Purpose Europa

Rosemary Bechler
12 December 2001

In this issue we launch a new section of the Europa strand – Purpose Europa – and bring together three pieces which contribute to what is known in Brussels as the ‘future of Europe’ debate.

The debate was launched by a major speech from Germany’s foreign minister Joschka Fischer in the spring of 2000, and will accelerate in the spring of 2002. At that time a Convention will start working on options to reform the European Union. These will, in turn, be considered by an Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) which is scheduled to conclude its work in 2004.

The agenda for the Convention will be decided at the European Summit in Laeken (Belgium) on 14-15 December, and is expected to focus on the four items identified at the last IGC in Nice. These are: the demarcation of powers between the EU and its member states, the role of national parliaments, the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the EU treaties, and treaty simplification.

It is all too easy for discussion of these subjects to become mind-numbingly detailed. The space for accessible debate about them can also be limited by the clash of vested institutional interests, obscuring what is in the interests of European citizens as a whole. Even more unfortunately, this agenda does not face up to the most fundamental question confronting Europe: enlargement. What will, and what should, a continent-wide union look like when all the applicant countries have joined and the EU has become a Union of more than 27 countries with a population of more than 500 million. What will Europe then be for?

In this section of openDemocracy’s Europa strand, then, we want to focus on this question of broader purpose. At the outset, we have three pieces offering three different visions of the European future.

The first, by Riccardo Perissich, a former senior Commission official, argues that Europe has to return to the basics of providing real economic benefits for its citizens: and to do this he suggests that the Commission should again become the driving force of EU policy.

The second, by Manuel Castells, a formidable scholar of the information revolution, suggests that instead of the old model of bureaucratic centralisation, Europe has to go further in developing network structures on the basis of an identity of values.

The third, by Frank Vibert, co-editor of our Europa strand, proposes that a continent-wide union is best conceived by applying to its rules and structures the principle of democratic simplicity.

The debate about Purpose Europa will continue in future issues of openDemocracy. We look forward with interest to your responses and contributions.

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