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  • Author: Jacqueline Grapin
  • Publication Date: 09-2008
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: European Affairs
  • Institution: The European Institute
  • Abstract: We recently lost one of the most respected figures in Europe, just at a time when he would have been most needed. Bronislaw Geremek, who died in a car accident in Brussels in July, was a former Polish foreign minister and then a distinguished member of the European Parliament. Historically, he was a pivotal figure in the fight of the Solidarity movement to end Communist rule in Poland and one of the leading statesmen of the democratic era that followed. A professor of history who had become Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland before being elected to the European Parliament, at 76, Geremek was in full stride as a man who had distilled personal and political wisdom from his involvement in history both as an historian and as an actor in European developments. He was a friend of the United States and one of the most ardent supporters of the European Union, who was Chairman of the Jean Monnet Foundation in Lausanne. I remember meeting him by chance as we were both literally running down the street in the center of Warsaw on the 14th of July 1997, trying to reach in time the place where President Bill Clinton was going to address a huge crowd a few minutes later. All the buildings were decorated with American flags, and the crowds were full of excitement. It struck me that this high official - recognizable to everyone with his white beard - could walk freely in a public street, without a limousine or bodyguards: at every corner in the old city, people of all walks of life greeted him naturally. On his visits to The European Institute in Washington, he always conveyed his dedication to the goal of turning politics into a noble art. A difficult challenge, but perhaps not impossible. At this juncture, amid confusion about how to surmount the crisis for the EU caused by the negative vote of the Irish electorate on the Lisbon Treaty, it is worth remembering the advice given by Professor Geremek in an article that appeared in Le Monde almost simultaneously with his death.1 He stressed that every effort should be made to ensure that the treaty be ratified in all the other EU countries where it is signed. Don't ask the Irish people to vote on this again, Geremek said in substance, because the outcome of the Irish referendum should be respected and governments should not try to bypass the popular will. He recommended that the other 26 governments should do their best to ratify the treaty: whatever else, the result will be a text signed and ratified in a majority of the other 26 member states. In effect, a majority will have approved the Lisbon treaty, and that will add legitimacy for the European Council to proceed, together with the European Commission and the European Parliament, to implement some measures which do not require changes in the existing treaty. For instance, the Council can decide that the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (now Javier Solana) will from now on permanently chair the Council of Foreign Ministers and be responsible for a newly created European Foreign Service. Similarly, the European Council could decide that the President of the European Commission will chair the meetings of the European Council. While not fully representing the EU abroad, the President of the European Commission would represent the European institutions. The European Council could also propose that the European Parliament be recognized as having the right to propose legislative initiatives on the basis of public petitions (that garner, for example, one million signatures). The European Parliament could also be encouraged to take initiatives to reinforce its cooperation with the national parliaments in preparing European legislation. Increasing the rights of the European Parliament could be done by unanimous decisions of the European Council. Of course, there are changes that cannot be accomplished without a new treaty, particularly with regard to the voting system in the Council. Geremek was particularly firm that the principle of unanimity should be changed. It reminded him of a similar historical disposition in 18th-century Poland, the liberum veto that had led the country to political disaster. For the EU now to produce a new, more practical majoritysystem and to decide one or two questions that cannot be settled with the existing treaties, he suggested a new approach. Instead of bundling texts of existing treaties into a complex new proposal to be put to the public, two or three clear questions should be submitted to voters in all 27 EU member countries at the same time - for instance, on the election days for the European Parliament in June 2009. Such a process would be consistent with democratic principles. Moreover, at a moment when Russia's actions press the Old Europe and the New Europe to agree among themselves and with the United States, the West cannot afford to cling blindly to institutional arrangements that everyone knows are inadequate to the needs of the situation. Enlargement has not reduced the EU's ability to make decisions as much as many expected, but the rules of the treaty of Nice from 2001, which was supposed to be temporary and short-lived, must be improved. Both Europe and the United States feel the need for an efficient decision-making machinery in the EU at a juncture when both face the same challenges - defining relations with Russia, China, and the emerging economies; ensuring energy security; boosting economic growth; fighting terrorism and poverty; stabilizing the Middle East. It is tempting for sovereign European nations and for the powerful United States to let the role of the European institutions be minimized. But Europeans and Americans would be better served if they sought to share an ambitious vision of what the European Union should be able to provide - and how.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Lisbon