Commissioner Wallström had invited this morning some of the big Brussels-based NGOs to a stakeholder discussion (among them JEF) on the Communication policy, the upcoming “Berlin Declaration” as well as the general way forward with the Constitution (at least this is what the invitation said). However, in their introductions Wallström and a surprise visitor Barroso focused on the Berlin declaration. The Commission president repeated the five issues he was presenting already in the EP last week in reply to Merkel’s presidency presentation: solidarity, sustainability, accountability, security and Europe’s global role.
The 20 or so representatives then commented on the Berlin Declaration, explained how important their issues are etc. Most of it was somehow expected, things I could pretty much agree with but without the concrete spice where I would have said that this is a thing I would find new. I guess poor Wallström and Barroso as well as their 10 or so staff were listening to these arguments not for the first time. After a couple of interventions – and as the last one before Barroso had to leave – I tried to take things from a more ambitious, institutional perspective. Here is roughly what I commented:
1. it is great to have the Commission president and Vice-president for this exchange. Something that would probably never happen in most member states.
2. what is really our story about this constitutional project? We had a story for Maastricht (singly currency), we had a story for Nice (enlargement) but the Constitutional Treaty – is it only to improve the work of the institutions? Given so much talk in this round about Europe’s new global responsibilities – why don’t we re-brand it into the Union’s foreign policy Treaty?
3. when it comes to the Berlin Declaration, we have to keep in mind what Joschka Fischer always said: think from the end of the process. – The reason for us still talking about the Messina Declaration is that it was followed up by a bold step of institutional reform, namely the Rome Treaties. We can draft the nicest declaration in Berlin, but for it to be remembered, we need to re-launch an ambitious constitutional project.
Contentwise I can agree with the five elements as proposed by Barroso. However, we need to make them concrete and give examples as where my generation shall be standing with Europe in 50 years time! – Why can’t we say that by then we only consume as many resources as we have in Europe? Why can’t there be one EU representation in 3rd countries that I can call when I get lost in Congo?
4. on preparing the revision of the Constitutional Treaty: I completely agree with both Commission and Merkel, that we cannot start the process new and from scratch. But the Sherpa consultations are probably the most intransparent and least trustworthy process possible. How should any interested and involved actor find access to those people who by default operate outside direct public scrutiny? How would we know who to approach with our suggestions? Concretely, can the Commission not publish the names of all national Sherpas? Who are the Commission’s Sherpas?
5. regarding the ratification of the revised text, we could all read Wallström’s comments in the press about her position on a European referendum. But whatever we think about the idea, our ambition should always be to draft a text AS IF it were to be presented to public consultation. If we are even afraid of our own people, we should not even get into the work. Another important point is that it is an illusion to think that sticking to the old national ratification procedures is both faster and more convenient for national governments. Just remember that this is a process that already failed with Maastricht (Denmark), Nice (Ireland) and now the Constitutional Treaty. How fair is it to stop the process now with a big old member state saying while we ignore the voices raised by smaller member states?
Following my comments, Barroso summed up and supported mostly the comments on an ambitious global/foreign policy and argued that this has always been his key argument when telling his story about the Constitutional Treaty. He then argued (even refered directly to me), that he was even more ambitious than having a get-out-number from Congo, but he wants an advice line that helps me to establish myself in Congo which by 2057 should be a progressing country thanks to the EU’s help.
Even more he announced that João Vale de Almeida and Wallström’s chef de cabinet Rolf Annerberg are the Commission’s Sherpas in the process. This would be no secret but at least I was not aware of this until then.
After Barroso some more representatives voiced their opinions and it became interesting again when Wallström gave her final reply. Her first reaction was that “of course all Sherpas should be made public by the member states” for us to address them also in our national context. Regarding the Berlin Declaration she was quite realistic but I found it interesting to hear that she saw it as an opportunity to point at new policy areas and experiences that might be added to the Constitutional Treaty (rather than in the forms of Social Protocals as once suggested by Merkel). One main reason for somehow excluding the EP and the Commission from the talks, would be that there had to be renewed commitment from among the heads of state themselves.
Then came another point where she referred directly to me – by saying that indeed we need to think the process from the end.
All in all I found this to be a good meeting while I am particularly happy that both Barroso and Wallström were so explicitly commenting on some of my remarks – the concerns of JEF. Maybe this is because they were (sadly) the most concrete, or maybe because they were the most institutionally ambitious. But maybe it was also because I was (almost) the only younger person in this round of “experienced” civil society representatives. 🙂 Who knows.