This post contains my answers to a questionnaire by JEF Europe’s PC1 (Institution and Governance) on the topic of a deeper European integration.
Please, do not refrain from commenting and participating in the debate ahead of the European elections!
1) Do you think European member states should try to overcome the current crisis by seeking for deeper European integration? If some states would not be willing or able to take further steps, should those who are, continue deeper integration?
1st question: yes! Member States have started doing this by discussing and implementing some forms of solidarity (EFSF, ESM, banking union…).
But we still need to address further problems in the functioning of the Eurozone:
- Increase and facilitate free movement of workers, because workers’ mobility is a key element of a monetary zone. The aim should be a European
- Further coordination (rather than harmonisation) of economic policies.
We need to insist on subsidiarity and on the fact that deeper integration does not mean a multiplication of regulations!
2nd question: yes! A multi-speed Europe already exists in the form of enhanced cooperation and opt-outs. We have anyway already a multi-speed Europe: look at the Schengen area, at the Euro area…
2) Do you think European integration should be an integration “à la carte”, allowing member states to choose, whatever field of common policy they want to join (absolute free choice), or should it be an integration of different levels, each with a particular legal framework, allowing member states only to choose between the levels of integration (free choice of level)?
“A la carte” would undermine the idea of common destiny and would even undermine the functioning of the EU’s most successful (so far) project: the Single Market. So, it should be rejected.
Differentiating “à la carte” from “free choice of level” may be difficult… However, I believe that allowing different levels of integration is necessary, at least in the short and medium term, in some policy areas because of the differences between Member States and of the principle of subsidiarity.
We need to think about how to solve this…!
3) Do you think it would be feasible for all member states to achieve the same level of integration?
We need to distinguish “technically / socially / economically feasible” and “politically feasible”.
In the 1st case, my answer is: yes! A progressive convergence of economic and social standards shall be taking place thanks to the Single Market and the fundamental economic freedoms.
In the 2nd case, I’m afraid I must answer: no. Some Member States do not want to go further, at the moment. They should not be forced to go further, as long as it does not create problems such as integration “à la carte” or the widely discussed social dumping. On the other hand, of course, those who want to further integrate should be entitled to do so!
4) What should be the purpose of deeper integration and which competences should be transferred to a deeper integrated Europe (e.g. economic, social, environmental, security and foreign policy)?
1st preliminary issue: What should be addressed by public regulation/funding (and what should be left to private initiative)? This question is often “forgotten” in debates about a federal Europe.
2nd preliminary issue: subsidiarity. What can the EU do better than MS or local authorities? What is the added-value of the EU?
Also a preliminary remark: more integration does not mean imposition a national model at European level to prevent the so-called “fiscal dumping”, etc.
Some ideas regarding economics and social:
- We need a European budget partly funded with self-defined resources (to be determined; however, a bit more thinking than just putting “carbon tax” and “FTT” would be appropriate…). This budget should be used, in particular, to invest in projects involving more than one Member State (be it for infrastructure, education, training, employment…).
- NB: No need to say once more that the EU or the Member States should spend more if we do not know more concretely where the money should come from!
- More coordination of national budgetary policies at least in the Eurozone. Ideally, the fiscal compact would be integrated in the EU treaties.
- We can think about tax coordination. Fighting tax fraud could be an issue.
- A pan-European minimum wage is conceivable, provided it is calculated as a percentage (identical in all Member States) of each Member State’s average wage. There cannot be a single, uniform minimum wage all across Europe; this would be an economic non-sense.
- More coordination of workers’ rights.
- Solving intra-EU cross-border tax issues exclusively through European regulation rather than bilateral tax treaties.
- Further harmonise consumer protection.
- In general, everything that can stimulate free movement, especially of workers.
Environment & energy:
- Transfer all matters that have a potential cross-border nature.
- Finally implement the Single Market for Energy: investments in cross-border networks and determine a pan-European energy mix.
- Finally create a European Prosecutor Office, preferably with the participation of all Member States.
- Actively support Member States were the judiciary is a bit weak / under-performing.
- Further facilitate the mutual recognition of other Member States’ judicial decisions in order to better fight cross-border crime.
Foreign and Security Policy:
- Develop a framework (kind of European guidelines) for a European foreign policy. Member States would be free to pursue their own diplomacy within this framework.
5) Should a deeper integrated Europe have its own budget (e.g. with the financial capacity to mitigate economic shocks) or the right to levy taxes?
I think it would be feasible and should be welcomed, but various issues need to be solved in order to implement this:
- Who would be in charge of collecting the said taxes? Probably the tax collection services of Member States… but what about paying them for this task? And will they be as committed to collecting European taxes as they are to collecting own domestic taxes?
- European taxes to finance this deeper integrated Europe’s budget must not result in an increase of the overall tax burden, if we want the idea of own budget to be accepted by citizens and business and if we want to avoid undermining the competitiveness of our economies. But how do we “force” Member States to reduce their tax intake to offset the creation of European taxes?
- What would European taxes be? A financial transactions tax (FTT)? A carbon tax? Or should we transfer the whole VAT receipts to the EU?
- Would this budget be entirely financed by European taxes or would we keep some national contributions?
- What would be the procedure to adopt the budget? Surely, the EP should have a greater role than now, if less money comes from the Member States’ pocket…
6) Do you think member states should have to fulfil certain political, economic or legal conditions to take part in a deeper integration?
A Member State wishing to take part in deeper integration should surely fulfil some political conditions:
- Have a general record of implementing European legislation in time with little or no delay.
- Show a broad consensus for and commitment to a deeper integration (to be demonstrated through a referendum on the issue).
- Respect all the acquis communautaire.
As to economic conditions, I realise that it may be a bit “unfair” to reject potentially interested countries on economic grounds even though they are politically motivated to be part of a deeper integration, but, at the same time, we need to learn the lessons of the Eurozone’s birth… So, there definitely needs to be some degree of economic convergence if a deeper integration (which would necessarily have an economic component) is to work in the longer term.
7) Do you think a deeper integrated Europe should have its own institutions (e.g. Government, Parliament, Federal Senate) or just sub-units of the existing EU-institutions (e.g. Commissioner for deeper integration within the European Commission, a new parliamentary commission for deeper integration within the European Parliament) or should it function without particular institutions beside the existing EU-institutions? If you think a deeper integrated Europe should have its own institutions, what institutional system would you propose? How should democratic legitimacy be assured within this institutional system?
I do not support the idea of own institutions, because it would institutionalise a “multi-speed” Europe and this would, in my view, durably and visibly damage the ideal of an ever closer Union involving all its Member States.
On the other hand, having no particular institutional settings for a deeper integrated Europe would not be a good solution either. Indeed, especially if we want this deeper integrated Europe to be more democratic, there needs to be some parliamentary control of the “government” of a deeper integrated Europe.
So, I think:
- Sub-units would work well within the EP. This specific EP committee (made up only with MEPs from countries participating in the deeper integration) could supervise the overall activities related to the deeper integration. But I also believe that the existing committees should discuss the matters (otherwise, the new specific EP committee would be overwhelmed). Of course, in these committees, only MEPs from the countries participating in the deeper integration could vote (but everyone else should have the right to participate in the debate).
- The existing Commission should serve as a “government” in a process of deeper integration. I do not think a specific Commissioner would be necessary, because the Commission is already supposed to represent the EU rather than the Member States.
- A specific Council (like the Eurogroup for the Eurozone) would represent the Member States.
8) What would be the dangers of multi-level integration? How could Europe as a whole overcome these dangers?
Various “dangers” could arise from a multi-level integration. Here are 2 which immediately come to my mind:
- A negative impact on Single Market cohesion, if MS part of a deeper integrated Europe introduce mandatory social or environmental standards that are stricter than those of the EU as a whole. This could be addressed by ensuring a very close coordination between those participating in the deeper integration and those not participating. Moreover, rules adopted by those participating in the deeper integration could not violate EU rules on free movement.
- The risk of marginalising the existing EU and the Member Statesthat do not want a deeper integration. This can be addressed by regularly reminding that the deeper integration process is open at any time to any Member State who meets the conditions (to be precisely determined), and also that those not participating may freely adopt some measures which are binding for those participating in the deeper integration.
9) How could interested member states achieve a deeper integration? Should it be realised outside the Lisbon Treaty? Does the whole EU need a new treaty that goes further than just permitting “enhanced cooperation” as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty in Article 20 TEU? Do we need a Convention to elaborate a new treaty?
My suggestion would be to use, as a first step, the possibilities offered by enhanced cooperation. This would test the will of Member States to effectively progress on the path of deeper integration without launching a lengthy procedure of changing the existing treaties.
If the current “enhanced cooperation” is not sufficient, I suggest trying first a limited treaty change to remove the obstacles to deeper integration of some Member States only. This, I believe, would not require a convention as it would be a limited change. Alternatively, of course, if all Member States agree on transferring certain powers to the EU, this change could be written in the treaties. Maybe a referendum on the issue would be worth organising, if it is an important issue. But we need to be also very careful about referendums for several reasons, including: 1) very often the information provided to citizens distorts reality; 2) voters are tempted to use such opportunities to express themselves as a tool to express dissatisfaction with their domestic government.
A really new treaty would be necessary only if we go beyond “simple” policy convergence to create a new institutional setting just for those participating in a deeper integration process. In this case, of course, a convention would be necessary. However, let us note that it would represent a kind of “break” with the non-participating EU Member States… We also need to remember that Member States are bound by EU law, so that the prospective new treaty could not include rules incompatible with those of the EU. To sum up, I am in favour of a deeper integration within the existing EU framework.
10) How can cohesion be assured within the different levels of integration, especially regarding smaller or economically weaker states that are not able or those states that are not willing to meet the deeper integrated Europe criteria?
I strongly believe that cohesion would be best supported by a deeper integration, as this would reinforce and accelerate the process of economic and social convergence in Europe.
The cohesion policy already represents a major EU policy (including in terms of spending). I consider that no special help from EU funds should be granted to Member States which are not meeting the criteria to participate in the deeper integration process. Indeed, all EU Member States should be treated equally, regardless of their political opinions. However, within the framework of the deeper integrated zone, it is very clear that Member States would be allowed to establish a higher degree of solidarity between them, e.g. through a common budget available for matters specifically related to the deeper integration.