that necessitates close coordination of economic policy. …

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