"Sarkozy heeft gelijk met pleidooi voor debat over toekomst EU" (en)

Met dank overgenomen van EUobserver (EUOBSERVER) i, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 7 september 2007.

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - We have been fortunate. We are reading this week about a foiled plot to mount a terror attack in Frankfurt. Had the security services not been so assiduous we could have been watching pictures of carnage and mayhem next week as Al-Quaeda commemorated the sixth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers with another European tragedy. The thwarted plot serves to remind us of the deep conflict between the West and radical Islam.

Radical Islam - for the vast majority of Muslims are as appalled as anyone at such actions carried out ostensibly in their name. Nevertheless, as President Sarkozy of France has pointed out, the dream of 'establishing a caliphate from Indonesia to Nigeria, rejecting all openness, all modernity, every hint of diversity,' is being promoted by a variety of extremist groups whose ideas find favour among a large passive audience. How do we prevent a confrontation between Islam and the West, he asks?

Sarkozy posed this question to a diplomatic ensemble at the end of last month - in the first major foreign policy speech of his presidency. It was a wide ranging 'tour d'horizon,' touching most aspects of foreign affairs - Europe, the Middle East, globalisation, energy security, defence, international development. But what struck me, as a commentator on European affairs, was the difficulty in deciding whether this was the speech of a French President talking about Europe or a European President talking about France.

A speech for Europe

For the issues that Sarkozy addresses - like avoiding a confrontation between the West and Islam - are issues that face not only France, but Europe as a whole. Indeed the reality is that outside a multilateral framework, France is impotent. So are other individual European states. The problems faced by France are the problems faced by Europe as a whole. With minor alterations, therefore, a German Chancellor or a British Prime Minister could have made the same speech, listed the same priorities.

These Sarkozy distils into three great challenges on which, he says, all else depends. The first is the Islamic problem; but then comes the challenge of integrating the new giants, China, India and Brazil, into a new global order with common rules and expectations. The third challenge lies in coping with those science-based issues that demand a global response if they are not to overwhelm us - climate change, new pandemics, long term energy supply.

Implicit in what he is asking is how do we ensure that we leave to our great-grandchildren a world that has a living, breathing future and not some charred, exhausted, poisoned shell on which civilisation as we know it has collapsed?

Matters of global scale

No one country can, by itself, make much of an impact in addressing these challenges. For that matter neither can the European Union, for these are matters of global scale. Nevertheless, a Union of 27 countries speaking with a single voice and with a social market robust enough to ride the shock of necessary economic adjustments can provide an example and a lead; can be part of the solution rather than the problem. Sarkozy believes it should.

Most European governments, most European political parties pay at least lip service to such ideas, yet few show much eagerness to commit when the price is electoral unpopularity. The European Union is still cast more often as whipping boy than as white knight - a begetter of absurd regulation or, at best, the source of cheaper air travel - rather than the framework through which we can address dangerous global problems.

I have to confess that this is one reason why I find the present prolonged debate over the Union's constitutional proposals depressing and short-sighted. For the focus on narrow (though necessary) institutional reform has largely pre-empted the more difficult (but no less necessary) discussion about what Europe's wider role should be.

In the same speech Sarkozy calls for just such a wider debate. Anticipating a successful ratification of the constitutional proposals (and here he is being perhaps a touch cavalier for until the 27th ratification is delivered we shall all be on thin ice and even then have to cope with a general feeling amongst folk at large that they have not been consulted in proper democratic manner), Sarkozy calls for a Committee of Wise Men (and presumably wise women too) to be set up to address the question 'What kind of Europe should we have in 2020-2030 and what should its missions be?'

Debate should not replace action

Elsewhere he makes it clear that discussing what 'kind' of Europe means exploring the whole issue of widening and deepening (that is enlarging and integrating the Union) in the context of securing effective government. Should Europe's borders be fixed? If so, on which side of the Bosphorous should they lie? Is there a trade-off between size and ability to act?

We might have broached these questions during the long and tedious 'Pause for Reflection' that followed the failed constitutional referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005 - but still, better late than never. Except that surely we should never entrust the future direction of the Union to any committee of the wise, however sagacious they may be.

They may serve to start a debate but they cannot be a substitute for that debate. The warning bell of global challenge and the need to close our European ranks in order to face it has surely to be rung by ordinary Europeans and the case made in the European Parliament.

But for that to happen we shall first need political reform to allow the leaders of Europe's institutions to be democratically elected. The proposed position of a semi-permanent head of the European Council will, if the reform proposals are ratified, be created in the next couple of years.

I see Mr Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, has even been proposed - an admirable suggestion in many ways - but would it not be better for Europe as a whole were the job to be filled by a member of the European Parliament and elected therefrom? If necessary, Mr Ahern could surely find himself a seat in that august institution, as indeed, at some future point, could Mr Sarkozy.

Indeed it is precisely because of the great challenges that lie ahead that the short answer to the question 'what kind of Europe should we have in 2020' should be, unambiguously: 'a democratic one.'

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

Tip. Klik hier om u te abonneren op de RSS-feed van EUobserver