Foreign Minister Tuomioja: Is there a vision for a united Europe?

Address by Mr Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, at a conference organised by The Economist Athens 2 April 2001 "Leadership strategy following the Nice summit: Is there a vision for a united Europe?"

I do not count myself among those who think that our biggest problem in the EU today is the lack of a common vision for a united Europe, at least so far as this is understood as some sort of final goal - the famous finalité - for what Europe should look like in, say 25 to 50 years from now.

I am not against the debate on the future of Europe. In our free socities in our free Europe everyone is free to put forward their views on this as on any other subject. Indeed I value this so highly that I detect a slight contradiction between freedom of debate and the idea of having the official institutions of the European union organising such a debate.

This debate can only be a never-ending one, unless one subscribes to the notion that we could, at any given time, say STOP, we have now arrived at the point where the discussion must end and now is the time determine the final structures of what our Europe will be in 25 years from now.

We are all familiar with the worn old clichés about European integration being like riding a bicycle, or building a house or some other activity which either entails continuous motion or calls for the contribution of architects, engineers or other master-planners and engages them in cathedral building.

The first cliché is used as an argument for the necessity of always moving forward. If its proponents had their way we would be living in a perpetual intergovernmental conference. The advocates of the second cliché are disturbed if they do not have at hand a blueprint for what they like to call the construction of Europe.

I find these ways of thinking not only unnecessary or wrong but inherently dangerous as well. Those familiar with Karl Popper and his classic "The Open Society and its Enemies" will recognize the similarity of these ardent self-styled guardians of the European Faith with those proponents of Utopian Social Engineering which Popper sought to expose and criticize. Combining this approach with historicism, that is a belief in the inevitable forces of development which must lead to, for example, a classless communist society, or a federal European superpower, makes it even more suspect.

When we in Finland were negotiating our entry into the European union we were sometimes confronted with members of the European Parliament who demanded our assurances that we were prepared to accept not only the acquis communautaire but the finalité politique as well. I earned bad marks by asking the questioners to first present me with the paper spelling out this finalité and the information where, when and by whom this had been decided and who were committed to it.

When representatives of the present candidate countries are confronted with the same question they have had no difficulty in recognizing the mentality which these inquisitioners share with their former canonized maitrê-penseurs in Central and Eastern Europe.

So what do I belive is the right approach for Europe? The answer is, using Popper's terminology, piecemeal social engineering. To quote Popper:

"The politician who adopts this method may or may not have a blueprint of society before his mind, he may or may not hope that mankind will one day realize an ideal state, and achieve happiness and perfection on earth. But he will be aware that perfection, if at all attainable, is far distant, and that every generation of men, and therefore also the living, have a claim; perhaps not so much a claim to be made happy, for there are no institutional means of making a man happy, bu a claim not to be made unhappy, where it can be avoided. They have a claim to be given all possible help, if they suffer. The piecemeal engineer will, accordingly, adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good. This difference is far from being merely verbal. In fact, it is most important. It is the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. ... And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really succesful, at any time, and in any place..."

As far as the European union has been a success - and I think it has - I regard it as a testimony of the validity of Popper's concept of piecemeal social engineering. In the EU it is also known as the functional approach.

Saying this after the Nice summit is, admittedly, rather audacious. The Nice summit has been described as an example of the EU at its worst. Nevertheless the most important outcome is that the treaty of Nice will now enable the Union to go forward with enlargement, and that the first group or groups of candidate countries can enter into the union without any futher treaty changes and irrespective of if there is an IGC in 2004 or its results.

This was the most pressing challenge for Nice, and we were able to answer it, whatever the failings of the way the result was achieved. The real test for the European union has been and will be whether it is able to find the solutions to and act on the issues which here and now and at any given moment call for answers.

To be succesful it will certainly help if the union were able to foresee some of tomorrow's issues as well and to be able to cope with them in a less crisis-like atmosphere than has usually been the case.

So what next? In Nice a preliminary understanding was reached on the so-called post-Nice agenda on the future of Europe, to be futher elaborated during the Swedish and Belgian presidencies. On this agenda the issue of a possible constitution for Europe and clarifying the division of competences between the member-states and the union looms large.

The word constitution is a contentious one, but it is not the real issue. The Charter of the United Nations could also be called a constitution without making any changes into its content and the way it governs relations between the member-states and the organisation. Thus the rewriting of the EU's basic treaties in order to make them clearer and more comprehensible to our citizens need not and should not entail any changes into the present institutional balance and relations between the union and member-states. If this is accepted it is not of real importance whether one wants to call the new document a constitution or not.

The division of competences should be adressed without prejudice and in a pragmatic manner. Adjustments should be possible in both directions. The question has usually been perceived as pertaining to what the union should do more in lieu of the member-states, but it may in many instances be just as relevant if not more so to ask what the union would do better leaving to the member-states.

Since Nice it has been suggested that intergovernmental conferences have outlived their purpose. Accordingly any future amendments to the treaties should be prepared by perhaps the same convention method with which the Charter of Fundamental Rights was drafted before Nice. And in fact the summit in Nice did agree in principle to a similar preparatory method for the revision of the basic treaties.

Drafting the Charter jointly by representatives of national parliaments, the European Parliament and governments was, on the whole, a suitable method for the task and it could - extended, perhaps, still further to include representatives of civil society - also work reasonable well for preparing the 2004 agenda, provided that the mandate from European Council is explicit enough to rule out any attempts to portray the convention as a constitutional assembly.

There should be no obfuscation of the fact the determination of the Union's competences rests with the member states and only with the member states. The intergovernmental conference cannot therefore derogate its responsibilities and will remain the only acceptable forum for agreeing to treaty changes which the member states then have to ratify in accordance with their constitutional procedures.

The union is not a federal state but a community of sovereign member states who jointly determine the union's competences. The Union would no longer be regarded as legitimate in most countries if its institutions could override and determine the constitutional competence of the member states.

Democratic legitimacy in today's Europe resides in national institutions and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is possible that this legitimacy could one day switch from national to European institutions, which some of us want and others resist, but it can only come about if and when there is a real and stable majority for it among the people's involved. Meanwhile to try and prematurely force the issue by creating federalistic facts by stealth is not only undemocratic but a crisis-courting approach which may risk the legitimacy of the whole European project.

To concentrate on these eternal questions is a somewhat questionable use of time and energy, particularly if it takes place at the cost of adressing to what my mind are the real pressing issues we should be tackling in Europe. Here I think Sweden as the current Presidency of the EU has formulated its priorities exactly right with its focus on the three "E"s - enlargement, employment and environment.

European citizens are right to be suspicious of EU leaders who prefer to talk about future visions while failing to adequately answer the questions: are we using our present competences rightly, and what are the concrete issues where we should be doing more or better, with or without new competences, and also the question what we might do better to leave to the member states and/or other international organisations.

On the whole I think the union is on the right track concerning all of the three "E"s, though efforts could be intensified on all three fronts. Enlargement does not, of course, depend only on the EU but more on the candidate countries' readiness not only to pass the required acquis but even more on their ability to implement in. In this context we must also openly adress the issue of corruption. It is not, unfortunately, unknown in the present member states either, but it is an much more difficult challenge in most of the candidate countries which are still suffering from the disasterous moral legacy that totalitarianism and the command economy left them, which in some cases was worsened by mismanaged privatization.

An issue which calls for radical rethinking is the future of our agricultural policy. The CAP accounts for about half of the community budget. Most examples of the kind of European bureaucracy which our citizens ridicule and/or curse concern agriculture. The present challenges of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease paint a picture of European agriculture in deep crisis.

That is somewhat exaggerated. Bearing in mind the historical background our CAP should not be perceived as a failure. EU rules and bureaucracy on agriculture where not created out of the blue but replaced former national regulation and they have made possible the European single market. In Finland it has made food cheaper and released resources to be used more effectively elsewhere.

The CAP cannot, however, remain unchanged. BSE and other challenges contribute to the difficulty of keeping our agricultural spending within the agreed financial framework. Our agricultural protectionism vis-a-vis third countries is under increased attack in the WTO. Consumer concerns about food safety, animal welfare and the environment are challenging factory-methods of agricultural production.

It will not be easy to draft new agricultural policies that respond adequately to all of these conflicting pressures. While dismantling protectionism and giving developing countries open access to our markets calls for less border protection and more competition EU positions on the need to enhance food safety, promote organic farming and to retain the multifunctional character of European agriculture appear to call for the opposite.

Increased co-financing of agricultural support can only provide a very partial answer to the challenges and it cannot entail a dismantling of our common regulatory framework which remains necessary to eliminate distorting competition on open markets. But making member states more responsible for agricultural support and the costs of the CAP will both promote cost-effectiveness and make more national leeway possible.

I know that this sounds like a call for squaring the circle. The difficulties ahead should not deter us from entering into a debate about our agricultural future and making food production safer and more environmentally sustainable. Obviously the EU cannot do this solely acting on its own and these issues have to be introduced to the WTO agenda as well, even if it will not make it easier to reach quick solutions.

On European Defence and Security Policy we have now reached agreement on the headline goals for our crisis-management capabilities, on the structures which it calls for in the Union and on the necessary modalities for EU-NATO cooperation, as well as for third country participation in future operations. We are also engaged in constructing similar capabalities for civilian crisis management.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done to make this a reality and until the agreed capabilities are actually available. This in itself is reason enough not to complicate matters by rehashing old ideas for further developing common defence policies.

Looking ahead I am not convinced that we necessarily need to take up futher development of cooperation in the field of defence policies in the foreseeable future either. The present structure of European defence and security cooperation, where NATO provides hard security for those who feel in need of it and the EU crisis management capablities with both NATO and non-NATO country participation, and where the PfP and OSCE are available as larger Pan-European frameworks, may turn out to be sustainable and workable for quite a long time to come.

The region where our common European will and ability will continue to be severely tested is the Balkans. The crisis of former Yugoslavia was unprecedented and many-faceted with exploding ethnical tensions with the implosion of an obsolete social, political and economic order.

The international community including the European union failed to respond to the crisis in time and with enough determination and resources. It is still too early to say definitely whether we have learnt enough from the many lessons we were given.

It is essential for the Union to have the capacity to tackle the crisis with appropriate means during the whole span of a crisis. The importance of early warning and preventive capabilities cannot be overestimated as early reaction will save lives and material resources. Crisis management is not primarily about military intervention. Military means may be necessary to prevent more human suffering but they are never a substitute for political solutions, and to bring about sustainable political solutions we also need the capacity to adress all the different aspects of crisis management including building democratic institutions, good governance, the rule of law, economic reforms and welfare provision.

The Balkan crisis has underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach. This is the principle behind the South East European Stability Pact established in 1999 where the EU has the leading role. The Stabilisation and Association Process of the Union with the ultimate aim of integrating the Western Balkan countries into the Union is based on it. The manysided cooperation and assistance the EU provides and which covers political dialogue, trade, justice and home affairs, economic policy, energy, the environment etc in the best policy for crisis prevention in the long term.

Among the many lessons we have learnt in the Balkans is the need to make the implementation of EU decisions and promises quicker and better. In the GAC we are painfully aware of the frustations which our inablity to do much more on the ground than just put up the famous billboards informing the people of future EU assistance creates.

Peace and security on one hand and welfare and prosperity on the other come together in the long run. Providing these through regional cooperation and the active perspective of European integration is our challenging task. This calls for time and avoiding hasty decisions on future intra- and international structures. A Balkan regional cooperation and security conference on the lines that in the spririt of the 1975 Helsinki agreement gave us peace and stability and opened the way forward for democracy and respect of human rights which among others my collegue Georgios Papaendrou has promoted may well be the right approach, when the time is ripe.

To return to the topic of this discussion: is there a vision for a united Europe? No, there is no such single vision, there are many, and each of us is free to promote the one dearest to our hearts. My view is that the unity of Europe will not be realized on the basis of grandious insitutional visions, but by acting when and where necessary to answer concrete needs and challenges.