Strong Europe needs strong consensus
The European Union cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.
A paraphrase of Robert Schuman’s famous introductory words from 1950 expresses a united Europe’s current problem. Schuman’s original emphasis on maintaining world peace is still an imperative of European cooperation, and 71 years of ever-closer European cooperation since the adoption of the Paris Treaty shows the rock-solid foundations of this effort. But how to continue to build a European house on these foundations?
Schuman rightly concluded that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” The spread of the common cause by creating further integration pressure has proved to be very successful and especially attractive for Europeans. However, at least since 2005, when the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was rejected, the continent has been looking for a new right way to promote Schuman’s “concrete achievements.” The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union has shown that these ties can be broken quickly and very dangerous despite decades of enlargement.
Since the Treaty of Paris, the European Community has grown to such an extent that no crisis can undermine Schuman’s original goal of an “organized and living Europe.” However, the problem is that the European Union has been advancing only in crises for the last decade. Whether it was a significant financial crisis, a migration crisis, or a coronavirus crisis, the European Union eventually managed it all successfully. However, this model of decision-making is hazardous and unpredictable.
Thus, the solution to the European Union’s further integration should not be just new common ambitious goals, from climate change to a common foreign policy. The solution must also include a new model of reaching consensus and efficiency in the club of almost thirty states.
The response to the rejection of the Constitution for Europe has been to significantly strengthen the voice of the European Parliament and the rights of national parliaments. However, it is time to admit that this arrangement has only partially succeeded since Lisbon’s Treaty. Public consultations, popular initiatives, or yellow cards from national parliaments have not significantly changed things. Proposed closer cooperations pass through the European Commission and the European Parliament, only to be stranded in the European Council, where one or more states block further discussions. At this very moment, Eurosceptic and Identitarian tendencies are often rising sharply in dissatisfied states. Another shift in the burning problem usually comes with a crisis, for which, however, the European Union could have been better prepared in advance.
In 1951, solidarity in production was needed to make war virtually impossible. In 2021, a peaceful Europe needs solidarity in the decision-making process to make it almost impossible to “produce” the sharp opposition of a few states until the end of the pan-European debate on further cooperation.
In 2021, we do not need the creation of another High Authority; we need to create a “high consensus,” i.e., a clearly defined and inclusive moment in the decision-making process, when no European and no government can remain out of the democratic debate.
To achieve this, we need to significantly change the Europe-wide debate on the European Union’s future. At the beginning of each year, the European Commission should present a detailed White Paper leading to further strengthening European cooperation in one of the critical pan-European cooperation areas. The main areas are a fight against terrorism and crime, foreign policy, energy, environmental protection, climate change, asylum, or immigration. Subsequently, all Member State governments would have to react to the White Paper so that national representations cannot calculate with the outcome that the proposal would be rejected at the end of the whole debate in the European Council. Governments could either support the European Commission’s White Paper or suggest another suggestion to the same goal. To avoid 27 hardly compatible national counter-proposals, each proposal should represent at least one-tenth of the EU population. Thus, most states would have to seek a consensus that reflects at least the views of 45 million people and promotes consensus in variously changing regional clubs.
The White Paper, together with the alternative proposals, would then be received by the European Parliament and the European Council, as is customary. MEPs would thus have to combine their European and national positions to a greater extent. The European Council would already know the possibilities for consensus.
The European Union is a unique entity in history: halfway between a free political and economic union and a federation. However, European states’ interconnectedness is already so astounding and the responsibility of a united Europe so great that it is no longer possible to move forward by merely responding to various crises.
There is a need to agree on reaching a “high consensus” that no European can avoid. That consensus should be acceptable to all states regarding content and enforcement, including those that have made counter-proposals.
Post-war European integration sought above all to overcome bloody and divided history. But after decades of peace, it turns out that it is not easy to maintain agreement on what unites us.
Schuman’s imperative of a “fusion of interest” remains valid even after seven decades. Only the means change. Suppose we choose them correctly for the 21st century. In that case, we will live in a peaceful and prosperous European Union and soon in a union with a common foreign, climate, or energy policy.