Europe needs an avant-garde, but...

Europe needs an avant-garde, but...

Bulletin article
Jacques Delors
02 October 2000

I have always found talk about a European constitution unhelpful, for it is such an ambiguous term. My preferred formula is that Europe should be a "federation of nation states". What ties states together is a treaty. A constitution is something else: it looks back to the historical concept of the nation state, which cannot be a model for the construction of Europe. Such a federation should bring together the states of a European avant-garde. To speak of a pioneer group, or an avant-garde, is to recognise that one can only reconcile a deepening of European integration with enlargement of the EU by allowing some countries to go further. My vision of an enlarged Europe is that, at the start, it should consist of both a geopolitical entity bringing together the wider Europe - "the Union" - and an avant-garde that is overtly organised into a Federation of nation states.

The point of the avant-garde is to maintain the momentum of building Europe. It should remain open to those countries which want to, and can join. I am not talking about two parallel tracks which do not touch each other. One day, the two entities will come together.

I insist on two points. The "Community method", that is to say the healthy functioning of the triangle Parliament-Council-Commission, remains the key to success, for the Union as much as for the Federation. I note that this method was not mentioned in the speech of President Chirac in the Bundestag. I would also like to be sure that my friend Joschka Fischer has got this point. This method will remain good for many years - but I'm not necessarily talking about 2020, for the triangle is not working well today. Secondly, the avant-garde must have minimal institutional arrangements of its own. I think the Commission could fulfill the same function that it does for the Union, since it is the guardian of the European interest. But there would be a special Council of Ministers for the avant-garde countries, and a special bicameral Parliament. The latter would consist of MEPs from avant-garde countries, and also deputies from the parliaments of those countries. Finally, we need to personalise the Federation and the Union. At least for the avant-garde, we need to think about electing a president for a sufficient period, for example two-and-a-half years. Working with the rotating EU presidency and the president of the Commission, this person would assure continuity in the Federation's external representation.

I have been asked in which areas the avant-garde should go further than the Union. I believe that the avant-garde should make a success of economic and monetary union, move ahead in economic policy co-ordination, and enlarge the area of social protection. It should be able to manage common actions in the sphere of foreign policy, and project military power. The avant-garde should create a common space for justice and security, arriving at a common approach to immigration. Of course, some applicant countries worry about becoming marginalised, at the very moment of their joining the EU. But what I'm thinking of is exactly the reverse. To these countries, I say two things. First, the Nice summit in December should decide to conclude negotiations with the most advanced applicants by end-2001. We'll decide then whom to let in, by objective criteria. Second, I propose that the European Conference, which brings together the 15 member-states and the 13 candidates, should be reorganised, so that it meets six times a year to discuss problems of common interest and especially of internal and external security. Finally, how could the United Kingdom relate to the avant-garde? I hope that the Nice summit removes the existing obstacles to "enhanced co-operation". I also hope that Britain will have the wisdom to join the euro and thus remove the principal obstacle to the role which she can and should play in the European avant-garde. In the meantime, nothing would prevent the Federation from having enhanced co-operation with Britain and other countries, to develop a military capability for rapid reaction.

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