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EU: Timmermans Cautions against Renaissance of Nation-State Thinking

Austrian Parliament, 9 july 2018

COSAC Discusses Future and Perspectives of European Union

Vienna (PK) – The second part of the Conference of the Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) in the Hofburg centred on the future of the European Union and possible perspectives. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans cautioned against a renaissance of nation-state thinking, saying that it was necessary to involve the national parliaments more closely in EU policymaking in order to foster trust among EU citizens. He stated that anyone who believed that existing problems in Europe could be resolved by a return to the nation-state was succumbing to an illusion: “We need an alternative to blind, blustering nationalism. We need a kind of civil patriotism that goes beyond borders.”

Even if the dissolution of the EU was unimaginable at present, its achievements must be actively defended, Timmermans urged. In 1912 no one believed that the map of Europe would look very different in just a few years’ time. Against this backdrop, Timmersmans underscored the vital necessity of bolstering solidarity among the Member States. European Parliament Vice-Parliament Mairead McGuinness also stressed that the ability to compromise was key, and not just in conjunction with Brexit.

The second panel discussion was moderated by the Chair of the National Council’s Sub-Committee for Union Affairs Reinhold Lopatka. His statement that the EU was facing significant uncertainties not only as a result of very recent global developments, but also due to a number of unresolved questions within the EU, laid the groundwork for the debate, which touched on several issues, from the EU budget for the next several years to EU enlargement, and included Brexit. Repeated mention was made of the EU’s concentration on central issues. The parliamentarians brought varying issues to the fore in accordance with their individual perspectives; however, the discussion failed to crystallise around a common denominator.

Timmermans: Member States must trust each other more
The promise of convergence has been significantly undermined by a series of crises demanding attention in the last several years, which Timmermans identified as the core of the EU’s current problems. The economic situation has vastly improved as of late; however, a feeling of fear has spread throughout the population nonetheless. People’s reflex to turn increasingly to the nation-state is understandable, as it was the nation-states that created the social system, said Timmermans, expressing his doubts that this approach would solve existing problems. The nation-states are too small to counter current US policies, for example; rather, Europeans must stick together, he urged.

Involving the national parliaments in EU policymaking would certainly help achieve the objecting of bolstering citizens’ trust in the EU, said Timmermans. However, that alone would not improve the quality of EU regulations. Rather, it is important to raise awareness that EU countries are jointly responsible for when things function properly in the EU, and they are just as responsible for when things go wrong.

Later, Timmermans addressed a couple of questions raised in the debate. On the migration crisis, he said that those who believed that partial solutions would bring lasting relief would be proven wrong. Improving the protection of the external borders alone would not resolve the problem. What is needed is a reform of Dublin and a joint European asylum policy. In this context, he believes it is just as contradictory to call for the maintenance of open borders within the EU while at the same time finding excuses to seek exemptions to a common solution. Solidarity is not something that you can pick and choose à la carte.

Timmermans is also convinced that the EU will reach an agreement on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework only if the Member States are capable of compromise. It is impossible to give everybody everything they want, he stated. The European Commission Vice-President also spoke plainly with regard to the ongoing rule-of-law procedure against Poland: As a referee the European Commission must ensure that the Member States uphold the treaty commitments undertaken at the time of their EU accession, such as respect for the judicial apparatus.

McGuiness: EU is the safest harbour Europe has

Regarding Brexit, the EU’s guiding principle is, according to Timmermans, “Mitigating the damage for all sides as much as possible”. First Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuiness concurred, stating that no one wants “a political drama”. “A path toward compromise must be pursued,” she emphasised. The goal must be to minimise the damage for both sides. Norwegian delegation head Michael Tetzschner said that it was important to avoid weakening the EU Single Market; after all, peace, security and prosperity in Norway depend on positive developments in the EU.

On the future of the EU in general, McGuiness remarked that in the current difficult environment the EU was perhaps the safest harbour that Europe had. Better cooperation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments is a necessity. The Member States should be involved in the discussion at the beginning and during the process, and not just at the end of negotiations, whereby McGuiness said that internal parliamentary group structures could be used beneficially.

“The EU should focus on its strengths”

Among the issues addressed in the discussion was the fact that the EU Member States should move closer to each other and not farther apart. It is important to focus more on the EU’s strengths, such as the Single Market and the Common Commercial Policy, and for the EU to pool its resources. The EU, taken together, probably has the most highly-trained population in the world; it has the largest army of diplomats and is also the largest military power in the world, without this being reflected commensurately in its importance, the parliamentarians stressed.

However, it is important to respect hundreds of years of tradition and the diversity of countries and nations, many cautioned. The EU should concentrate on issues that illustrate its value-added. In this context, the discussion participants cited the areas of migration, security, world trade and defence. Europe is also necessary for the “industrial re-conquest” aimed at generating new jobs, for the elimination of economic inequalities and for the creation of social balance.

But on several occasions many mentioned not just the principle of subsidiarity, but also that of solidarity. There are countries that wish to assert their national rights, but demand solidarity from others, stated one parliamentarian. The Member States cannot achieve more alone than the countries can working together, warned another voice. Brussels must not be blamed for everything that goes wrong.

Again and again the discussion came around to the Multi-Annual Financial Framework of the EU. Several representatives from Eastern and South Eastern Europe expressed their dissatisfaction with the Commission’s proposal. There was general agreement that new responsibilities could not be funded at the expense of cohesion policy and agricultural support.

Differing opinions were also expressed concerning the expansion of direct democracy toward holding referenda on the EU level. A German representative pointed out that, aside from the Brexit vote, France and Germany never would have come together in the Coal and Steel Community if Charles de Gaule had allowed the French people to vote on it in the wake of Nazi atrocities.

An Irish representative pointed out that Ireland was suffering the greatest impact from Brexit, stating that for his country it was unthinkable for the United Kingdom to leave the EU without a treaty. Creativity was needed when it comes to the Common Economic Area, he said.

Warnings were also issued against erecting new walls within the EU. The countries once behind the Iron Curtain were very sensitive on this issue, pointed out the Slovak delegation, for example. Moreover, demographic growth in Europe was also raised as a key issue concerning the future. Others pointed out the extremely difficult environment for the European elections next year. A representative from Greece spoke out strongly against strict austerity policies. Representatives from the Western Balkan countries advocated not allowing focus on EU enlargement to drift. (End COSAC)
PLEASE NOTE: Photos of this event can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at www.parlament.gv.at/SERV/FOTO/ARCHIV.

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