Understanding the Convention.



In order to understand what is going on in the Convention on the Future of
Europe, it is important to realise that the European Union is not a single
entity.  It is a series of different organisations which are so very different in
structure and philosophy that the single descriptor is wildly misleading.
There is not one European Union in existence, but elements of at least four, only
one of which bears any resemblance to the original model proposed by Jean
Monnet and his allies.

Far from being complementary, each competes with the other to become the
dominant model claiming the single title.  It is that competition which is being
played out at the Convention and will continue through into the IGC.

Of the four models, the first is the classic "Monnet" model, based on the
"institutional triangle" of commission, council and assembly (parliament), with
the addition of a court which interprets and enforces the common law.  In the
model as it was first envisaged, the Commission has sole right to initiate
laws, which must then be approved by the Council, by qualified majority voting.
The parliament was intended to act in a role similar to shareholders of a
public limited company, meeting once a year to approve the actions of its "board" -
in this case the commission.  Its one sanction was to dismiss the commission,
in toto, although its role has since developed to acquire budgetary approval
powers and equal powers of approval of some legislation, alongside the
council.

The essence of this structure was (and is) that it is supranational.  The
commission, in the areas of its competence, is superior to the nation states
which comprise its membership, and is able to exercise power over those states.
It is, in effect, a government.  In the context of the European Union of
fifteen member states, it is one of sixteen governments, and exercises power
alongside the member state governments, but is the only one with trans-national
jurisdiction.

In the original model, it was intended that the commission should gradually
acquire powers over all spheres of national activity, to the extent that it
would eventually become the government of Europe, in a fully-fledged United
States of Europe, with member state governments forming a second tier, subservient
to the commission.  This is the classic "nightmare scenario" feared by
Eurosceptics and is still the objective of some integrationalist faction.  However,
while the current European Union has acquired some of the characteristics of
this supranational model, its powers (competences) are still limited and it is
likely that they will remain so.  It is unlikely, in the foreseeable future, to
achieve its original objective of becoming the government of a United States
of Europe, although it is Prodi's preferred option, with the support of the
smaller member states.

One of the limiting factors to full supranationalism is the emergence of a
second model, that has become known as "multilevel governance".  This recognises
different tiers of government - the commission, the nation state and,
especially, the regions.  In this model, each tier has defined powers and
responsibilities, which are locked in place by a constitution which prevents the
encroachment of any one tier on the other.  For the sake of convenience, this might be
referred to as the "Europe of the Regions", or "multi-level governance"
model.  It has a supranational government, but that government acts only in clearly
defined  and "ring-fenced" policy areas, leaving the other tiers to manage
their affairs in ways which suit their customs and traditions.  Elements of this
model are also in place and it was the German desire to formalise it that led
to the establishment of the convention.

The third model stems from an unforeseen (by the founding "fathers") addition
to the original model - the European Council.  Initially comprising informal
meeting of heads of states and governments of the member states - when they
were known as "summits" - these were formalised in 1974 as the European Council,
which was later recognised as a community institution.  Monnet, whose idea
the Council was, envisaged it as an interim or transitional government, the
primary function of which was to draw off powers from the member states, "package"
them and hand them over to the supranational government.  Its secondary role
was to provide "political direction" to the commission, but the commission
retained its right of initiative and was not bound by the direction of the
Council.

Throughout its history, the commission's powers have been confined mainly to
economic issues, those relating primarily to trade, in the context of what
might be considered "low politics".  Its ambitions, however, extend to the "high
politics" areas of security and foreign affairs, and justice and home affairs.
 Extending its competences to these areas was mooted in the run-up to the
Maastricht Treaty, but member state governments were not ready to hand these
powers to a supranational authority.  They thus became lodged in the half-way
house of the European Council, in what was known as the "pillar" structure.  The
Council in its sphere of competence thus exercises its own policy prerogatives
and rights of initiative, independently of the commission, acting on a
co-operative basis, on an intergovernmental level.

At Maastricht, therefore, a new element was added to the European Union mix,
an autonomous intergovernmental structure - the antithesis of
supranationalism.  To an extent, therefore, another "government" was added, the European
Council, giving the current fifteen member states seventeen governments, two of
which have trans-national jurisdiction.

Although this was intended to be a temporary arrangement, through successive
commissions - as defined by their presidents - the European Council has become
more assertive.  It has not only jealously retained its inter-governmental
competences, but sought to instruct and initiate actions in areas defined as
commission competences, using the commission more as a civil service than as a
government in waiting.

This model, as it exists, lives alongside the two supranational models and
achieves its aims though free-co-operation between states, acting by unanimity.
For convenience, it can be called the "inter-governmental" model.  It acts as
an "association of nation states" and is often referred to as such, and is
the preferred option of the United Kingdom, although it will also tolerate
supranationalism in "low politics" issues - as indeed will France.

In the interplay of action at the European Council level, there are - as
would be expected - dominant "players", such as France, Germany, the United
Kingdom, Italy and Spain.  The Council is subject to groupings and alliances, with
dominant groups seeking to impose their agendas on the rest of the member
states.  To enforce their will, such players are in favour of a form of qualified
majority voting, but wish - through the European Council - to retain their own
competences and rights of initiative, forming an organisation with
supranational elements, distinct from the commission.  The core grouping is known as la
directoire and the model can be called precisely that - la directoire.  Without
QMV, the model exists only in embryonic form, carried by the weight of
personality of individual players.  It is, however, the preferred option of France.

At the moment, however, we have an uneasy hybrid of all four models, and the
"inner circle" debate in the convention is about which of the four models is
to dominate - what sort of Europe?  In probability, the end result will be a
fudge - it always is - with the danger than bits of all four models make gains,
all at the expense of the powers of the nation state, the end result being
that the perpetual battle for the final shape of Europe will not be resolved.

If you are in favour of "Europe" therefore, the question is "Which one"?


Dr Richard North