Unveiled: the blueprint for United States of Europe
By Stephen Castle in Brussels
[The Independent - 29 October 2002]
Leading article: A step in the right direction, but the future of Europe needs bigger thinking
John Lichfield on Chirac: bad for Europe, good for the US
The blueprint for a new constitution for Europe, unveiled yesterday, paves the way for sweeping changes to the EU but provoked instant British opposition by suggesting the bloc could be renamed "United States of Europe".
Published by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who is chairing an inquiry into the future of Europe, the document raises the prospect of a massive overhaul of the EU to accommodate up to 10 new countries due to join in 2004. It lists three possible titles besides the European Union. They are: European Community, the United States of Europe, and United Europe.
The outline document also suggests that all Europeans should be given the right to citizenship of the EU as well as their member states.
However, Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary and the Government's representative on the convention, told BBC's Newsnight programme last night that the idea of a United States of Europe was "a non-runner", and that dual citizenship was "not something we would go along with".
British officials believe the name-change suggestion is tactical. Designed to please Euro-federalists, it has been touted "safe in the knowledge that it will be shot down".
These objections apart, the Government believes that Mr Giscard's text would open the way for many changes that would entrench the power of nation states.
The blueprint carefully leaves the most sensitive decisions for later. It has been billed as a "skeleton" constitution because it only sets out a framework, listing 46 articles and going into little detail. But changes that could be ushered in include the creation of a powerful new president of the EU who would report to national leaders, a congress of national and European parliamentarians, and an exit clause to allow countries to quit the EU.
The text outlines plans to give the EU the legal power to sign treaties and sit on international bodies but also says any competence "not conferred on the Union by the constitution rests with the member state". There is only one reference to powers being exercised on a "federal basis"and that is not seen as a threat by British officials.
Dual citizenship would confer rights including free movement, residence, voting powers and freedom to stand as a candidate in local elections and elections to the European Parliament.
Mr Giscard's convention of 105 national and European parliamentarians is drawing up a draft constitution that is to be recommended to EU heads of government next year. They alone can decide on a new treaty.
Part of the group's job is to simplify Europe's byzantine structures. One element of this is the fusion of the two treaties that set in place two entities: the European Community and the European Union. That process leaves open the possibility of a name change and Mr Giscard has made clear his preference for "United Europe".
Publication of the document marks the beginning of a battle over the all-important detail. The text prompted mixed reactions from the British political parties represented on the convention. Linda McAvan, a Labour Member of the European Parliament, said: "The Euro- realists are winning ... Giscard has struck a good balance."
But David Heathcoat-Amory, a Conservative Eurosceptic, said: "The draft constitution published today would endow the EU with all the attributes of a state ... The British Government must make clear its total opposition to this federal advance."
Andrew Duff, a Liberal Democrat member of the convention, said the document "clearly rejects the reactionary approach chosen by the UK Government" and "allows for a radical refoundation" of the union.
THE MAIN POINTS
• European Community/ European Union/United States of Europe/United Europe would be created.
• Its objectives would include economic and social cohesion, protection of common values, high employment, liberty, security and justice, foreign policy.
• The union would have "legal personality", with the power to sign treaties and take a seat on international bodies such as the United Nations.
• Union citizenship would be established and defined, giving rights of free movement, residence and voting in the union and diplomatic protection in other countries.
• An "exit clause" would allow countries to withdraw voluntarily from the union.